Calling Nightmares


Consequences of War by by Peter Paul Rubens (source)

Early this morning I got into fight with a visitor at church who took umbrage at my reply to his mother’s assessment of my overall fitness to fulfill my calling. She was like, “What kind of executive secretary are you who can’t even respond to simple requests?!” Feeling pretty put out, I replied that, hey, we’re all volunteers around here, just trying to muddle along. Then her son got into my face and told me to back off. Epithets started to fly and fists weren’t far behind when I woke up in a sweat (well, that part was probably just the temperature—we’re in the middle of an epic heatwave at the moment). 

I’m not sure what my subconscious was busy processing last night. I do serve as an executive secretary in real life but I’ve liked this calling more than most and I’m about to be released anyway since I just received another calling. Maybe my subconsciousness was pricking my conscience for having been out of town for the past three weeks and just phoning it in, but one of the features of being an executive secretary is precisely that a lot of it can be done remotely, which I continue to do despite my imminent release. And while being the bishop’s middleman does put me in the line of fire sometimes, I’ve found that the argument I deployed in my dream—namely, that we are all volunteers—has helped me remain sanguine under pressure and avoid the kind of nightmare I dreamed about.

In fact, at the last leadership training meeting I attended, I shared this idea with a newly-minted executive secretary who was frustrated by the less than professional interactions he’d had with members of the ward. It seems he’d been holding them to similar standards as his colleagues at work, and when I suggested we be grateful for the time we do spend and attention we do pay at church rather than be annoyed by each other’s B games it appeared as though a light went on. But who knows—maybe my subconsciousness isn’t convinced that this live and let live approach to service in the kingdom is the path to happiness.

At any rate, has your own service in the church been the source of nightmares? What importance do you ascribe to your dreams?


  1. anonymous says:

    I’m currently the Bishop. And, as if I need anyone else to tell me, constantly have my inadequacies pointed out to me.

  2. I used to teach early morning seminary as a calling. Every weekday I’d wake at 5.30, get dressed in the car on the way to the church building, try to pour my heart out on the value of the scriptures to students of varied interest levels, then I’d go straight to my first job, and then my second job, and then usually some YSA/Institute thing, then I’d go home and fall asleep reading the next day’s material.

    All in all I loved the experience, but occasionally a CES appointee would come to my class to ‘observe’, and afterwards point out everything I was doing ‘wrong’ (not enough scripture mastery games! not covering all the material! you shouldn’t use a guitar for the opening hymn because they don’t allow that in sacrament meetings!). Frankly, I ignored them, because I thought what I was doing had the best chances of getting young people interested in the scriptures, and silly games etc often seemed condescending and distracting. Plus, I wasn’t getting paid enough to put in that kind of prep time.

    But, occasionally it really would get to me, when I felt like we had some really good moments, the spirit had been present, and students were really participating and contributing, and then I was told afterwards everything I was doing wrong. The Bishop supported me, the parents supported me, but CES…

  3. While I can’t recall any actual nightmares in terms of dreams, I have had an interesting experience recently with relating to someone as I serve in my calling. I’m currently ward organist in a ward we just moved to a few months ago. I’m a very experienced organist–I have a master’s degree in organ performance and many years of experience playing and teaching. Yet my interactions with our music director were reducing me to a ball of nerves every single Sunday. She’s an older lady, a very talented musician and conductor, but very demanding and a bit on the cantankerous side. Almost every Sunday from the first week I played, she had a comment to make, and none of them were positive. Why did I feel the need to remain at the organ during the passing of the sacrament? No other organist she’d ever met did that. My book was too tall, I was straining to watch her and should get a shorter book. It went on and on. I was afraid that if I missed even the smallest cue, she’d throw her baton at me…. luckily she didn’t have one, but I knew I’d hear about it if anything went even slightly wrong. Every Sunday when I played the opening hymn, I found myself struggling to control the shaking in my hands and feet and wanting to jump off the bench and run out of the chapel before the first verse was over. I found myself missing notes in hymns I’d played hundreds of times. Here I’d played in sacrament meeting for almost 35 years and couldn’t believe the nervousness I was feeling. I think most of the frustration I felt was due to not being treated as an experienced colleague–she treated me as a beginner who needed to be coached. What changed for me was learning that she treats everyone this way… learning that people refused to sing in ward choir with her because of the criticism. I realized that she doesn’t mean to offend but is completely oblivious to how she comes across. Mainly I learned that it was NOT ME. That was freeing! I realized that if I did not do this calling, someone else less experienced would have to do it, and that while yes it was frustrating and challenging, how much worse would it be for someone less confident. That shift in mindset has really helped, along with being bold enough to assertively push back against some of her comments. So last time she asked me if something was wrong with the organ because she thought it sounded funny (basically a criticism of my stop choices), I was able to respond, “No. Nothing is wrong. It sounds fine to me.” And then finally, a few weeks ago, I got my first almost-compliment… “Thanks for helping me get that last hymn back on track” (when we managed to pull a dragging congregation back up to tempo). I think I almost like her in spite of herself.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Scoutmaster. Everybody — Every. Body. — has a strong opinion about how the scouting program should run, and the way you are doing it is not it.

