The Calling I Covet

There is one calling I secretly wish for. Prophet? Too much responsibility–and I can’t stand Larry King. Apostle? Fly more than a McKinsey consultant and no hope of retirement? Only in my nightmares. Seventy? Like playing second string on the football team. Bishop? Sobbing youth, "special" moments and an EQ full of p0rn addicts? No thanks. Mission president? Now that sounds like fun.

It seems that lots of former missionaries think the same thing. And why not–mission presidents draw a living stipend, get excellent health insurance and their kids go to BYU for free. But the best part of being a mission president would be having a captive audience hanging on your every word. Deep down, isn’t that what we really want? (Academics deny this applies to them, claiming instead they produce their ponderous presentations and papers for the "greater good", but that is a lie. Most are invested in burying insecurities derived from friendless childhoods.)

When I’m honest with myself, I know that as mission president I will be prone to abusing my power. "Elder," I would gently chide while looking loving but disappointed, "no one is trying to humiliate you, now finish the song and this time keep your foot in the jello pool." But after the novelty has worn off I will focus on the task at hand– touring the mission to give talks linking obedience, baptisms and personal worthiness. My motto: A good missionary is a missionary desperately trying to compensate for a slight-but-persistent feeling of not being good enough.

If I have to send a missionary home early I will give it to him straight: "When you return some of the saints will offer only love and charity as you complete the repentance process. Others will heap shame on you for failing this rite of passage into Mormon manhood. Your parents will profess their sincere love but be profoundly embarrassed by your early return. Chances are you will go inactive." The elder will appreciate my honesty, own up to his responsibilities and vow to beat the odds. We will then hug before the APs drive him to the airport in uneasy silence.

My favorite moments will be comforting sisters who had served honorably as they prepare to return home. "Don’t worry," I’ll tell them, "it’s not too late." Then I’ll remind them my wife was 24 when I married her. Her age didn’t matter because I saw so many other great qualities in her. Personally I don’t think 22 is really that old anyway.

It’s out in the open now; I know I’m not supposed to, but I covet a calling. I’m ready for something more than EQ instructor or membership clerk. I’m ready for the big leagues. Perhaps one of the readers of our humble little blog knows someone who knows someone who might consider me–let him know I’m ready to join the harvest.

Comments

  1. danithew says:

    Never in a million trillion years would I crave the calling of mission president. But I enjoyed reading this post.

    Personally, I think gospel doctrine teachers have it made.

  2. Mark N. says:

    I’m more than happy to substitute for the ward organist on occasion and do an occasional piano solo in Sacrament Meeting when asked. I don’t have to say a word, and yet I can still contribute mightily to the spirit of the meeting.

  3. As the son of a former mission president, I have to say it’s not all milk and honey (though it is pretty sweet). You’ve got Area Authorities breathing down your neck, second-guessing your initiatives, not to mention easily-offended local leaders, many of whom are new converts with no experience.
    You’re on the road almost every week, (depending on the size of the mission) visiting branches, holding the same zone conference over and over. You have to inspect apartments, oversee the leases, make sure no one runs out of money. You have to break family tragedies to missionaries. You are completely responsible for 150 young men and women.
    Then there are the problem Elders. As my father used to say, “10% of the Elders take up 90% of my time.”
    In the middle of all this, you have to find time for your family and worry about them finding adequate schooling and healthcare in a foreign country.
    It’s a job really, not a calling.

  4. Mat, you’re right on. The sweetest calling in the Church. It’s like being an ambassador. Plush, plush stuff.

  5. Great post. Not ALL mission presidents serve in foreign countries. If you were to serve in LA Baton Rouge, you’d get to experience an exotic culture while retaining all the benefits of Unistatian live.

    Of course, the dress code sucks. White shirt and tie, every day, for three? four? years. Plus, your wife has to Dress for Success every day, too.

    I have the calling I aspired to: Activities Committee Chairperson. I get to throw parties for the Saints, with the ward’s money, and because I’m not teaching or making any public statements, I don’t have to be a hypocrite.

