Thursday, June 26, 2014

Serving in the Mormon Church

I started serving in my church when I was 13. I was asked to play the piano for primary (the organization for children under the age of 13.) I said yes because it meant I didn’t have to attend Sunday School, and because saying yes was what I was taught to do.

Serving in the church is one of my favorite things about being a Mormon. I don’t know if very many other religions have as many service opportunities as the Mormon Church provides. My best friend and my high school boyfriend were both devout Catholics and I know they weren’t given assignments. My running partner for ten years was a practicing Lutheran and president of her congregation’s council (I believe that was her official title) and I know her involvement in her church required less time than I put into mine. In fact, I often told my husband that I was going to convert to the Lutheran faith so that I could go to church on just Sundays, listen to a choir and eat donuts after services. I’m not bragging, and I’m not disparaging any faith including my own, I’m just trying to state my own, admittedly limited, experience.

 Because we have a lay ministry, “callings” in the Mormon Church come and go. We’re asked to serve in all sorts of various capacities by our local leaders. Each calling has a beginning and ending, and its own unique set of challenges. As I said, I started playing the piano in church when I was a girl. I did this off and on for years. (In fact, my stepmother had a music calling for 70 years.) And I was okay with it.
Until I hit middle age and my eye sight began to go.
Playing the piano or organ requires that I look at the music, the music director and, sometimes—only don’t tell Sister Baird, my first piano teacher—the instrument. And, not to state the obvious, all of those are at different distances. Which meant that I had focus on one to the other…which meant that when I hit middle age I needed to buy a hymnal with REALLY LARGE print. So I went to the church book store with my friend and debated on whether to buy a paper or hard back hymnal.
“Get the hardback,” my friend said. “You’re going to use it for the rest of your life.”
“Really? The rest of my life?”
“The rest of your life,” my friend assured me.
And so I bought the hardback edition. And two days later I was asked to be the relief society president.
Fast forward about ten years and once again I’m playing the piano in primary. I meet a friend at the library who asks what calling I currently have and I tell her. She tells me that she hates serving in primary. I tell her why I love it and that I plan to be there for years. I know that a primary pianist is a difficult calling to fill, and since the last primary pianist had been there for seven years, I thought I would be there for at least five.

The next day I was released and asked to serve in the stake relief society presidency.

Here’s what I’ve learned after serving in the church for xxx years. Service is a blessing. Staying at home, thinking about yourself and your problems is a path to depression. Nothing builds your confidence or inflates your sense of self as much as service. Helping someone else feels good. It just does. I believe that when Jesus asked us to follow Him, he wasn’t doing it because He needed our help. I believe that he asked for our discipleship because he loves us and knows that we’ll be happier if we’re serving. It’s like the primary song,
“When we’re helping we’re happy and we sing as we go—”

And here’ s the really best part of service. We don’t have to have a “calling” to serve. Every day we can pray for the chance to serve—and if we do—opportunities will come. Observe and Serve. You don’t have to have a calling to be like Jesus and “go about doing good.”(Acts 10:38)

And you don’t have to be ordained to the priesthood. You don’t have to sit in the front or stand behind a pulpit. You don’t have to be a president of anything. You don’t even have to know how to play the piano.
As the Apostle Paul said in Corinthians:
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

14 For the body is not one member, but many.

15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?

20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.

21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
1 Corinthians Chapter 12: 4-27

It’s been more than ten years since I bought the hardback hymnal. I haven’t really had the chance to use it. And I’m okay with that. Because I know that serving—no matter what I’m asked to do—is a blessing.

Disclaimer. I really didn’t want to write this blog post. And no one asked me to do it, but I'm posting it anyway. I know there will be lots of people who think I’m simplifying a difficult, complex and red-hot topic, but I don’t think I am. Trust me, I am just as happy, fulfilled and challenged serving in one calling as I am in another. True, most of my callings have required that I sit on a bench, shut up and play, but I’ve also had a number of leadership callings. I don’t think that God, my Heavenly Father, thinks any more or less of me because of what position in the church I happen to hold at the time. People might think of me differently, but I’m still the same person, and whatever anyone else thinks of me—well, that’s not any of my business. (I think Mark Twain said that.)


  1. Did you ever ask the other sister why she hated serving in primary? Many sisters feel as though their thoughts are being dismissed.

  2. It’s easy to feel dismissed. I’ve often felt that way. Here are two examples. Once when our ward was reorganized—a new ward created, so every position had to be called and filled—I was called in to meet with a member of the bishopric. He said to me, with a smile, “Well, we’ve come to the bottom of the barrel, the last calling to fill.” And he asked me to be the Relief Society pianist. It was really, really hurtful. (Not so much the calling, but the way I was called. No one wants to be the bottom of the barrel. Gosh, I hope the man who called me won’t read this. I don’t think he was trying to be an oaf, but he was.)
    Another time I was sitting in church and I was released from my calling over the pulpit and called to be the primary pianist—but no one had ever even asked me!
    But those are two instances that I found hurtful—there are hundreds, maybe thousands more instances where I’ve been filled with gratitude for my callings. Here are just two (you know, to keep things balanced)
    When my first son was born he cried a lot. Adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom was hard, and taking care of a newborn was hard. We only had one car, so a lot of the time I was housebound. At that time I was called to be a pianist. Because I didn’t have a piano, I was given the key to the church. So, when my husband was able to be home with my son, I would go to the church to play the piano. I always came home feeling better. Playing the piano was/is a tremendous stress reliever. The same thing happened when my twins (my fifth and sixth children) were born. The relief society president watched my girls so I could practice the organ. I don’t love playing the organ, but I did then.
    As I said earlier, callings come and go. Sometimes it’s easy to feel that the church is a popularity contest, and sometimes it’s necessary to step back and reevaluate why we attend, why we have to interact with these people (who, frankly, we would in no other circumstance choose to associate with) and what the Lord is trying to teach us. Every calling is an opportunity to grow, to learn and to serve. It might not seem that way, especially if you, like my stepmother, have had a music calling for 70 years, but I know that for me, every music calling happened to coincide with a difficult, stressful time in my life, and playing the piano brought me peace. It was the calling I needed.
    This was a really long comment.

  3. I love that you wrote this post. I know how hard it is to share what you believe and hold dear at times. It has been a struggle for me. I agree with everything you said, and you said it well. Keep the faith and the good work! :)

  4. I have found that sometimes my callings are for us to use our talents (I am a musician also) to serve others. Those callings are pretty easy for me: Show up and lead the music, play the piano, conduct the choir. Very little preparation is needed, and when my life is at a stressful point, I have truly appreciated having those callings. To be able to serve without having to worry about a lot of outside preparation.

    Other callings are given to us so that we can grow somehow. Those callings are harder and require a lot of stretching of the spirit. Being Relief Society President was the most difficult calling I ever held, and yet it was my favorite. I grew more and was closer to my Heavenly Father than I have in any other calling I have held, besides full-time missionary.

    Still other callings are a combination of the two. Whatever it is, I'm happy to serve and to do my duty. Now that I live in a tiny branch, I don't usually get the easy callings anymore. My 13 year old daughter is the branch chorister because the active adults are pretty much all in leadership positions. I was just released as Primary President and moved to teach the youth Sunday School class which is now stretching me in new ways. Callings are pretty wonderful!