  5. I have always questioned this since joining the church. I thought wouldn’t everything run better with a few professionals working full time? Bishops could visit members throughout the day, hold pray groups, bible studies, organize events better if they didn’t have a whole other life. I had to quit being a financial clerk because I got too busy with my life to do my calling. I needed about 10 free uninterrupted hours a week and just couldn’t find them at the time. Maybe the church should consider this as the church continues to grow and we have a need for more professionalism in the church buildings at times.

  6. Paul Beer says:

    I’m fortunate to be just socially unaware enough not to understand what is mumbled behind my back in whatever calling I serve in. Years ago as a bishop I would have my counselors sometimes bring some feedback to me from members whose hints didn’t drop loudly enough for me to hear.

    As for nightmares — all the time! Whether in a leadership position or teaching I regularly have nighttime demons that visit me to stir me up…from the standard “teaching naked” dream to reliving missteps I’ve made in the past (though I don’t always hear the chatter, I certainly have plenty of self-judgement to plow through).

    And Mark Brown, while I agree with you, my personal view is that as long as someone else (not me!) is doing it, they’re doing a wonderful job!

  7. I still have dreams about being called on another mission. Is it OK to admit that I see them as nightmares?

  8. Lisa, your comment reminds me of an experience a couple of months ago. Our ward has a pool of conductors who rotate through not quite once every couple of months. I did study music many moons ago, but I claim no particular conducting skill beyond knowing the movements for the various time signatures. Anyway, on a normal Sunday, the congregations puts its head down, the organist does her thing and I try to keep up. But this Sunday I quickly realised—to my horror!—that the organist (she was new to the ward) was following me! Plus there was a visitor in the pew with extremely loud pipes who was following no one and leading the rest somewhat astray. It was a harrowing three minutes or so, and I was glad I had a good rapport with the organist so we could decompress after the meeting.

    anonymous and Mark Brown, I decided long ago that unless I’m willing to jump in and show everybody how it’s down I’ll just keep my trap shut. I’m with Paul Beer on armchair quarterbacking.

    Josh, no doubt the church, at least as far as implementing the program and getting stuff done is concerned, would be better off in the hands of professionals than slackers like me. There’s probably something to be said for providing lots of growth opportunities for the membership, but I don’t know where to draw the line.

  9. KLC, I owe much of what is good about my current life to the people I met on my mission and the experiences I had there, but I shudder at the thought of having to go back out and engage in cold contacting for even a minute.

  10. Rexicorn says:

    When I was in my mid-twenties, I was called as Relief Society President for a small, but very high-need ward. Lots of ward assistance cases, women in abusive relationships, etc., and not many people in a position to help out. At the time I had a lot of health stuff going on and didn’t realize you could turn down a calling for that reason, so it added a ton of pressure when I already wasn’t coping well. I had nightmares along with a host of self-destructive stress behaviors, but not due to criticism — it was just too much for one person to be doing on a volunteer basis. The ward was mostly lovely and supportive of me, but they really needed a part-time professional social worker and not a random recent BA grad trying to figure it out as she went.

  11. “I still have dreams about being called on another mission. Is it OK to admit that I see them as nightmares?”

    I have that dream, and I loved my mission. I also have one where I’m me now, but suddenly back in college and it’s finals time, and I am trying to figure out why I’m here and what I’m going to do about those finals. I really liked college too, so I’m not sure where it comes from either.

  12. Choir director. I’ve been the RS President and Primary President and YW teacher/advisor/counselor, Gospel Doctrine teacher, etc., and choir director is far more stressful. It’s the only truly volunteer program in the church, and if people don’t show up to sing, you can’t do it. If you don’t have a proficient (PROFICIENT!) accompanist, you can’t do it. If the bishop doesn’t provide an adequate budget, you can’t buy real music (and people wonder why choir closets are full of photocopies!).
    But if you CAN do it, the results can be life-changing — testimonies nurtured and expanded, friendships made, personal fulfillment, feeling the Spirit at every practice, etc. I have a testimony of the importance of good music at church. Some of my most memorable and spirit-filled moments at church have been at choir practice. But no matter what you do, someone wants you to be singing the hymns only, or only music that everyone can sing. And if you do sing hymns, proficient singers aren’t very interested, and so the choir falls apart.
    After 30 years in the calling in three wards (I am a trained musician and good conductor), I find myself cycling through the same problems over and over. Currently, I am praying for a pianist and singers to move into the ward in the next 3 weeks. We haven’t really been able to have a choir for about 2 years.

