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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Helping Those Who Face Lonely Calllings

One of my first callings after getting married ended in total disaster after a couple of months. I thought I was doing an OK job in my new but puzzling role as Executive Secretary. I had been attending the bishopric meetings and doing what I thought I was asked to do, but suddenly, without warning, I was sitting in sacrament meeting and heard the announcement over the pulpit that I had been released. This should never happen, of course. The bishop was a kind, loving man and I was almost instantly over the slip-up, recognizing that it was an innocent mistake. I'm sure someone had meant to have an interview to properly notify me of the release and the person conducting the meeting thought it was all taken care of. That's not the real problem, though.

The problem was that I had failed. I had been failing to fulfill the bishop's expectations of me. I hadn't inquired enough to understand that my duties involved much more than showing up at meetings and carrying out direct orders. He always seemed to be scheduling interviews on his own without involving me, and so I didn't realize that he wanted me to take the lead in setting them up. Even though I was "in the loop," I really felt out of it and unaware of what the bishop was doing and what he wanted. In a sense, it was a lonely calling, in spite of having regular contact with the bishopric, all great people. If such a calling could be lonely and frustrating for an active member with a strong testimony and solid grounding in the Church, think how much more challenging some other callings can be for those who might be new in the Church or on their way back to activity.

One of the blessings the Church offers is the opportunity for every willing member to serve in various roles. Teachers, organists, clerks, Young Men and Young Women leaders, priesthood leaders, missionaries, welfare specialists, employment specialists, and numerous other positions give us opportunities to help others and grow in service. While callings can be exciting and rewarding, sometimes they are difficult and lonely burdens. It depends on many factors such as the skills, experience, and background of the person called, as well as their employment and family situation. The perception of the calling also depends on those the person works with in the calling. A person can feel neglected and out of the loop after they are called, especially if there are no regular interviews or other signs of real people caring and helping.

I think we would be a stronger community if we more frequently considered what others in their callings might be facing and feeling. Their poor performance might not be because they are slackers, but because they don't know how to start or didn't know what was expected or are intimidated by the demands. Sometimes the barrier to success is something as simple as being given a ward directory or explaining the most relevant part of a manual or introducing the person to someone with experience in the calling.

We can help others in their callings by participating, showing appreciation, and communicating. A ward event might seem like a drain on our time, but by showing up and helping the event to succeed we may be doing a great favor to the person who organized the event. These small things can change a person's life, one way or the other. We need our people to succeed in the challenging callings they are given.

If we are in leadership positions over or linked to the calling, extra efforts to understand the person's feelings and needs can really help. We can't expect everyone to grasp what the calling is about and be self-starters who dig and live up to our expectations. A lot of guidance and patience may be needed to help it be a positive experience for the person called.

Of course, some of us really are slackers. Yes, that's me, sometimes. But a few words of encouragement and some tactful reminders can really help. People generally want to do well in their callings, but love, help, guidance, and inclusion are always part of the recipe for success.

As a final note, the calling of full-time missionary can be one of the most lonely of all. Sure, you've got a companion, but sometimes the friendship doesn't really blossom. Then you can be stuck in some strange corner of the world with someone you don't feel close to, day after day trying to help people who don't want your help and and perhaps don't even want your presence in their town. This is where letters from home can really help, plus kindness from local members or non-members. Letters from home, meals from ward members and strangers, and especially just a few minutes to sit down and talk with good people all really helped. I will forever be grateful to some kind souls in Switzerland and Germany who recognized that a couple of bewildered American kids might benefit from a little kindness. Some of the most appreciated weren't members of the Church but were open-minded good people who reached out to us and fed us or just talked with us and showed real human kindness. They helped make a rather lonely but joyous calling into a much more joyous one. We were trying to lose ourselves and serve them, but God bless them for reaching out to us as well.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I have been feeling this way and couldn't quite figure out why. I think you address almost every issue I am having...or maybe I am having every issue you mentioned! It's good to know I am not alone in those lonely feelings and frustraion in callings.

Duncan D. Horne said...

Yes, interesting post. I served as Ward Executive Secretary for a period of time in England, and I was never sure of what exactly my duties were and what I was supposed to do with all those notes at bishopric meetings! The bishop, as good a man as he is, never really seemed to be on the same page with me as the Exec Sec. It was indeed a very strange and somewhat lonely calling. I'm sure glad I wasn't the only one feeling this!

www.duncaninkuantan.blogspot.com

Grandma Labrum said...

