The Mormon practice of lay ministries has come under scrutiny lately, because of what we’ve been referring to around here as, ahem, the recent unpleasantness. Still, callings are a fairly unique part of Mormonism. Pretty much everyone gets to serve. We get ‘called’ to do some job or another, called by our bishop, usually, or occasionally by our stake President. I’ve had callings since I was a kid. Some of them were really interesting, callings where I was asked to do something I thought I might be good at and others where I struggled. That’s true for most of us, I think.
Once, for example, I was called to be ward membership clerk. It’s an exacting calling, requiring a certain level of computer literacy, meticulous organizational skills, and a laser-sharp attention to detail. Any of you out there who know me: does that sound like me?
There was one sister who I transferred in and our of our ward four times, entirely by mistake. The bishop got copied on all my transactions, and he finally called me and asked what I had against Sister (?). Of course, I didn’t have anything against her. I was just trying to tell the computer that she’d had a baby. That computer program didn’t like me, and I didn’t like it, and that’s all I’m going to say.
The one benefit the calling had was that I got to look up my own records, where I learned that I’d died in 1991. There I was, listed as ‘deceased.’ I informed the bishop of this, and he told me that it didn’t get me out of speaking that next Sunday. Nor was I excused from paying tithing. Being dead didn’t seem to confer any benefits at all that I could see, so, reluctantly, I informed the computer that I had not, in fact, passed on. It asked me if I was sure. Yep, pretty sure.
But by far the awesomest, funnest calling I ever had in my life involved my one and only time in the Primary. I was called as Primary Temple Coordinator. This was a calling unique to our ward, the brainchild of the Primary President, but an exceptionally good idea, in my opinion. My job was to prepare a weekly presentation on the temple for the kids, during something called Sharing Time. Sharing Time was for learning Primary songs (all of which are amazing, especially “Hinges,” the best song ever about elbows, vertebrae and knees. “I’m all made of hinges, ’cause everything bends, from the top of my neck way down to my ends.” What a great song.) Sharing Time was also for stuff like recognizing kids who’d had birthdays. Stuff like that. Well, in my ward, they carved out five minutes for me to do a temple spiel.
What I did was go in with a picture of one of the 143 LDS temples world wide, plus a globe of the world. I would point to the picture, and ask the kids which temple it was. Then we’d look on the globe for where it was. Then I’d show them where we were, in Utah, on the globe, and we’d make a big deal of how far it was to that temple. And then I’d give a little lesson about temples; just very short and to the point.
Primary kids are between 3-12 years old; wonderful ages. Kids that age are so amazingly, alarmingly honest. For one lesson, for example, I brought in my wedding pictures; me and my wife standing outside the Oakland Temple. I asked the kids “who do you think this is, in this picture?” Answer: “It’s you and some lady!” Another kid chimed in “you were a lot skinnier then!” Sadly true. Then I said “the lady in the picture is my wife, Annette. Sister Samuelsen.” “She’s a lot skinnier in the picture too,” said the kid.
The Primary Presidency kept a list of which kids had gotten to do things in Sharing Time, and they gave me suggestions about who hadn’t been called on for awhile and should therefore be recognized. I worried a little that the kid I was supposed to call on wouldn’t volunteer. No need. Kids are basically narcissists; every kid could be counted on to volunteer for everything. I’d say “who wants to show me where this temple is?” And every hand would go up: “me! me! me! I want to!” Of course, they never had the tiniest clue. And then you’d say “see, this is the temple in Switzerland. Where is that on the globe” and they never had a clue about that either. You’d work with them. You’d show them where Switzerland is, and where Utah is, and, wow, look, how far apart they are! But I’m not sure if the kids put it together. One kid did. I said “see how far away Korea is,” and he said, “how long would that take in an airplane.” “A very long time,” I assured him. (Like I knew!) “How many days?” he asked. The kid sitting next to him gave him a contemptuous look. “Four,” he said confidently. “It takes four days to get to Korea.” All the other kids went ‘ooo.’ I decided to just let it go.
But of course kids are also the non-sequitur kings of the universe. Once, I remember, I asked where the temple in the picture was, and one tiny little girl was jumping up and down, waving her hand, ‘me, me, call on me.’ She was, in fact, next on the Primary list, so I called on her. And she said, proudly, loudly, confidently, “I just got new shoes!”
I loved the kids’ energy. Of course, they’d just come from a 75 minute sacrament meeting, an endless time of just excruciating boredom, I imagine. At least, that’s how I remember it, when I was in Primary. So Sharing Time was a time to get out the wiggles a little. Getting to spin a globe probably looked comparatively fun. Not as fun as singing and doing the motions for “Hinges,” but not half bad either.
I was Primary Temple Coordinator for about a year, and I loved every second of it. I think that any calling involving working with little kids is pretty awesome. My wife and I also shared a calling once as Nursery Leaders, which was also pretty fun, if a little more meltdown-intensive. Nursery is for kids aged 18 months-3 years. There were lessons we were supposed to teach, and the Church manual for the Nursery lessons is amazing. We taught lessons like “Trees show how much Heavenly Father loves us,” which is completely true, and good for all of us to contemplate. The kids never paid attention, of course, but they got to draw leaves with crayons, which their parents were required, on pain of excommunication, to display with magnets on the fridge. So we had something tangible to show for our efforts.
Of course, let’s not sentimentalize the kids involved. I love children, but let’s get real: six-year olds are narcissists, and 18 month olds are sociopaths. So you have to stay endlessly alert. But they’re also amazing, with an incredible capacity for love and affection, and also unrelenting selfishness. They’re us, in other words. Human beings, in miniature. Whose heart wouldn’t be captured?