  6. Ted Baxter says:

    Let me confess my mission president fantasy scenario: I have a friend who’s mission president fled his South American post because of a (presumably credible) death threat. I decided that if I ever became a mission president and I were assassinated, my last act would be to pull my assistants close, and while coughing bright red lung-blood whisper, “Elders: avenge my death!” just as a joke. The thought of 2 assistants to the president wondering, “Gee, elder, do you really think the president wants us to find the guys that did this and kill them?” cracks me up.

  7. NFlanders,

    Say what you want, but you know that it doesn’t get any better than having 120 19-21 year-olds (I’ve excluded sisters since they usually seem less impressed) thinking you are amazingly spiritual and asking you how you got so rich–whereupon you look them in the eye and tell them it’s all a blessing for a lifetime of obedience.

    Steve,

    Don’t hold your breath–although Sumer would make a great mission mom.

    Ted,

    I like your style.

  8. JWatkins says:

    I can’t decide what I like about this post more, how amusing it was or how eerily acurate its descriptions are. A real work of art. The sort of thing us Mormons don’t confess to nearly enough.

  9. Ted Baxter, your post made my day.

  10. My dad was a mission president when he was 30 years old with a 25 year old wife and 4 kids under the age of 5 in a foreign country. I don’t know how either parent made it through the experience without anti-depressants. I just want to be the primary pianist. No preparation, just show up but something interesting to do for 2 hours at church.

  11. My dad was a mission president when he was 30 years old with a 25 year old wife and 4 kids under the age of 5 in a foreign country. I don’t know how either parent made it through the experience without anti-depressants. I just want to be the primary pianist. No preparation, just show up each Sunday, keep occupied for 2 hours and learn the gospel basics.

  12. D. Fletcher says:

    I was the ward organist for 18 years, and I really never needed a different calling. It’s my life calling.

  13. D.,

    I have to confess that I just don’t understand why you have such a proprietary feeling towards the calling of ward organist as your comment above and many others you have made seem to indicate. That isn’t to say that you weren’t the best ward organist that I have ever heard–because you were–but in all seriousness and my tongue-in-cheek post notwithstanding, it’s church practice to mix it up once in a while. Maybe it’s because I’ve never experienced any deep attachment to a particular calling that that I don’t understand why you would view it as your life calling. Would you care to elaborate?

  14. D.

    To echo’s Mathew’s point, every time the topic of callings come up you mention your claim to the calling of organist. I understand that this is very dear to you, and I don’t want to offend. I realize that there are aspects of this that I don’t understand and that I don’t know you at all except for through your posts. That said, it is my understanding that it isn’t our place to dictate what our callings should be. Do you feel differently?

    I’ve had a variety of callings, some of which I really anticipated and some of which I dreaded and felt were not a good match for me. I learned from each of them and I’m glad I was humble enough to accept them, though at the time I really wanted to refuse some.

    I trust that you have thick skin and that I am posting this in an effort to understand rather than to criticize.

    As for the topic at hand, I think that many missionaries come home having day dreams of how they would do a great job as a mission pres. Mostly this comes from imagining how some of the above mentioned situations could be handled. Then you realize that doing a good job would really be a lot more work than you imagine and that it would not simply be another mission, but with your family along. In fact it would be totally different from the missionary work you are accustomed to.

    Of course my mission president played tennis three times a week at a nice club…

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    Guys,

    Yes, I understand it’s church practice to mix up the callings. I myself have done myriad other callings in the ward and stake. But I thought this post asked the question: what calling do we covet? I really covet no calling at all beyond organist, because I feel it’s my mission in life, the reason God gave me the talent. But I’m not against other people doing it — it’s just the calling I like to do the best (and I’m sure other people feel the same). Is that wrong? Many wards have a good organist already. But surprisingly many don’t have any, or have somebody who really doesn’t want to do it. Since I’m no longer the organist in my ward, I’m tempted to go around the region, looking for a ward that needs an organist.

    Why do I like being the organist? Because I share my talents, give service, don’t have to work to hard at it, and get to church on time. Why don’t I covet other callings? Too much work, too little fulfillment. I didn’t go on a mission, so I can’t say whether a mission president might be a cool thing to do. But scoutmaster, nursery leader, or church magazine rep — I certainly don’t covet these callings.

