Today I was released from being the “Elders Quorum President” in our local Duncan Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Myself and my two counsellors, Mike McCullough and Grant Cassell, were basically charged with leading and instructing the 20-50 year old men in our congregation. More specifically we were arranging lessons every Sunday for our quorum (there were usually about 20 active members, but about 100 inactive ones), organizing and receiving reports for home teaching (where quorum members visit the homes of Church membres once a month to check-in on them, offer service, and share a church message), organizing service and social activities primarily for our members, attending bi-weekly meetings with our organization members of our congregation, and generally trying to forward the Church’s purpose in our quorum members.
I was given this calling about 5 years ago, probably only a month after moving into the Duncan Ward. The previous Elders Quorum President was Tyler Coleman, who afterwards was called as the Ward’s Bishop, so I felt I had pretty big shoes to fill. I was pretty nervous, because previously I had only been a second counsellor in the Elders Quorum (although admittedly, I mostly took a back seat in that calling), and also because I was worried I wouldn’t be terribly handy with helping Ward members (the Elders Quorum President I served with in Sidney Ward, Spencer Rausch, was excellent and helping widows fix their pluming and doing service projects).
I’m not a terribly good organizer and certainly not a handy man. I can debug computer problems like a champ (well, I’m not the brightest at that either, but pretty capable) but I’ve barely used any power tools. Actually, when I was interviewed for the calling way back then, I told the Stake President I didn’t have a truck and so might not be very good at the calling. I didn’t mean I couldn’t do it, but just as an example of the type of person I was and what I thought an Elders Quorum President should be. But he pointed out the calling was primarily one of “spiritual leadership”, not a handy-man.
So while this calling wouldn’t have been my first choice (I would rather be an on-the-side family historian or teacher) it’s been helpful for me. I’ve had to go visit and phone quorum members, phone them up to see how hometeaching is going, and even organize other callings in the quorum. Every time I’ve done these I’ve had to stretch myself (either because I wasn’t feeling social, or it was hard to find time between juggling kids), but it’s helped keep me developer more friendships, more understanding for others, and helped develop skills which don’t come naturally to me. And it’s helped fortify my conviction that the things being taught at church are true and really helpful.
A Desparate Move
“The Elders Quorum is not a moving service”, said someone somewhere. They meant it in reference to how, it seems, every time a church member moves, they always call up the Elders Quorum President and ask for help moving. It makes a bit of a sense, it’s one of those infrequent events in people’s lives that requires an unusual amount of work; and the Elders Quorum is meant to offer service, so we did frequently help in this regard. But while we would help, I learned an important point: while the Elders Quorum is happy to help with a move like this, ultimately the responsibility for the move lies with the individual moving. That means, if they move on a weekday morning when most members of the quorum are working, they can’t expect quorum members to stop work in order to help, or the church to hire movers on their behalf. Quorum members are asked to volunteer their time to help where able, but sometimes they might not be able.
I once had a problem with this, that was particularly stressful for me. A less-active quorum member told me he was moving and asked for our help. I had previously helped organize a move that went fine, even though in the hours leading up to the move I had no idea who would be coming. This quorum member was moving from Lake Cowichan, a relatively remote area, off to somewhere out of the ward. I asked for volunteers to help move him and got two of them. I wasn’t worried because usually the full-time missionaries can also help out, which meant we’d probably have 4 helpers, plus the movee himself, which made 5; and he was a man living by himself, so how much work could it be? But it turned out the missioonaries were unavailable that day, and the movee was unable to actually move anything himself. What was worse, neither of the two volunteers was a terribly skilled “get-it-done”-type person, and both had other commitments afterwards and so could only help for about 2 hours. After those two hours, the movee was only half loaded into the Uhaul truck, and he was calling me up (who live in Shawnigan, a bit over an hour’s drive away) saying he needed more help. What was worse, one of the helpers stayed longer than he planned, and so missed the bus he needed to catch in order to get to work on-time. I needed to be working myself, but tried desperately to find others to help. The best I could manage was to inconvenience an older couple to make the 40 minute drive to pickup the volunteer who was late for work, and drop him off, but they weren’t in a situation to help move (the husband had just had some type of dental surgery and so couldn’t drive; and his wife wasn’t about to lift bed frames by herself).
I just had to tell the movee that, “sorry, we can’t help any more today. If you can’t move yourself or find any other helpers, you should hire movers.” He was low income so that wasn’t a great solution.
I obviously felt terrible about that situation. Firstly that the movee was stuck, also that the helpers who had volunteered had had such a bad experience (they probably hoped they would help for a few hours, be thanked, and feel like they had done service; instead they had to leave for their own commitments and leave the movee basically stranded), and lastly because I had, at the end of the day, missed out on a bunch of my own work.