  13. Lisa, I just read your comment, and sympathize. Musicians should support each other. I wish you were in my ward!

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t recall ever having stress dreams about church callings. But I found the OP interesting because I’m a fairly newly minted Executive Secretary myself. (I had the calling once before, a long time ago.) It’s really not a bad gig, especially now in the age of text messages! The hardest thing for me is there are so many people I don’t know by name, which is frequently a source of embarrassment to me.

  15. east of the mississippi says:

    As a member of a smaller unit I’ve done every PH calling there is… BP is definitely the most nightmarish, with YM Pres./Scoutmaster a very close second. Clerk is absolutely the best, no counseling, no teaching, yet doing something that needs to be done to keep the Branch running.

    Currently Exec. Sec…. and enjoying it way more then I expected to despite similar issues to those stated above. Many kudos to those with music callings, it can’t be easy with the limited knowledge and ability most of us in the congregation possess.

  16. I hear you on the names, Kevin.

  17. Oh, I did remember that I do sometimes have bad dreams about being on a mission again. I’m glad I went, but a proselyting mission is something I NEVER want to do again. It is always such a relief when I wake up to find out I’m not actually on a mission. I’m not even sure I want to go with my husband as a senior couple, though I don’t think that sort of mission would be as hard as my original one.

  18. I am also a long-time organist. I’ve only been chewed out once by the conductor–for slowing down with the congregation other than following her tempo. That didn’t happen again. The first app I bought for my first smart phone was a metronome. I will gladly follow conductors who know what they are doing. If they don’t, I just do my thing, confident that most congregations follow the organ, since only a few are even looking at the conductor anyway.

    And I have long believed that the most important qualification a bishop must have is that he be someone who is not me. With that requirement met, I am willing to overlook most other shortcomings a bishop may have. The last bishop I helped break in as a clerk was amazed at the people who wouldn’t accept callings–including previous bishops who now considered themselves to be retired from church service.

  19. Kristin Brown says:

    Paul Beer, I agree. If someone else is doing the job there should be no complaints. A lesson for us all. Pure Christianity.

  20. Kristin Brown says:

    And I will take Lisa at the organ as my example. Thanks Lisa.

  21. In my Utah ward I currently have 3 pretty busy callings. Last week the bishop tried adding cub scout den leader to that with no plans of adjusting the other 3 callings. I had to say “no” but I had a nightmare that I had caved and just couldn’t keep it all going. I imagine if I had said yes those nightmares would be recurring regularly!

  22. I did have a dream just this last week that we were headed to Scout Camp, and as we stopped for gas about 2 hours south of our ward location, I realized that I hadn’t packed anything. I literally had nothing but the clothes on my back, although everyone else had all their stuff. As I started heading back home to get my things, I realized that the camp we were going to was 2 hours north of where we lived. I pulled out the Scoutmaster’s map for driving to camp, and he had us driving in this huge 8 hour loop for no good reason. I was relieved, as I told him I would just meet him there after picking up my stuff, knowing that I’d beat him there.

    I know for a lot of people, the nightmare is simply that they have to go to Scout Camp. I love it, though. The key is to just be immature, and you’ll fit right in with the boys. Every once in a while, when something really matters, you can pretend to be your dad and start yelling at them to do things, but as soon as it’s over, go right back to being immature. That way the boys know when something actually needs to be done in a certain way at a certain time, and when it doesn’t matter, you let them run free.

    As for choir director, I would think that it would be the best calling to have if nobody shows up to choir ever. The worst would be if only like 3 or 4 people came. But if nobody came, you never have to do anything, while on paper you have a calling.

    We just had a sister in our ward called to be a Ministering Secretary. I’m not going to go put my nose where it doesn’t belong – in Relief Society business – but doesn’t that sound like about the exact opposite of a calling you would expect to see?

  23. My reoccurring nightmare is finding I’m serving a second, then third mission. That every time I go home, they send me right back out. And my Spanish never improves.