  16. D. Fletcher says:

    Just a further clarification on my last post: callings, for the most part, are just jobs to be filled. Like regular jobs in the regular job market, it does seem like some people might be better suited to some callings than to others. When I was the organist of the Manhattan First Ward, there were 7 different Bishops. Each Bishop did his calling well, and quite differently from his predecessor. Yet, they all saw fit to keep me in my calling. Why? Maybe they knew I liked it, and was very good at it, so they saw no reason to make a change.

  17. D., my ward is just a short trip away. Heck — I’d even pick you up in the morning. Our ward organist was just called into the Bishopric, so they just asked Amy to play again. In and of itself it doesn’t seem so stressful. But when she works full time, goes to grad school 3/4 time, and is finishing her thesis in addition to being the primary president, it suddenly seems like a lot to have the *responsibility* that includes being at Church 20 minutes early every week and being busy during sacrament meeting instead of mentally preparing for primary.

    She’s really quite excellent at the piano, and does just fine at the organ, but she’d love to be relieved of the duty. Come on over, D.

  18. D.,

    I just wrote a very long response to your comment that failed to post. I’ll keep it short this time.

    Essentially I said that I think I read too much into your initial comment.

    I think the comparison of a calling to a job is problematic, but if a person were to accept that comparison, I don’t think the result would be any different. We would still be subject to the will of the biship/CEO who may or may not recognize that we are better suited for one task but think the success of the ward/business would be better served by deploying us somewhere else.

  19. D. Fletcher says:

    Mat, I want to read that long post! Too bad…

    Truthfully, I do think the callings should be mixed up. Nobody wants to stay too long in a calling that they hate, and meanwhile, lots of people want a chance to show what they do with Sunday School, Relief Society President, etc. But guess what? Music can only be done by the people actually trained to do it. There’s some leeway on how much training, but someone who has never played the piano shouldn’t be asked to play the organ. Music takes some previous developed skill — it’s about the only thing in the church that does. That’s why someone like me is valuable, not just in my ward but in wards all over. Since I’ve left the first ward, I’ve played organ in wards in New Jersey and Utah, and they were happy to have me. A week ago Sunday, I played in Elder Nelson’s ward, and he was sitting right by me. He asked me how often I would be there, and suggested that he would try to come (to that ward whenever I was there). I said that I was just a guest and might not be back at all, and he seemed real sad about that.

    What can I say? My BYU professor told me that organ playing would be my life’s calling, and so it has been. Even releasing me from my own ward calling as organist hasn’t released me from the calling.

    P.S. Logan, I’ll happily be the guest organist in your ward, for a start. I’m booked through April 10, but after that, if you still want me, we’ll can talk about it.

  20. Jonathan Green says:

    Ted: that was awesome.

  21. D,

    Thanks for the comments. I can certainly understand this in the way of “life’s calling” as opposed to the way I have taken it.

  22. Shirley, you must be kidding.

    I don’t care how much the acolytes might hang on your every word–can you imagine spending most of two years interviewing a bunch of 19-21 year olds, while getting “encouragement” from above to increase the number of baptisms, at the same time getting flak from the stake presidents, etc. within the mission about the quality of people who are being baptized?

    My dad did it twice, and I’m sure he was a wonderful mission president. And I’ve worked more or less closely with about half a dozen mission presidents here in NYC. But, I can’t imagine wanting the job.

  23. This is going to make me sound totally unhinged . . . but I’ve always wanted to be a Girls Camp director, or even just a minion of the director.

    I only went to girl’s camp once but I wanted to go every year.

    I love to camp, and I love working with teenagers. I just really enjoy them. So the combination just seems like it would be fun. No doubt I am horribly horribly wrong.

  24. Lisa,
    Too bad you don’t live in Brooklyn, my wife would LOVE to have you help her with camp. She’s in the recruiting process right now for this year’s camp and doesn’t know too many people outside of our ward. Plus, it would be nice to have a good feminist around.