Lonely calling....let me tell you. I am lonely in my calling. I love my calling but wonder what growth I am getting from it. I hear people stand in testimony meeting and say how much they have grown in their callings, how they have learned to love to serve, etc. I love my calling, but after 25 years...yes 25 years...of being the ward organist, I don't know what growth I have experienced. I love my calling and don't want to give it up because it doesn't take any preparation, but isn't there something else I could do? I did help my husband teach a Sunday School class for a year, and served on the activity committee for a year, but never as a teacher in an organization, never anything else. I sometimes wonder if there isn't someone who needs the experience of being the ward organist to learn a new talent. Apparently the Lord doesn't need me anywhere else. So I will just sit there and play the organ. I told my family that when I die I don't want anyone playing any prelude music when they wheel me into the chapel. If they couldn't find someone else to play the organ while I am here, I certainly don't want someone else taking my place as soon as I am gone! :) I want them to miss me. One day a returned missionary was speaking and commented on how much things had changed in our ward while he was gone. He then turned to the side and said "Except Sister Labrum is still at the organ!" Will be forever. I love it, and I'm not complaining, but sometimes I wonder if I could have missed something along the way. Yes, it is lonely up there for 25 years.

Cynthia L. said...

What a great post! This is so true! My favorite calling have been in presidencies where there was a very close camaraderie with the other presidency members. Sometimes I get so used to that dynamic that I forget others' callings are more solo affairs, and I have been guilty of judging, "oh, why doesn't that person have as good an attitude about church and their calling as I do?!!" As I found out doing the final stages of my Ph.D., at which time nobody else is working on your same projects and it is very stressful and lonely, feeling like part of a team is essential to well-being. We can all make a point of trying to put ourselves on the team of those who don't have a natural "team" in their calling.

Thanks, Jeff!

deilataylor said...

yep,I got released one time after only teaching for 5 months and did not know what had happened. I was a well-seasoned teacher by this time, but it was a new ward. It is easy to get a little discouraged, but it is good to know that you are not alone, and that the Gospel is true and the Priesthood a blessing. And we learn to be more sensitive to others.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes felt lonely as a young men's president in charge of an organization with one very inactive member, a non-member son of a new convert, and group of cycling non-member boys who I was expected to pick up on mutual nights so they could play basketball. I felt pretty guilty when I broke up a fight in my car - one of the kids I picked up was beating up the convert's son for his trash talk during the basketball game that night - and ended up basically ending the mutual night. The convert went inactive (for more than just that reason), and I refused to pick up young men anymore (I believe the church banned the practice around that time). I remained the president for another year or more, never knowing whether I should prepare a lesson on Sundays or show up Mutual nights. It was a huge relief when I finally got to interview my replacement as the first counselor in a branch presidency.

To the sister at the organ: it's not normal, but you could ask for a release. I know a clerk who felt like he would never receive another calling and basically had to go on two missions (one missionary, one to a temple) and finally contract Alzheimer's to ever get a release. Even if you don't get your release, though, a good interview with the bishop can help you understand how you are growing or where you might be gaining from it.

Ahna said...

To Grandma Labrum...I hear you and feel a bit of your pain. It hasn't been 25 years of organ for me yet, but this is one of those callings that just sticks, isn't it?
Have you considered teaching organ or piano to ward members? My ward is doing this as a Relief Society class, and it's been incredibly freeing for me. It took some time, but now we have two more players, and I can finally take a breath and enjoy Sacrament Meeting from the other side of the stand.
The church website has some excellent new materials.
And I for one don't think you should hesitate in talking with your bishop. You're obviously willing to serve. Maybe you could be given a calling in addition to the organ. Why not? Our leaders usually appreciate hearing how things are really going for us.

Anonymous said...

Grandam Labrum,

As a fellow musician, I understand what you feel. I am a choir director and although I haven't been continuously in the same calling as you, I have been a ward choir director in every single ward I've been in for the last 33 years. Since the church has no paid "minister of music," we musicians are definitely faced with a lifetime of service. I, like you, am not complaining one bit. I feel blessed to be part of a church--the only church, really--that understands the role of sacred music.

Yes, your calling can be a very lonely calling and at times an under-appreciated one, too. I wouldn't want you to seek out a release, though. Sounds like you are definitely the skilled go-to ward organist. What I would suggest is that you talk to your Bishop and ask for another calling.

You said something that is just like me. You said that you could do your calling in your sleep. Same with me. There were times that while I was the ward choir director, I was still the Gospel Doctrine teacher or even the Elders Quorum president. So ask your Bishop for another calling.

I've had two other close friends who have been "lifer organists" and they, too often have had a second calling.

Best wishes!

(From a professional choir director)

roger the ward choir music guy said...

I'll admit that being the primary pianist is a pretty lonely calling, but at least I get to spend some time with the kids each Sunday. The social aspect could use some improvement, though :)

Papa D said...

Wonderful post, Jeff, to which I can relate. I definitely will be linking to it in the future.

