I Broke an Unwritten Mormon Rule….Credibility Possibly Shot Forever

I have to say, I’m approaching the Sabbath with a bitter- sweet kind of feeling. Tomorrow I’m getting released from being the gospel doctrine teacher. I always pictured myself as the “smile and agree to serve” kind of gal….no matter if it was nursery, homemaking, or ward librarian. But when I got called into chat with the first counselor a couple of weeks ago, he told me that they had another calling in mind for me and what did I think about being released from teaching gospel doctrine. I started crying. Yep. Right there in the coat closet we were meeting in. I sort of plastered on a fake smile and said “I’m happy to serve wherever I’m needed” and made a beeline for the bathroom where the sobbing started in earnest. Let’s just say I’m embarrassed. About the whole crying in the bathroom thing….oh and crying in the car in the parking lot, oh, and the choking up when talking with the person who I’m now replacing in my new calling. I’m even more embarrassed that this episode has resulted in the entire bishopric looking at me with soft, kind eyes and patting my arm whenever we talk.

So I needed to figure out why I was being such a big baby–because clearly this behavior cannot continue. And I have thought of a few reasons, but the ultimate one is that I love teaching gospel doctrine. It is the most spiritually fulfilling calling I’ve ever had. I love being the one that waits for the inspiration to pick out the topics that need to be discussed. I love presenting ideas in an unusual way and seeing people get excited in Sunday School. I love being forced to systematically study the scriptures. I love that I’ve taught for long enough that themes have started to emerge. Like every once in a while we have a “symbolism is fun” lesson, or a “scriptures as literature” lesson, and the class really digs it. I love that even though I’m naturally shy, I’ve been forced to get to know large numbers of people in my calling. Mostly, I love that I’ve had a spiritual renaissance that tracks with my teaching gospel doctrine ever since I graduated from law school. (A particularly tumultuous few years for me spiritually…) Finally, I’m currently going through some of the most seriously difficult few months I’ve ever faced in my life, and I love having the familiarity of a calling that I am comfortable and confident in.

Which is probably why I’m being released–comfort and confidence are not necessarily the adjectives related to spiritual growth. Apparently, I’ve had this calling longer than anyone else in the ward has had his/her calling, including the bishop. I don’t think we get passes from necessary change just because we’re happy where we are, or just because we think we need continuity, or just because we cry in front of people in power. So tomorrow will be bitter, because I’m being released, then teaching my last lesson. But also tomorrow will be sweet, because I’m being trusted to do something else. And sweet because I’m taking with me all my spiritual growth from the past few years. And sweet, because I’m not leaving the gospel behind, I’m just reapplying it. Kind of like mascara after a good cry…


  1. Doug Spencer says:

    “…as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in D’s ward, it is completely agonizing, I am terrible at it…”

    I know this thread is over a week old, but it just seems wrong to let JWL’s self-depecrating remark slide by with no rebuttal. Jim, I know you didn’t comment on this post with the intent to solicit any sympathy or praise but honestly, I can’t belive you have the effrontery to insult yourself like that.

    You are, by far, the most insightful and well-prepared SS teacher I’ve ever had in my life. In fact, a friend of mine (non-LDS) attended one of your lessons and said it was the best Bible study session she had EVER been to.

    Okay, I’m done.

  2. D. Fletcher says:

    (dry, sad tone)

    I’m in a little bit different, but similar situation. I haven’t attended my own Ward for several months now, after a difficult confrontation with my leaders last spring.

    I did end of up going to a number of different wards, including one in SLC where I played their pipe organ.

    But I determined to come back after Labor Day. Last Sunday, I returned to my own Ward, and was surprisingly welcomed and embraced by many people there. I ended up accompanying the hymns on piano (the pipe organ isn’t yet re-installed) and heard from many people afterward, some tearful, asking if I had returned permanently.

    You see, I commune most fully through the music in the ward. Given my training, background (with admitted social failures), one would think that I would always be given music to do.

    But since Sunday, my Bishop emailed me to say that I would not be asked to do music, if indeed I’m returning to the ward. So, my answer to him was, I’ll have to find another ward who will let me play the pipe organ.

    Quirky pride, I know. Well, there it is, in a nutshell.

  3. After my mission I was a gospel doctrine teacher or instructor for many years. I just kept getting the same kinds type of calling. Then in a new ward I was getting completely different callings: ward employment specialist, stake missionary, ward mission leader, ward emergency preparedness person …

    For awhile I took it quite personally — feeling that I had been singled out and that my leaders were deliberately making sure to not put me in callings that involved teaching or instruction.

