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Tough Call - The Back Bench

Tough Call
By Aaron Johnston June 1, 2004

Not all church callings are created equal. Some are tougher than squeezing water from stone, while others are as easy as breathing.

Take my calling, for example. As secretary of my priesthood quorum, I put in all of two minutes of service a week. I get out the roll, look around the room, make a few check marks, and voila! I'm done.

But other folks, like my wife, who's the Primary president, put in some serious hours. When she isn't on the phone with one of her counselors, for example, she's busy typing a letter, or preparing Sharing Time, or conducting a presidency meeting, or any of the other thousand duties I never knew Primary presidents had.

Or consider the mammoth of all ward callings: the bishop. This is a man who not only attends a seemingly endless list of meetings and appointments, but also serves as a judge in Israel. And that's no picnic. Sitting and listening to everyone's problems is physically and emotionally exhausting.

But what about the lesser-known tough callings, the ones under the radar, the unseen and the unsung? Being a bishop is the toughest calling, yes, but it's also the most visible. What about those who put in buckets of blood, sweat, and tears and rarely get noticed for it?

There are a few callings, I believe, that merit medals -- big dangling gold medallions that put any Olympic medal ceremony to shame. These are: seminary teacher, nursery leader, and deacons quorum adviser.

Seminary Teacher

OK, I'm talking about early-morning seminary here, folks, not the sissy school-release program of the Rocky Mountains.

Sissy, you say? Cue the angry letters.

Anyway, the early-morning seminary teacher puts in, I'm guessing, about eleven or twelve hours of church service a week. That's five hours for preparing the lessons, five hours for teaching the lessons, and an hour or two for total travel time.

Those of you who are seminary teachers may be laughing at those numbers and thinking, You poor naive little man, if you only knew how many hours I really put in.

But even if I am underestimating, eleven or twelve hours is still far more than most of us dedicate to our callings.

Add that to the fact that early-morning seminary is EARLY!

In my old ward, the students wake up at five o'clock, well before the dawn has even thought about cracking. They then shower, dress, drag themselves to their cars, and somehow arrive at the church building before 6:00 a.m. when class begins.

The seminary teacher, however, has been there a good ten minutes already, unlocking the building, arranging the seating, and putting on her most cheery smile.

But she's careful not to be too cheery. Big smiles can anger adolescents in the wee hours of the day.

"It's six o'clock in the morning," they growl. "What are you so happy about?"

No, her facial expression must find the right mix of "glad to see you" and "please don't hurt me."

Once everyone is settled in -- but not too comfortably so as to induce sleep -- the lesson begins. And if you've ever taught teenagers before, you know it's not as easy as teaching adults.

In an adult Sunday School class, when the teacher asks, "What is faith?", hands immediately shoot skyward. Someone will make a comment. Then someone else will add to that comment. Then four more hands will shoot up, and pretty soon the class is engaged in a lively discussion.

Well, perhaps my "What is faith?" question isn't the best example. Nobody likes to answer the "easy" questions. We adults like tackling the "mysteries." So, it would be nearer the truth to say that a question like "Where is Kolob?" would initiate a hearty discussion.

But ask that same question to teenagers -- especially at six o'clock in the morning -- and your only response will be a chorus of crickets.

No, they don't want to talk. They want to sleep, long peaceful hours of uninterrupted slumber. And who can blame them, really? Early-morning seminary is a huge sacrifice.

And that's why I have nothing but respect for these teachers. They're doing this voluntarily. No parent is making them come.

My respect skyrockets when I hear how much the students enjoy seminary, how much they love learning about the scriptures, how much fun they have in class. Wow. Lift that teacher onto your shoulders, parade her around town, and give her a key to the city. That's no small task. That takes love, preparation, and mountains of help from the Lord.

Nursery Leader

My son just became old enough to enter nursery. He loves it. In fact, he practically jumps out of my arms and runs toward the nursery door when he realizes that's where we're headed.

The nursery leader always greets us with a smile and welcomes him openly. And when the two hours are up, he doesn't want to leave.

Bless this woman. Bless her bless her bless her. Not only does she allow my wife and I to attend our meetings undisturbed, but she also teaches our son the gospel of Christ.

That's because she realizes what a lot of people don't: Nursery isn't a daycare, it's the first class in Primary. Kids don't go there to be watched. They go there to learn. She teaches a simple lesson; they sing a few Primary songs; and in the end, she reinforces what my wife and I try to teach our son at home: basic principles of the gospel.

Oh sure, they have playtime. And yes, there's a snack. But first and foremost, nursery is a class.

And if you thought teaching teenagers was tough, try teaching a dozen drooling, diaper-clad toddlers. It takes incredible patience, love, and persistence.

Give that woman (or man) a dozen roses and create a holiday in her honor. The nursery leader (i.e. teacher) is a calling that's tougher than most.

Deacons Quorum Adviser

This one was a toss-up. I almost went with Scoutmaster, but since both men cater to the same audience, and since in some wards it's the same person, deacons quorum adviser will suffice.

Boys go through a special phase when they're twelve and thirteen years old. It's called the "I want to be considered a cool teenager, but I'm lacking in the coolness part" phase.

Don't get me wrong. I love this age. I worked closely with the deacons in my last ward, and it was incredibly rewarding.

But deacons can be a handful. They have eager minds but wiggly bodies. Primary is a recent memory to them, and instead of being allowed to sing a hearty rendition of "Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," they now have to sit still and learn about the oath and covenant of the priesthood.

During the passing of the sacrament, when deacons are being marvelously reverent, one can't help but think, Ah look at these sweet little angels. But by the time the third hour rolls around, the boys are a little antsy and any delusions of sweetness have quickly evaporated.

I remember arriving late to the deacons quorum class once. Several of the young men had their pressed white shirts untucked. Others were leaning dangerously far back in their chairs. And one of them was wearing his necktie like a headband. It was a zoo.

The teacher was trying desperately to share the prescribed lesson while at the same time encouraging the boys not to throw things, not to poke each other, and not to make disturbing bodily noises.

I tip my hat to you, deacons quorum adviser. You are a good man who loves his students and sees in them the potential to be great servants of the Lord. Bless you for you service.

Are there other tough callings? Of course there are. But these three, to me, are reserved for the great ones, the people who serve whenever and wherever they're called. They know it's going to be tough, but they take the assignment gladly.

In truth, they don't even think of it as an assignment. No, to them it's simply an opportunity to prove their dedication to the Lord. It's not a burden, it's a blessing.

And when their service is done, the bishop will then give that tough calling to someone else. As long as that new person isn't me, everything's hunky-dory.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to take roll.

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

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