Excommunicated 'member' said...

Let me add my perspective to all of your comments.
I was excommunicated some years back and cannot hold a calling. I come to church and most times feel the Spirit, but cannot participate.
But I am allowed to participate in the Ward and Stake Choirs, hand out programs to those who are members or visitors and serve fellow members during the week.
There are things we can do on our own, just observe whats going on and figure out how you can help. Sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone. Callings do that too; help us do things we wouldn't normally do on our own.

Anonymous said...

Lonely callings are quite frequent in my experience. After talking to the bishop that I wasn't being allowed to do my calling (he ignored me) & then someone being sustained to it w/o being released was devastating. The feeling of unimportance and lack of caring hasn't left. Living alone one needs callings interacting with people. Everyone needs to be treated with dignity.

Paul said...

Jeff, sorry for your experience. Life lessons rarely come cheap.

Of course (and I think your post bears this out), your good bishop could have helped you understand what he wanted from you. A release for poor performance seems pretty harsh in an all-volunteer organization.

I'm a fan of speaking regularly to the person who extended a calling about how it's going (in the calling and in other areas of your life), and even suggesting if a change might be required. My personal approach is not to ask to be released, but I've invited my specific leader to think about whether it's time.

Anonymous said...

In March I will have been a member for 9 years. I have been Primary pianist for close to 8 of those years. I have hardly ever been to Relief Society or Gospel Doctrine. I have always had at least one additional calling but it is always in Primary. I have seniority (by far) in our Primary now because no other callings last more than a few years.

It is depressing to hear about the 25-year organist but it wouldn't surprise me if she was the organist in our ward, who has also received a life sentence. I want to teach my children to play but honestly I'm scared if I do they will be stuck their entire adult lives.

Frank Bisti said...

I have been struck, many times, over my 35+ years in the church (after serving a mission) at how little the church (the inspired brethren locally and in Salt Lake) pay attention to the true principles of team work, management, administration, and interpersonal relations all around us in our jobs.

Even clerks don't often get much (if any) formalized training--and it is a very skills-based "calling." The church's focus on the magical, spiritual, and mystical aspects of being the "true Church of Christ" seem to have functionally blinded them to recognizing the need for and seeking out skills and techniques for not only being an effective bishopric, but executive secretary, Primary president, etc.

In a business organization it would be ridiculous to "fire" a "secretary" for not performing up to expectations without first having made those expectations clear and then informing the person if they weren't meeting them so they could adjust their performance. But, in fact, the almost universal course is to call a poor performer to another calling without having ever spoken to them ("betimes" means early) about their performance. So, true church or not, it is ridiculous--maybe one of the side effects of strong spirituality is practical stupidity.

William Peck said...

What a great post! As I see it, the general, unwritten, rule about callings is; don't refuse one and don't ask for a release from one. At the same time be honest with your priesthood leader regarding your personal situation and desires before the calling is confirmed and during your time serving in that calling then let them make the decisions based on revelation to which they are entitled. This approach also helps the priesthood leader magnify his own calling.
The other thing that leaps to mind after reading these comments it that we all have the mandate, as it were, to magnify our callings. I loved the spirit of Ahna; we should all seek out ways to bring the spirit to our callings.

Anonymous said...

I was called as Priesthood Group leader in a new Branch.I had 1 counselor who was out of town for work a lot. after asking for help, I was released.The Branch President said it came from the Stake, and the Stake said it was the Branch President's decision. So, go figure. I moved on
and am Mission leader now in a different Ward.

Anonymous said...

For those music callings- I LOVE THEM! I volunteer whenever I can. As a director you can smile at all the faces each Sunday and you also get to exercise while directing! Besides listening to all the voices changing as the youth grow through their voice changes. SO AWESOME!
For other callings- I have found if I don't put my heart into a calling, it bombs. When I forget myself and try to find everyone who needs help- from a Primary child to a family needing food storage to a RS President needing a person to add another sister to her visiting teaching route. Even doing Family History Inventory, I can not wait to see what films were ordered that I might be able to use for my own research.
What goes in is what comes out...

Anonymous said...

I recently accepted a calling as a secretary in my ward, eager for the chance to serve and make friends with a new group of people. I started by learning my duties and offering to help as best I could. When my offers were ignored and I was not invited to any leadership meetings, I kept reminding the presidency that I was available to assist, and just started showing up at meetings and activities since I felt it was appropriate for my calling. I quickly grew tired of imposing myself where I was obviously unwelcome, but was conflicted because I wanted to serve. On a couple occassions I was actually asked to help out, but learned the offers were empty when I was left behind (literally, once, I was left standing in the ward parking lot while everyone drove off without me). I asked to be released from the calling, and have not been extended another.