    I did manage to learn some things in my other callings and came to appreciate them. Still, having a treasured calling and then losing it sure can be hard sometimes.

  4. Beautiful post Karen. Especially because I just recently went through an almost identical situation. I was just released as Gospel Doctrine teacher. It was easily the best calling I’ve had. As I read through the reasons you loved it I mentally checked them off as reasons I loved it as well. What softened (and hardened) the blow was I was asked to be early morning seminary teacher. While I am still able to teach, which I love, it is really early in the morning (on a schedule that also includes working and masters degree). What I found interesting is that the bishop said that he’d rather the good teaching affect the five youth than the 35 adults.

  5. Bro Fletcher – I am very sorry to hear about the trials and tribulations you are having to face. I hope you find a Ward where you are accepted for the good man you are.

  6. Aaron Brown says:

    Great post, Karen.

    Your thoughts were quite timely for me, given that I have been Ward Mission Leader for about 3 years, and am about to be released. I was asked a few weeks ago if I wanted a change, and I said no. But about a week ago, I realized that I meant “yes,” and I informed the Bishop accordingly. I can’t be sure I’ll be released soon, but I suspect I will (especially if I stop showing up for PEC meetings. Oh wait, I’ve already stopped showing up for PEC meetings…)

    Serving as Ward Mission Leader has been great fun. I get to tell all my bad jokes and annoying stories to each pair of elders, and as soon as I run out (or they get fed up), transfers come around, and I get a new victim or two. I also enjoy observing and taking part in the conversion process of new members. It’s like being a missionary again, only I have more money, get to watch T.V., and don’t have to wear a plaque. Hooray.

    I imagine I will rstill emain Gospel Essentials teacher and part-time Elders Quorum instructior for some time to come. I also quite enjoy these callings. I’ve never been a Gospel Doctrine teacher, and haven’t wanted to be, until recently. I’m beginning to think it’s an experience I’d like to have. One way or another, I do want to retain a teaching position. I’m not sure what I’d do without one.

    Aaron B

  7. I love my new calling as a ward clerk. Out of all the callings I have had, this is by far the most enjoyable.

    I think I am pretty safe from being released since I have only been in less than two months. :)

    I have to say that the worst release I had was being released as elders quorum president. I had a LOT of spiritual experiences and felt very close to the brethren of my quorum, that I felt a great loss when I was released. There was a strong parallel to being released as a missionary.

    In both cases, I felt a mantle leave me and both times, it was hard for me.

  8. I understand exactly what that feeling of release is like. I had a similar experience upon being released as Primary pianist after serving in the calling for 3 years. On the other hand, I was heading for an 18 month full time mission as the Bishops’ Storehouse. I had the same feelings when that calling ended too.

    I hate to see a grown man cry, expecially when he is old, like me.

  9. Doug Spencer says:

    I’ve often heard of bishops using the idea of “spiritual growth” to justify/explain their decision to less-than-thrilled recipients of ward callings. I grew up in the home ward of D. Fletcher’s bishop whose father (my bishop) shared this same philosophy.

    While I understand that the challenges of a calling can often strengthen our spirits, I never quite understood why my bishops used this reasoning week after week to defend themselves at the pulpit, yet left our scoutmaster in his calling for over 40 years. (Talk about a calling that warrants spiritual growth).

  10. Karen, I’m confused. I don’t see anything you recount having done or said that would affect your credibility. And I can’t figure out what “unwritten rule” you broke: Crying? Being unhappy about a release or a new calling? These aren’t rule breaking. If you had said, “No, Bishop, I decline the release and I will continue to teach my SS class until armed guards drag me from the room,” that would be breaking an unwritten rule. IMHO, your rule-conformity and your credibility are fully intact. I’m sure the young women or primary kids or nursery squirts you’ll be teaching next week will be lucky to have you.

    More generally, it’s interesting to observe the Mormon habit of trying to guess why a Bishop makes various callings. Sometimes it merely seems like an exercise in trying to find a way around the simple explanation that the Bishop made a mistake, as if the truth of the gospel rests on a claim of the Bishop’s infallibility. I would offer the possibility that your reassignment was a mistake, except for the fact you mentioned you served as SS teacher longer than anyone in recorded history. Maybe it was just time for a change.