    Ted Baxter,
    You are brilliant. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  25. D. Fletcher says:

    Speaking of organist ward-hopping, I’ll be in your ward, playing the organ, on April 10, Rusty.

  26. And we can’t wait, D!

  27. Mathew,

    Why do you think the sister’s would be less impressed? I found both my mission presidents to be incredible, or maybe I am just easily impressed. Or at least more so than other women.

    But from my side of the coin, I secretly would like to be a mission presidents wife. Perhaps it is a foolish fantasy in which I would give the sister’s all the right kind of support and guidance, and higher expectations that I craved as a missionary (dont get me wrong, my mission president and wife were wonderful, I just had some sister missionary inadequecy issues). But there are some things that I would of like to see done.

    Okay, okay, maybe Mathew was right afterall.

    I hate it when I prove myself wrong.

  28. Sarah,

    I admire both of the presidents I served under a great deal as well–and neither one was rich so readers should take my post with the same humor it was intended. But I really do think of being a mission president as the best calling in the church.

    Your excellent comment raises two points. First we should make a distinction between characteristics, traits and acheivements which we might properly admire in a given context and those which we should not. I am being critical of the tendency to a cult of personality that often manifests iteself in rigid heirarchal structures–i.e. we exalt leaders for nonexistent/inappropriate achievements/traits or to give them more than their due (with or without the encouragement of the object of the cult).

    Second, for a significant portion of my mission there were no sisters in the mission at all and for most of my mission there were very few relative to other missions so I can’t claim to have observed a large sample. Based on what I was able to observe, however, as a group the sisters never seemed as obsequious as the elders. Is this really the case or is my perception skewed.

    A few of the possibilities: 1. Because the sisters have no chance of assuming a leadership position they have less incentive to kiss up. 2. Being a few years older than the elders gives sisters the additional experience and maturity needed to not get the message confused with the messenger. 3. I am more attuned to the cues of male vs. male competition and so underestimate the lengths to which sisters go to curry favor with the president. 3a. Sisters mark status in ways that are not dependent on the president but are terribly competitive among themselves in ways that I did not notice. 4. Only the best of the best were sent to Russian-speaking missions in their nascent stages (a common statement within those missions) and anything I observed should not be broadly applied.

    What think ye?

  29. Floyd the Wonder Dog says:

    Only much later did I realize just how far off the template of mission president my MP was. He called a bunch of ex-high school and college jocks to serve in the office. He then bought uniforms and set up his own football team.

    I thought that we were just lucky to get more GA visits than my buddies did in their missions. But then the pres. would shortly after the visit change some of his policies.

    I think he got away with it because he was a local.

    My personal preference would be ward financial clerk. But, unfortunately, I’ve been bishop and am now on the high council. Sometimes I think that we forget that the scripture says “We believe that a man MUST be called of God. . .” (emphasis added). All too often we call out of desperation. Or relation rather than inspiration. Dan Rector told me once that he wished that he could move into a ward and just be treated as himself, not as an extension of his father.

  30. The only way I would want to be a Mission President is if I could cut my own deal.

    1) I pick the location. Three years of exile in places like Winnipeg-Manitoba, Novosibirsk-Siberia, Riverside-California, or Provo-Utah, with traveling outside the mission prohibited would kill me.

    2) I pick the missionaries. I would pick sane, psychologically stable missionaries, which pretty much means I would have to go foreign, since I have always been under the impression that the church likes to keep missionaries with mental health issues close to home. Maybe I would want a couple of crazy people to spice things up, I mean I’ll have to have some good stories for the folks back home, but I don’t want to spend three years playing Sigmund Freud in confession rooms across the mission. The missionaries will meet enough psychos on the streets.

    3) I want one of those phat mission president mansions. My calling better come with a huge house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the mission, because heaven knows any self respecting mission president wouldn’t be caught dead living in a working class neighborhood.

    Out.