This was by far the worst such experience, but there were other “good ones”. Once a bunch of brothers went to help a guy move, and arrived to find his house in complete disarray, and totally unprepared for move his furniture. His dishes were even piled up throughout the kitchen. Also, there was one quorum member who moved about every month, always with a great story about it, and always needing complete help.
I think that’s why after a while, some quorum members became a bit reluctant to help move. Sometimes those requesting help had an attitude of “you teach you’re supposed to help in your church, well I need help. So help me!” What they didn’t realize is that there were frequently these non-contributors who’d swoop in, demand a bunch of help, and then never give back. And it became very discouraging for quorum members, despite however much they tried to be selfless and serve anyway.
What I Learned
- Read the manual, Church Handbook 2, especially the entire section on the Melchezedek Priesthood. Become able to quote from it.
- It’s important to delegate responsibilities, but I personally never felt I got terribly good at it. It’s often easier to just do things yourself, rather than ask someone else, instruct them how you’d like them to do it, arrange a time to check-up on how it was, check up on how it went, and possibly check up again later if they didn’t do it. And while people often don’t like being inconvenienced to do things, they feel more fulfilled and like a real contributor. If they’re always on the side-lines they start to wonder what they’re doing there at all.
- Establish a schedule for things. We had a schedule of monthly meetings (every second Sunday at 8pm), and we’d go out to visit quorum members every 3rd Thursday at one point. I also had a schedule for when I’d do my hometeaching. I’ve found if I don’t have a schedule it’s very easy to let it slip by.
- Callings are meant to benefit the people who will be served, but also those who fulfill the calling. So when looking to fill callings (like secretaries and teachers) you need to not only ask who’s capable, but also who would benefit from the calling. I benefitted from this calling probably specifically because it was so contrary to my natural tendencies. Of course, we also seek inspiration on who to call.
- When calling someone, make it a formal occasion, like it says in the handbook. People won’t be very motivated to do a calling if they just learn about it over a text message. Emphasize the importance of it by having a private space where to conduct the interview, a time dedicated to it, and planning out what you will say to them (eg asking how they’re doing, explaining the calling to them, asking if they have any hold-ups)
- When interacting with others, it’s likely there will be opportunities to take offense. E.g., someone might blame you for something, or not follow-through on something, or say something in an offensive way. We’re humans still, so expect imperfections like this.
- We’re supposed to report how much hometeaching is done each month, but the definition of “home teaching” is pretty vague. Some people hold it to strictly be “if you enter the family’s house, say a prayer, and share a message”. But of course, Elder Holland recently spoke about how that misses the point of hometeaching. He’d rather you serve the family than just abide a law-of-Moses-like monthly visit. I’ve usually counted asked what the quorum members did to try and serve the families. If it seems they made an honest efforto to somehow serve them (be it a visit, dropping off cookies, helping out with something) I count that as hometeaching. And if the family doesn’t make themselves available? I count that too, because the quorum member is doing there best. But I’m sure others will use other definitions.
- Personal Preisthood Interviews: it’s good to talk to each quorum member every few months. I would just take them out of class on a Sunday, one at a time, for about 5 minutes each. I’d just do as many as I could, in whatever order, because I didn’t want them to think “Oh no, I’m getting interviewed, I must be in trouble!” I’d just walk with them around the Church once, find out how they’re doing, how their hometeaching or calling is going, and if they needed any help.
- Remind teachers two weeks before they teach (give them time to think about it), a week before they teach (this is where most teachers actually prepare the lesson), and a night or two before they teach (occasionally, they will have forgotten that they will be out-of-town or haven’t yet prepared). If they’re only teaching once a month, it’s easy to forget. And the class obviously stinks when there is no prepared lesson. Also, I always made a point of reading the lesson beforehand too, so in case the teacher wasn’t prepared, I knew enough to do an adequate lesson.
- While it’s good to provide service, it’s not good to take responsibility for church members welfare from them. For example, it’s good to help teach members how to take care of themselves, or to help out in a moment of crisis. But it’s not as good to provide constant service upon which they come to depend and thus continue to forever be a burden on those around them. While some church members are certainly in more difficult circumstances, and I don’t have it totally figured out, one of the main objectives of our service is to teach self-sufficiency.
- Avoid changing hometeaching routes unnecessarily. Home teachers are meant to give service and be friends to those they hometeach. But it can take months or years to build up that kind of relationship. If possible, most of our prefer to leave the routes as-is, and only change them when something is clearly not working
- Avoid changing hometeaching routes mid-month. Often members will have already made their visits or arranged their visits, and making a change mid-month is pulling the rug out from under their feet, and is quite discouraging.
- More important than your abilities is your desire to serve.
And to be honest I was pretty happy to be relieved and for a change.