It's a matter of how, not where, we serve
When I was gospel doctrine teacher in the South Bend Ward in Indiana, old Brother Elza Richter was the bane of my existence.
Nearly every Sunday, he would come prepared. Not for my lesson, but for his.
Being retired, he had a lot of time on his hands. He pored over the daily paper and various magazines, and then would come to Sunday school armed with whatever story most intrigued him.
One time we were discussing a matter of Church history, and Brother Richter raised his hand.
Since the point we were discussing mattered, and I knew that Brother Richter's comment would have nothing whatever to do with my lesson, I ignored him.
"I know you saw my hand," he said.
"Do you have a comment about the subject we're discussing?" I asked.
"I have a comment about black holes," he said. Then he proceeded to provide us all with five minutes summarizing some news story about black holes and then explaining to us that black holes were likely candidates to be what the scriptures call "outer darkness."
When he was done, I thanked him, and tried to pick up the thread of the lesson.
It was not a conflict between us. He came with his lesson, I came with mine. He was generous and left me most of the class time. If I ever showed anger or impatience, it would make everybody uncomfortable, so I tried mightily to accept these interruptions in good humor.
In fact, I liked Brother Richter. When he wasn't carrying my lesson time away on some strange tangent.
Then he died. Not during my lesson, and not because of my lesson. He was just old, and it was time.
Then a strange thing happened. I started getting phone calls from the bishopric. Could I go help this member, could I go give a blessing to that person?
The explanation soon emerged. Brother Richter used to be the go-to guy for all these errands and ministrations.
Not only that, but when he died, five widows went inactive. He had been their ride. Every Sunday, he'd bring one carload early, then go back out and pick up the second group. When he died, they didn't have rides. Nobody but the widows themselves had realized he was doing this.
Back in the early days of the Church in South Bend, Elzey Richter and his sister were the mainstays of the branch. Whatever a priesthood holder was supposed to do, Brother Richter did it; whatever a sister was supposed to do, Sister Richter did it.
The branch endured by the sheer force of their will, their faith, their dependable service.
You could say that Brother Richter owned that ward -- not in the sense that he ever thought he ruled it, but rather that he felt as responsible for the ward as most people feel about their house or their car. Did something need doing? He would see to it that it was done -- regardless of his calling.
Once the ward grew, he was never called as bishop or stake president -- he just kept doing whatever he was asked. The only thing he ever took in return was a few minutes of my Sunday school class -- and even then, he was sharing what was in his mind and heart, whatever had excited him about the gospel that week.
Every now and then, I hear a Church talk in which someone tells about the influence a particular teacher or leader had on them in their youth. The usual climax of such a memoir is the proof of how effective that person was. "Of our group of umpteen boys, x grew up to be bishops, y were mission presidents, z were stake presidents."
The measure of success is apparently the prominence of the callings those boys ended up having.
I remember at a recent instance of that sort of recitation, I was sitting with a friend and whispered, "Thank heaven none of them turned out to be mere priests quorum advisers or stake cultural arts directors" -- my callings at the moment.
He grinned. "I was thinking the same thing. What a failure he would have been if any of those boys had turned out to be mere members of the Church!"
The same attitude burdens many missionaries. Sometimes you get the impression from other people that if you weren't an assistant to the president or at least a zone leader, why did you bother to go? Yet it makes no difference to the people you teach what office you hold beyond "missionary."
Will Rogers once said, "We can't all be heroes. Somebody has to sit on the curb and cheer as they go by."
On a hierarchical chart of the church, the administrative callings seem to be most prominent.
But without teachers, youth leaders, clerks, musicians, and others whose service is more obscure, what would the Church actually be?
The Church happens in the villages we call wards and branches, and in those small communities, you are what you do. The Lord sees all. "If you have done it to the least of these," he said, "you have done it to me."
When Elzey Richter passed through the veil, I am sure that he was well-known. Perhaps even famous, for the Kingdom of God does not judge as the world judges.
Surely when Brother Richter took the Lord's hand, he heard these words: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord" (Matt. 25:21, 23).
Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card
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