  31. Mathew,

    I think ye hit the nail right on the head. 1. I have never really considered this before, but I had some companions that could care less about a visit from the president. They respected him, but didnt hold him on the pedestal on which sometimes they seem to stand. 2. Do not confuse years and maturity, while with sisters that might make the difference some of the time, I dealt with sister’s that had volumes to learn from the elders in regards to maturity (perhaps myself included, but I doubt it) 3. I DID have companions (the lesser mature) that fawned over the president so that he might sypathize with their plight just in case he caught wind of their less than mature behavior (I had a companion that literally threw fits in the street, with crying and the stamping of the feet, because she didnt want to do something). I think that all goes back to the fact that sister’s may have a slightly different decision making process when choosing to serve a mission. Some go to serve, some to fix their lives because they don’t like themselves, and some to get married (or any combination of the three). Some go to serve, and end up getting married. 4. I have heard that those Russian missions require a certian caliber of missionary, as did the spanish speaking zone of Toronto.

    Disclaimer: Please do not think me a heartless person who feels victimized by all around her. I had several excellent companions, and I can be quite patient and understanding. Despite common belief, I am not a bitter spinster return sister missionary out with something to prove. (Can you be considered a spinster a month away from 25?). I did, however, struggle for sometime feeling like a foriegner in a strange country (Canada is not so different from the US, but living in an increased security bubble that is definitely a man’s world was an adjustment).

    Still think it would be a hoot to be mission president’s wife.

  32. Sarah,

    I put the bit about Russian-speaking missions up in jest–while it was a common statement, I don’t consider it a real possibility. As for your age–just remember, I married my wife when she was 24–25 might have been a deal-breaker;>

    Ryan,

    I did two months in Riverside while waiting for a visa–the absolute low point of my mission. The only part I disliked.

    It’s probably impossible to get 150 psychologically stable 19-25 year olds in one place.

  33. Crap, I’ve only got a month, and with no offers on the table. Spinster it is.

  34. Floyd, you’d really want to be ward financial clerk? It seems to me that that’s the one ward calling where mistakes can get you excommunicated and jailed. No one audits primary teachers.

    I think I currently have the ideal calling: 2nd counselor in the bishopric. You have little to no executive responsibility–you don’t plan any activities, lessons, or meetings. You just have to show up. Granted, there’s a lot you have to show up to, but I find that screwing around with my BlackBerry makes meetings go faster. Also, you get to know everyone, choose which Sunday block meetings you want to attend, bear your testimony every three months, and nod at the priests when they bless the sacrament correctly.

    It’s even better if you’re relatively young–being ordained a high priest is like being innoculated against ever catching the calling of elder’s quorum president. The problem is, if you’re under 30 and in the bishopric, it’s not because the

    It’s important that you get called as 2nd rather than 1st counselor. In most types of presidencies it scarcely matters which counselor you are, but a bishopric is different. If your bishop travels with any regularity you can get stuck with some really difficult responsibilities as first counselor, such as welfare issues.

  35. Sorry for the unfinished thought in the penultimate paragraph. It should have continued thusly: “…ward you’re in is full of stable leader-types, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

    By the way, I posted the bit about the APs avenging the murdered president above as Ted Baxter. I used a different name because I wasn’t sure how it would go over–you know, maybe someone’s dad here was assassinated as a mission president and they might not see the comic possibilities. But now that it’s been well-received I’ll own up to it and accept the warm applause. I’m a real stand-up guy that way.

  36. D. Fletcher says:

    Somebody I know has said that a calling on the Stake High Council is “Church vacation.”

  37. Ryan,

    I’ve got the mission for you: Switzerland, Geneva. The mission home is in a neighborhood of small embassies (and is rumored to have been the Iranian embassy in the early 20th century). While the home isn’t huge it is definately a multi-million dollar property, and is five minutes from downtown Geneva, and the airport.

    You wouldn’t feel exiled as the mission covers all of french-speaking Switzerland, which is only a fifth of the country, but includes a fair portion of the Alps and the beautiful cities of Neuchatel, Lausanne and Montreux. The majority of the mission is in France: I recommend Lyon, Dijon and Besancon.

    Plus, when the Bordeaux mission was dissolved in ’02 (or was it ’01), the entire Nancy stake was tacked on to the Geneva mission, so now you’ve even got Strasbourg and Nancy to increase the metropolitan aspect of the appointment.