  11. Karen, thanks for a beautiful post. I had similar feelings when I had to leave my calling as Gospel Essentials teacher. Best calling I ever had– and I can’t even say it did anyone besides me any good. It’s hard to leave a position like that for some calling that just administers some program or other. You should take consolation in the fact that your gospel doctrine calling represents a test passed, no matter how you enjoy other positions you hold in the future.

  12. Kudos to Karen for her great attitude about it all. Always helpful to me in these situations is that Gene England classic “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel” where he finds that the very imperfect process of a bunch of lame amateurs bumping and knocking and bruising against each other trying to operate an entirely lay church without any proper professional direction is one of the most important methods of perfecting the Saints.

    Just for the record, as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in D’s ward, it is completely agonizing, I am terrible at it, and while I am noticing slight intimations of spiritual growth, I am sure I will have to suffer through this calling for many years for there to be any chance that any of that growth will take.

  13. My experience: The best way to get “promoted” out of a calling you love is to be great at it.

    Are church callings for the betterment of the ward or the individual? I think way too often, the leaders consider the growth of the individual with the calling first and give way too little weight to how that person is bettering the ward.

    Your thoughts?

  14. Rusty, congratulations on the new calling. Seminary teaching would be such a phenomenal experience. Those kids really are blank slates at that age. My seminary marked scriptures are still my favorite set. Have you noticed the Seminary Thought Questions over at T&S?

    Aaron, I am sure that you are a fabulous gospel essentials teacher. That is the class where you need the most enthusiastic and best teacher-I can’t so much opine on Elder’s Quorum, but I’m sure you’re great at that too. :o)

  15. Sempai1’s comment reminds me of D&C 121:39, which was often quoted about leaders in my mission field… http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/121/39#39

  16. Sid, I, like you, hope the best for Bro. Fletcher. But it sounds to me like his ward was very accepting.

    I don’t think “accepting you for the good man you are” equals “allowing you to unilaterally determine both what your calling is and when (and if) you will perform it”

  17. This has been a really interesting discussion about people’s attitudes towards callings. Maybe a first for us? I can’t remember.

    So thanks everyone for your kind words. I’ve really appreciated reading them. I’m very grateful for our little community here.

    I should go on record as saying that I don’t think my bishop is uninspired. I totally accept that it’s time for me to do something else, and I’m getting more and more excited about my new calling–and I can see the reasons I was asked to do it. However, I’m still sad about no longer teaching gospel doctrine. I think this is more an internal struggle for me. Which is interesting to really ponder. Why do we get so emotionally attached to our callings…I think it is probably proportional to the spiritual growth that we experience. My parents have served two away missions, and one stay at home mission, and have expressed a feeling of loss after each one. I’m feeling that same feeling of loss. I guess the challenge is to translate those emotions to a new forum. What do you all think?

    Oh, and it occurred to me while reading these responses that it is pretty amazing that so many people can have such strong love for what are essentially volunteer positions entailing a lot of work and little glory. I think that’s evidence of the power of the gospel to change lives…

  18. Judy Brooks says:

    Well, you certainly have a good attitude about it.

    It’s just that I feel sorry for the folks in your class. I hope they have someone waiting in the wings who’ll do a different, but bang up job. It’s too hard on the SS classmembers when a good person is removed and replaced with a Borrr-rrr-rrring teacher.

  19. What about situations, where, say , like in Bro Fletcher’s case, the decisions by the bishop are due to reasons of ego, rather than actually decisions prompted by the Spirit? Because, in my short experience as a Mormon ( I am a convert), I have seen Leaders in the few Wards I have attended, make totally bone-headed decisions, and even when faced with the negative consequences of those decisions, they would not not admit that might have been mostaken!!! Just my 2 cents

  20. D. Fletcher says:

    Why remove someone who’s doing a calling well? If they are happy to do it, always prepared, and receive love and attention for their service, why not let this continue?

    Are callings a test? I haven’t heard this before.

    In my case, I feel that music is what I’m most trained to do, what God meant for me to do, and the thing that most ingratiates me to the Ward and to everyone else. That’s why I chiefly wish to volunteer as a musician. Is that so wrong? My Bishop’s particular philosophy is that people should do what they don’t want to do, or what they don’t think they’ll be good at, for “spiritual growth.” Suppose Karen and myself were in the same ward. Why ask me to teach Gospel Doctrine when Karen here is so good at it and loves it so much that she’ll cry when released?