Success-ion and Suck-cession

Tomorrow morning, I will attend a Stake Conference meeting in which I will not be unveiled as a newly called and ordained Stake President. But I will see another man have that happen to him, and shortly thereafter, I will raise my right hand to sustain him and his chosen counselors. In the minutes that follow the sustaining, I will almost certainly hear from the men who have served these past many years in a Stake Presidency that, in my opinion, should go down in history as one of the all time greats.

(President Clayton, and Presidents Watson and Silva–I love and respect you all profoundly and am so sad to no longer sit as audience to your collective voice, kindness, wisdom, and spirit on a regular basis.)

After they are done speaking, I will hear a few words from each of the newly called leaders, and then finally from the visiting General Authority (in this case, it happens to be Elder Michael T. Ringwood).[1] Although their messages will vary slightly from person to person, there will undoubtedly be a common theme: succession. No matter the level in the hierarchy, every time I have seen succession take place in the Church this same theme is pounded upon over and over: The Spirit moved upon those who were responsible for the calling and revealed to them who should be selected from the pool of eligible, worthy candidates. We will be encouraged to take the messages home, to pray over them, and to seek a witness for ourselves that the new leaders were in fact called by revelation through the proper channels. It is entirely appropriate for the principles and teachings regarding succession in the LDS Church to be discussed during successions, and I can only imagine that the entire proceeding must be quite fascinating for someone seeing it for the first time. I can also imagine that, if I was the newly called leader and was staggering under the weight of the responsibility, I would likely find comfort from hearing several additional people state their belief that the right call was made.

Admittedly, there have been times when I’ve felt like the repetitive testifying that “the right person was called” evokes feelings of insecurity–a feeling that the leaders sense great waves of doubt or cynicism wafting through the congregation, daring them to furnish additional evidence and proof that the Lord’s will was done.

Other times, however, I have found great meaning and had some powerful and wonderful spiritual experiences during succession. Such was the case when my current Bishop was called and sustained almost exactly one year ago. On that occasion, I wrote:

Despite, or maybe because of, the complete and utter lack of surprise when your name was presented for sustaining, there entered into our chapel a spirit and peaceful energy that firmly and undeniably witnessed to me–as well as to many others present—that you had been called of God. It was extraordinary.

Regardless of how tomorrow plays out for me, it is unlikely that we’ll see great schism as a result of the proceedings. There will probably be a handful of people present who are not comfortable saying in advance as I did above that they will sustain the new leadership–people who will not make that decision until game time, depending on who is called. However, I don’t think it will require angels or translated beings or flocks of seagulls[2] to ensure that nearly everyone will leave the Stake Center with a general feeling of certainty that, at the bare minimum, the world will not end and the Stake Christmas function will take place once again.

I’m curious to hear about some of the success-ions and suck-cessions you’ve witnessed or been a part of. However, I’d like this to be an inspirational thread for the most part, so Suck-cession stories are only welcome if they’re fantastically awesome and won’t make me regret posting this.[3]

_______________________

[1] I will also get extremely frustrated with my two children who will ask me over and over why they can’t go to primary/nursery yet, and why we’re sitting (probably) in a dark gymnasium on hard chairs.
[2] Let’s hope not, anyway.
[3] If you have to ask whether your story is questionable, I suggest that you read my entire body of writing here at BCC and then make the call.

Comments

  1. I’ve never found the succession reassurances particularly necessary. 1) More than anything, I’m just glad it’s them and not me. 2) Any one of hundreds fall under the “good in my book” spectrum: either a) spiritually polished and temperate or b) in need of the calling to become such. 3) Wherever they are on the spectrum, this shouldn’t hamper their ability to ask me the stock temple recommend questions or make small-talk before-hand

    And you’re right, Stake Conference is a beating with small kids. Why they dont have nursery has always baffled me.

  2. Nicely written.
    .
    I’ll offer a slightly different slant on succession in the Church: as I’ve moved through wards and stakes, my bishops and stake presidents have been very different from each other but uniform in their sensitivity, inspiration, and non-judgmental compassion regarding my particular circumstances.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    My experience matches Ryan’s.

    I wonder whether all the reassurances are a reflection of the traumatic original succession in the wake of the death of Joseph Smith. (There used to be a pamphlet called “Succession in the Presidency,” which was an apologetic for the Brigham et al. faction and the mountain church’s methods of succession.)

    Having said that, in other parts of the world my understanding is that such successions are fraught with potential apostasy. I’ve heard that that often happens in Russia (or used to), where the outgoing officers become offended at their release and simply don’t come back. So that kind of experience might be driving the process to some extent as well.

  4. Wow–you have such positive feelings about your leadership–that is so nice to read. I just have to let you know, though, that my stake presidency is better than yours, I’m sure.
    http://www.mormonmentality.org/2010/07/05/facing-east-from-new-york.htm

    But two suck-cession stories that I hope are sufficiently fantastic:
    1–My dad grew up in a small ID town and told me a story about the one and only protest vote he ever witnessed. The guy who opposed the new calling stood (I am not sure if he was asked to or not) and explained that this man could not be worthy because he burned his garbage on Sunday. The garbage burner was set-apart, anyway.