    Let’s run over Ryan’s list:
    1. Desirable location? Check.
    2. Missionaries? I didn’t cover this, but it is foreign, as requested, so…Check.
    3. Mission home mansion? Check.
    4. Raclette every night you don’t have fondue? Check
    5. Chances of being assasinated? Pretty low, but with the diversity in Geneva, it shouldn’t be hard to tick *somebody* off.

    Wow, I think that I may have talked myself into coveting a calling as MP in Suisse de Genève.

  38. Floyd the Wonder Dog says:

    Yes, definitely the ward financial clerk. Having been 1st and 2nd councilor in the bishopric (no, not at the same time), Bishop, EQ pres, scout master and currently serving on the High Council, I still covet the ward financial clerk position. Who’s going to harass you? After all, the reimbursement check might get lost. You can close the office door and tell people that you can’t be disturbed. Let’s see the bishop try that.

    I really liked teaching the Star class, but I out survived FOUR Primary Presidents. The kids responded to a Daddy voice and look more rapidly. No threats involved, just an expression of disappointment.

    Re: the previous comment about High Council. Any calling poorly done can be considered a vacation. You’re the bishop, EQ pres, or RS pres? Delegate!! Why work hard? After all, we’re not getting paid for this. That’s where we separate the valiant from the terrestrial. (For those who can’t tell this paragraph is heavily laced with sarcasm, except the last statement.)

  39. Financial clerk was a nice calling, except for having to track down one sister every sunday who would pay odd amounts and the sum of the donations never matched what she put as the total. Kind of embarassing to ask “Sister X, did you want the extra 3 cents to go tithing or the humanitarian fund?”

  40. I’m also among those here whose dad served as mission president. My parents loved their calling, and would love to have another shot someday.

    I dread the idea of ever running a mission, or for that matter a ward, branch, or quorum. No, I’m quite happy with my current calling as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. It’s my third time up, and I firmly believe that is the single best calling in the church.

    (PS to Sarah – Did you know a Rachel Fox by chance? She was also a Spanish-speaking sister in Toronto, although given your implied age she likely precededed you by a year or so.)

  41. “…and their kids go to BYU for free.” What? Am I gullible or are you serious?

  42. Brad Kramer says:

    I’ve many times told my wife that MP is the only calling I covet. The sad part is that one is not particularly likely to get there without serving as Bishop, on the HC, or in the SP along the way. Alas, perhaps my quixotic, heterodox proclivities will mean that my desire will forever remain an impossible dream.

  43. I believe a GA said, perhaps at the MTC(?), that Church Headquarters receives more letters from members requesting to be called as MP than any other. People list their qualifications as if it were a resume, listing previous callings, and even saying how financially stable they are.

    He then said that they have never called any, not one, who wrote in.

    MP callings are made via recommendation of someone with a “higher” calling (i.e. and Area Authority recommending a SP).

  44. the entire Nancy stake was tacked on to the Geneva mission, so now you’ve even got Strasbourg and Nancy to increase the metropolitan aspect of the appointment.

    Sign me up:) I served in Strasbourg and Nancy (as well as Mulhouse), and have since visited Switzerland. Very nice places (although Mulhouse is a bit less glamorous).

  45. Tim,

    Do you mean to say that I have irreparably harmed my chances of becoming a mission president? Say it ain’t so! As long as openly admitting I want a calling is all it will take to make sure I don’t receive it, let me go on the record and clear up any wrong impressions the post above may have created: I want to be an EQP, I want to be on the high council, I want to be a bishop, I dream of one day serving in a stake presidency. I also want paper cuts between my toes.

  46. Lol. I suppose you can want it, just don’t write a letter to the 1st Presidency requesting it.

  47. John Taber says:

    The calling I’ve held for six of the last eight years is assistant clerk – in three different wards, and now at the stake level. Twice I was membership clerk the whole time; the third time and now I worked my way into that specific responsibility. (And three times I sent off my own membership record, too.)

    If I covet anything, it’s the possibility of eventually doing something else.

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