This is my first post in my Mormon-Positive series.
I was very young when my dad was first called into a bishopric, I can’t even remember how old I was, I just remember seeing dad as one of the three men on the stand during church meetings at a very young age. I believe on two separate occasions in my early years he was in a bishopric which required him to sit on the stand. When I was about 11 or 12, my dad was called as bishop which meant another five years sitting on the stand presiding over our sacrament meetings. I’m sure this was stressful for my mom. In fact I know it was because she has said so.
The tradition and instruction for sacrament meetings in the LDS Church is that the bishop and his two counselors will sit on the stand next to the podium and preside over and conduct the meeting. They make sure that proper assignments for prayers, hymns, speakers, and special events are arranged as well as making sure that the sacrament is blessed and passed properly and in accordance with the reverence it deserves. Because we are a lay church the three members of the bishopric are invariably fathers who have families, typically with young children, sitting in the congregation and the mothers are left alone to get the kids to church and keep from being disruptive throughout the meeting. When a man is called to be a bishop his wife also takes on a huge burden of responsibility, primarily she has to do a number of parenting activities solo because her husband needs to be at church early, stay late, and attend meetings on weeknights. Plus she has to put up with the fact that at any given time he may need to run off to attend to a crisis a member in the ward may be experiencing.
I know it was not easy for my mom to do all those Sunday mornings getting us out the door to Church and then splitting her attention between the speaker and four kids who would rather not be sitting in a pew and could become restless and moody at any given moment. I know this because I was a teenage punk who intentionally didn’t make life easy for her. I know many other bishops’ wives have had similar frustrations because there are blog posts, active campaigns, and public criticisms towards the church that have recommended that how a bishopric presides over sacrament meeting should be revisited.
I don’t know what will become of those campaigns, perhaps change will come. I do know that even though this was a stressful experience for my family, especially my parents, I learned something those five years that my dad was bishop. I learned that my dad had a powerful testimony of the truth of the gospel, and I learned that my parents would sacrifice almost anything in devotion to their belief in the restored gospel.
One of the responsibilities of the bishopric is to begin the monthly fast & testimony meetings by publicly stating his own testimony and then inviting the rest of the members to come to the front and share their individual testimonies. Since there are three members of a bishopric, this meant that once every three months my dad would stand before the congregation and tell them that he knew of Christ’s divinity, the reality of the atonement, and his confidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet through whom the fullness of the gospel and the priesthood ordinances were restored to the Earth. My dad is a convert and had a challenging childhood and early adulthood, filled with contradictions and cognitive dissonance. Hearing him talk about the clarity and purpose-of-life that finding the gospel brought him left impressions on me that have impacted me to this day.
There were other times when my Dad’s example as a presider left lasting impressions on me. When I was about 14 or 15, I was sitting with other deacons and teachers who were preparing to pass the sacrament. Everything looked all ready to go, but as the hymn for the sacrament began and the priests stood up to break the bread before blessing it, they folded back the sheet and discovered that the trays in front of them were the used and empty trays from the previous ward. Apparently, they hadn’t cleaned off the sacrament table at the conclusion of their meeting and as our ward arrived and saw a sacrament table that looked prepped, we all assumed it was ready to go. Well, knowing it would take us about 5-10 minutes to clean off the used trays and then prep them for the sacrament service my dad as bishop stood up and on the fly gave a sermon on the difference between looking prepared and actually being prepared. He asked the congregation if we arrive at church looking our best in our Sunday clothes, but have we taken the same efforts to prepare our hearts to renew the covenant of baptism with the sacrament ordinance. He then reminded us of the baptismal covenant, to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those needing comfort, and taking upon us Christ’s name. When he finished we sang a new sacrament hymn and then blessed and passed the sacrament. It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
I know those years were hard on my parents, after all the years that parents have teenagers tend to be the most challenging anyway, but these extra little challenges that my parents took on, even though it added additional stress to their lives have left both them and me with unexpected opportunities for growth and personal development.