    May I never live in Malad, because apparently, they are near translation.

    2–I served my mission in Kobe Japan and heard about a ward in the mission (and perhaps this is one of those urban legends/lies missionaries entertain each other with, so if other Japanese RMs chime in that they too heard about such a ward, maybe we can debunk it) that had been combined from 2 branches. Some members from the previous branch presidencies had been made a bishopric (and, of course, all the auxiliaries had to re-organize to combine). Some aspects of Japanese culture make “stepping down” hard and apparently the ward failed to integrate and those members of the branch who felt they were not represented in leadership maintained a shadow leadership–like a branch presidency in a parliamentary system.

    Anyway, I personally like a change up, for the most part. A few weeks ago both my bishop and my RS President announced they were going to be released “soon.” On further prodding, it turns out they have very different definitions of “soon” than the rest of the congregation. But nothing gets a ward talking like a change in leadership!

  5. Once when my name was presented for sustaining in a stake conference, a woman sitting a few rows behind us said “Who? Him?” loudly enough for my wife and children to hear. I suspect that my mind was elsewhere, or my ears filled with the singing of celestial choirs, or something, because I didn’t hear it.

  6. Well, yeah, because you would surely have turned around and informed her that she should have been using a nominative form, right??

  7. A number of years ago, I happened to be visiting my parents when their Stake Conference occurred. Apostle Boyd K. Packer was the presiding authority. I’ll never forget the talk he gave in the Saturday evening session. He talked about succession and the process by which a Stake President is called. He then said something that I’m sure had everybody in the room sit up straight in their chairs. He said, “I’m sure there will be some of you who will feel that the man called to this position cannot possibly be who the Lord wants. Some of you here have long memories and probably feel this man shouldn’t be a Stake President. I’m here to tell you that he IS the man the Lord wants, and if you can’t sustain him tomorrow as your Stake President, then you have no Stake President.”

    I knew as soon as I heard that, that he was talking about my father.

    I grew up in a small town in which my mother’s family were a founding family, but my father was an outsider. When she married my father, it caused a minor scandal since she called off her engagement to her childhood sweetheart to do it. He subsequently went inactive, started drinking and smoking, and even became a part-owner in one of the only bars in the valley.

    However, when I was in my teens, a wise Bishop called him to the Sunday School presidency (explaining that he would have to become active and live the Word of Wisdom in order to accept the calling). He did and served faithfully for many, many years after that.

    I know that the calling as a Stake President was difficult for him, but he was a much beloved Stake President too. I believe that love stemmed from the very fact that he understood deeply what repentance and forgiveness really meant and could effectively and lovingly counsel people who struggled in their faith.

    I heard that there were several people, who while they didn’t raise their hand to the contrary that Sunday, felt that my father shouldn’t have been Stake President. Their loss.

  8. “in my opinion, should go down in history as one of the all time greats.”

    I 100% agree. President Clayton is amazing. The very best I have ever known.

  9. Oh, phew! When there was a footnote for flock of seagulls I had faith that you would choose the right citation, but it was such a relief when I saw that you did, in fact, choose the right citation. Not unlike the anticipation and relief people feel when a new leader is called! Oh, you didn’t think I would tie that into the theme, did you? Well I did.

  10. When I was young a man was called to be bishop of our ward. This man was so obscure people literally were asking, “Who?” He started out slowly, but he grew enormously and became one of the best bishops we ever had. He went on to serve twice as a stake president.

  11. We are seconds away from finding out who the new leaders are, and the mic has stopped working.

    It’s mass hysteria!

  12. Roughly 19 men are huddled around the audio control box. It’s a sign from heaven!

    The crowd is chanting “10 More Years!” over and over!

  13. Oh my. We’re all sitting on the edges of our seats…

  14. 10 More Years!!!!!

    Sort of.

    Former 2nd counselor is the new Stake President! It’s a Success-ion!

  15. No success-ion or suck-cession stories right now. Just a question:

    Why is it that we sustain new leaders the moment they are announce, and then are encouraged go home and pray about it? It seems to me that it would make more sense if a calling were announced, we were given a week to seek personal revelation that the calling is indeed from the Lord, and then sustain the next week. Any idea why we don’t?

  16. Isn’t it Michael T. Ringwood, not Michael R. Ringwood?

  17. Duly noted Scooter.

  18. Shannon Flynn says:

    I think Kim’s story is one of the most engaging I have ever heard. I wish there could be more told about it. It further illustrates that no one comes completely clean to a calling. I have heard stories about Spencer W. Kimball and David Bednar having a number of people in their “home town’s” having a lot of heartburn over their calls initially. Then one remembers Jesus of Nazareth, ” Is this not the carpenter’s son?”

  19. We have stake conference at the end of oct. and are getting a new counselor. Its going to be interesting as to see who it is as the stake pres. isn’t very popular at all and people have complained about him to various leaders and all kinds of other hubbub. I know 2 people who have turned down callings to work with him and others who have gone inactive or the “as long as he is the …” type thing.

