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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guest Post: The Frustration and Perspective of a Bishop

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@ldsbishop is a currently serving Mormon bishop, far away from Utah. He is a young liberal called by a God with a sense of humour to preside over an older, conservative ward. His random gospel-themed thoughts get sorted into two categories. The minority are suitable for the sacrament talks he gives far too frequently. The rest are tweeted via @ldsbishop.

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I truly realised that change sometimes comes painfully slowly to the church was when the sister started crying about chairs in my office.

Our Relief Society president decided to rearrange the chairs in the Relief Society room into a horse-shoe shape instead of the traditional straight rows with an aisle down the middle arrangement. Judging from the reaction of some of the old-timers you'd have thought she was offering blood sacrifice on the embroidered table cloth at the front of the room.

So here I was comforting a lady 30 years my senior who was blubbing that she couldn’t stand the changes taking place and wished that things could go back to the way they were.

My natural instinct would be to say something like, "Stop being an idiot and pull yourself together!" but people expect a level of care from their bishop, so we had a long chat about her worries and about the greater scheme of things in the church. Trying to get people to put things into perspective is something I find myself doing far too often. Our conversation ended with me giving counsel which was essentially a very gentle version of, "Stop being an idiot and pull yourself together!" The chair arrangement in the Relief Society room reverted to the traditional layout a few weeks later.

The older people in the ward loved me until I became the bishop. Most still do, but a few were openly hostile because of my age (I was in my mid-twenties when I was called). When I was sustained, no one objected, but a few didn't raise their hands at all. So shocked were they that the Lord would call someone young enough to be their grandson to be their bishop they were frozen to the spot. One older lady hasn't been to church since. From conversations with others she has said that I will use my younger libido for evil and have affairs with the younger women of the ward. Like I have that kind of energy! It was certainly one of the more elaborate excuses for going inactive I've ever heard.

One aspect of being a bishop is the continual need to perform what my counsellor calls “fire fighting”. There is always some minor disagreement between individuals or someone upset with some aspect of a church programme that left unchecked will slowly engulf others. Hence the need to have to hear out someone upset with chairs. I need to keep reminding myself that to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” includes me comforting those people that are genuinely upset about a situation I couldn't care less about. One of the downsides of our organisation is that because it takes so much of people’s time and can become an all-engrossing aspect of ones life; some individuals start to lose perspective and obsess over such insignificant things. In my experience this is especially prevalent in small wards with people that have been members for a long time.

How agonizingly easy it is for people to forget they are not members of just some club. They are members of an organisation that claims the divine authority of a Saviour that has suffered and overcome everything for them (even your upset over chairs!). An organisation that has been restored through a fourteen year old farm boy (Ha - take that people who don’t like a young bishop!)

Though, for all the annoying distractions, there are the times when you can help people change their lives. The times when people need you to give them that little extra encouragement to change. The times when people just want to hear that someone loves them and the situation they find themselves in will be alright in the end. I think every bishop gets the moments when they ask themselves the questions, “Why me? Why do I have to deal with these situations?”

What keeps me going is this: “Therefore, I, the Lord, have suffered you to come unto this place; for thus it was expedient in me for the salvation of souls.” (D&C 100:4)

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