  24. My calling is (to me) a small one and involves a lot more time staring at the computer, than interacting with others. God does work in our lives and having a calling where I mostly deal with data rather than people is a personal blessing. My calling is “Ward Media Specialist”. Now what that really IS is a mystery. I’ve never gotten anyone a TV set or linked them up to remotely show a church related talk or video via their phone or tablet. I’m not sure I could do that sort of thing actually. What I DO is the programs each week for Fast and Testimony and Sacrament meetings. Others praise my work saying it looks complicated and difficult, but I feel strongly that we’re all called to positions where we can excel. I find my little job easy and fulfilling. And yes, I think dreams are a way of our subconscious speaking to us or the Lord to send us messages that He would have us actually SEE. And nightmares? Maybe you’re a bit anxious about your new calling or something. I wouldn’t put too much into that dream of yours. Obviously it isn’t true.

  25. Sidebottom says:

    I’ve had plenty of “back on my mission” dreams, which wouldn’t necessarily be nightmares except that I served in Utah.

  26. I was recently called to be a counselor in the bishopric, necessitating me being ordained a High Priest, which made me officially feel “old.” No nightmares, though I often get feelings of deep inadequacy. Those feelings do get buoyed up by the reminder that we are all volunteers, and as volunteers, we’re all human who sometimes don’t do things perfectly. And come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to belong to a church where everything was done perfectly, every time.

    Now, ask me about about coming home sick from a mission, getting shunned by some of my old youth and primary leaders, and all the feelings, depression, and sadness that came with that experience. There are still occasional nightmares, even 23 years later.

  27. Kenzie Zaitzeff says:

    I am a very extraverted person. I was first counsuler in the Relief Society in my YSA Ward. My president was a dear soul who happened to be introverted. So a lot of people thought I was the president.

    It amazed me how much people expect the RS/EQ to drop everything on non emergencies. I have been called at 2 in the morning by sisters, who were fine, but felt they should call because they wanted to check in and state they were meeting thier spiritual goals.

    I was slut shamed in the Relief Society room in front of other sisters because my skirts were too short. And I needed a nice Mormon man to fix me. Later when I was in the hospital with MRSA I was called and told I was sleeping with men on a vacation and neglecting church.

    Finally, we had a sister out of the ward who wanted to use ward money to host and pay for a dance out if state, it was pitched as a dance in someone’s basement but looser in standards so others would feel more comfortable. It would start at 10 pm and may involve substances. She was horrified when I explained that we would advertise her party, but would not use tithing money to pay for something that violated the word of wisdom and would make members uncomfortable.

    I loved my YSA Ward and I loved my calling. I loved learning to forgive myself, and finding Christ. I loved going to the temple ground add returning less active with a group of women. I loved helping the ward

    We need to remember that our RS people are not robots who are here to fit every demand but they are people with feelings, needs, and various levels of endurance

  28. Also had several recurring mission recall dreams. Always back to Germany, always a nightmare.

    Currently a Bishop of a small and shrinking ward and have had many odd dreams and sleepless nights. The 2-deep policy change in March has made staffing Primary and Sunday School go from a very difficult job to past impossible for a ward my size. My time actively serving in my calling has become mostly about staffing and far less about ministering as a result. Its a nightmare. Then the Stake Presidency started interviewing my ward members because they learned they have to have 2 deep seminary teachers as well. After a few angry text messages, they started to understand. I suggested it was time for a boundary realignment as 2 other wards in town are bursting at the seams, To their credit they are listening.

    As an aside. I requested that my ward be allowed to do Activity Days for Boys, since I only need 2 leaders for that instead of the minimum 10. SP said no, so instead we joined the neighboring ward’s pack and still only can provide 2 leaders. At least that particular nightmare has a sunset date.

  29. A Bishop: amen on the challenges of the 2-deep policy in small wards. I’m in the same position as you and it is a significant burden. And I bet your Gospel Doctrine class is a ghost town.

  30. Paul Beer, nightmares about embarrassing moments/failure moments: here! Sometimes I get repeats as daydreams.

  31. Bro. Jones says:

    Had a very tough time in Primary. Still convinced to this day that we unconsciously delayed starting our family because of a traumatic experience with CTR5 early in our marriage.

    Recently had a tough time as executive secretary, and was glad to be released. At the risk of not having leaders empathize with us because they’re in different life situations, I truly think that bishoprics should be staffed by men who do not have children living at home. At best everyone is tired and stretched thin, at worst you get a lot of hurt feelings between those who can “sacrifice” family time and resources, and those who can’t.

  32. It amazed me how much people expect the RS/EQ to drop everything on non emergencies.

    I have a post brewing on this very topic.

    My time actively serving in my calling has become mostly about staffing and far less about ministering as a result.

    We too spend much of our meetings on staffing, with primary getting a plurality of our time.

    I truly think that bishoprics should be staffed by men who do not have children living at home.

    That would be one way to finish the work that dispensing with the HPG has begun—having the young and old serve together in leadership positions rather than leadership being primarily a function of experience in church administration.

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