  20. Kevin,

    I wonder whether all the reassurances are a reflection of the traumatic original succession in the wake of the death of Joseph Smith.

    Not just Joseph Smith. Remember the problems of succession with Peter? We preach that the priesthood authority was taken away from the earth, instead of being passed on to the Popes of the Catholic church. It’s at the core of the credibility of our faith. Was the succession within the Catholic Church authorized by God or not?

  21. Kevin & Daniel,
    Oddly, I considered developing that line of thinking more, but figured it wouldn’t be worth it since someone else would know far more about the subject than me and I’d just end up looking stupid.

    But yeah–I have always assumed that the heavy-handedness on this subject (btw, today was no exception) is a direct result of both the LDS view of early Christianity and the Nauvoo-period succession crisis.

  22. Kim (7),
    That is a fantastic story. Thank you so much for sharing it–it made the post worthwhile for me all by itself.

    Also, great to see your name! We need to do another Snacker…

  23. Alex, (#15)

    Sometimes it does happen. Two and a half years ago I was in a stake where the visiting general authority, weeks before his arrival, relayed just such a request; that members of the stake make the upcoming change in the stake presidency a matter of sincere prayer, both that he would be divinely guided and that we would receive confirmation if it was right. Our stake president relayed the request. We did so. It was very helpful.

  24. No wait, Alex. That’s not what you were asking. Though I think it’s about as close as we may come for a while.

    I’m trying to envision what would happen in a stake, socially and psychologically, during a week long “get a personal confirmation” week. Interesting to contemplate.

  25. In 1990? Elder Ballard did a tour of Japan specifically to visit former stake & branch presidents and bishops who had gone inactive when released. I know that few former leaders in the areas I served were active, even when their families were. After all, if you aren’t being “promoted” you are unworthy…

  26. When my husband was called as a young man into a bishopric the Stake President said something like…”I know many of you are surprised by this choice…I was too but I guess it’s who the Lord wants.” How’s that for a vote of confidence.

  27. Re 25
    I’ve read posts elsewhere by Wilfried Decoo, talking about the same kind of thing happening in Belgium — after the leader is released, he takes it personally & goes inactive.

    I’ve wondered whether it’s easier to handle being released when your culture has a longer tradition of political leaders being elected to office for limited time periods and then stepping down gracefully once their terms are over. (For alternate history readers, this issue came up in one of the stories of the 1632 series by Eric Flint.)

  28. A couple of years ago we had a really unpopular SP. He was a military type. Nuff said.

    The man that was called was his exact opposite personality wise. You could hear an audible sigh of relief when his name was called. The whole tone of the stake changed. It was inspired for sure.

  29. FWIW, years ago I read a talk which influenced my thoughts on this topic:

    http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6078&x=74&y=5

  30. A few thoughts,
    Must be very nice to receive unanimous and instant support. I find it interesting that 99% of the quotes mentioned here urge us to sustain our leader. However, sustaining comes from ALL directions . . . from those for which you have stewardship, and from those who have stewardship OVER you. (Up the heirarchy and down!) Although I’m just a long-time hymn-book-passer-outter (nothing more, nothing less) I’ve noticed that it is harder for a leader (say a SP) to trust a subordinate leader (ie a bishop) than it is for the congregation to trust a subordinate leader (bishop).

  31. As a side note, we’ve had a very unique suck-session/success-ion. The SP, a successful professional guy who had been groomed for several years to fill the SP position in our rural area, was involved in a car crash which severely and irreversibly impaired his cognitive fx. About six months later, he was called as SP anyway. Not long after, he started calling several cognitively impaired bishops.

    I can’t describe the stress and worry members felt in adapting and struggling on their own. We all had to learn a great deal of self-sufficiency. There were a few inspired moments, times when these leaders worked above their capacity, but most of the time, it was long, slow and difficult. Those close to them walked a tricky line trying to sustain them while in actuality, making a lot of decisions and acting outside the scope of their callings in order to run a stake and a few wards at an absolute minimal level. The youth had the most difficult time with it all. I won’t go into their struggles, but I will say, it was extremely difficult for them.

    These leaders genuinely were well intending and devout, which was the only thing (many members say) that kept them from mass exodus during that long 10 year stretch. We learned a lot about patience.

    In the end, we were all grateful, older, and wiser when a new leadership came in.

  32. I don’t know if my comments will be appropriate or not, and I am not trying to be rude or uncivil, but it is my honest response.

    As a semi-acitve member it makes very little difference to me who our Stake President is, or whether or not I like him. The lion’s share of my religious involvement comes from at ward level. A change in the Stake Presidency really doesn’t seem to effect me at all.

  33. To Jeff S: Your comments are both civil and appropriate. From my viewpoint in a stake calling and as a member of a ward, the most important calling in the church is the bishop. Stake leaders have their responsibilities, for sure, but it’s the ward members who spend the most time taking care of each others needs.

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