Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Sneak Peek into My "Other Job"

The world may know me as a stay-at-home mom, but in reality I've been working — sometimes as much as 20 hours a week — at my "church job" for as long as I've been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In my religion's parlance, a person's "church job" is referred to as their "calling." Nearly everybody has a calling that changes every few years, and it's how every ministering and leadership role in the church is filled, from the local nursery leader (me!) to the president of the entire church.

This is a crazy and unprecedented way to run a church, and I love it.

Not my actual church, but it looks a lot like this.

A reader on a post I wrote a few years ago about callings asked if I'd write about the callings I've held throughout the years, so here are a few:

Current Calling

(Nursery Leader)

Right now I'm our ward's nursery leader. Another woman and I watch a room full of kids 18-36 months old for an hour after church. We play trains, we sing songs, we have snack, we do a short lesson about Jesus and then we color. It's heaven.

A lot of moms with little kids wouldn't like to be in the nursery because it's the same thing they do at home ALL DAY LONG and only hastens their descent into madness, but for me nursery is the best. Toddlers are my happy place.

If you've been following this blog for more than 5 minutes you know I'm having majorly sad feelings about my kids growing up, but for at least one hour a week I still get to be a part of those sweet toddler years for as long as this calling is mine.

First Calling

(Valiant 11 Teacher)

Just a few short months after I joined the church at age 18, I found myself teaching the Old Testament to a class of 11- and 12-year-olds. I look back and laugh now because I knew nothing. I did grow up in a Christian religion so at least I was vaguely familiar with most of the Bible stories, but every kid in there knew them ten times better than I did. (To be clear, I was given a lesson manual so I wasn't totally winging it every week.)

Teaching has always been a passion of mine (I was going to major in Education before I switched to English) and those kids were so amazing. I accompanied them to Primary and learned the children's songs that are sung by my kids today. And it was my first introduction to just how much faith we as Latter-day Saints place in our young people: they were learning to be capable, organized leaders who seek personal revelation from God in all areas of their lives.

Most Challenging Calling

(2nd Counselor, Relief Society Presidency)

The Relief Society is in charge of the welfare of our congregation's women and their families. The president does the lion's share of overseeing this, but she also has two helpers, called counselors.

One counselor was tasked with organizing Sunday lessons for the women, and the other was asked to organize weeknight activities for them every few months. Now, if I tell you I'm awesome at organizing and teaching, but paralyzed with fear and indecision by anything that even faintly resembles party planning, which of the two do you think I was?

You're right, I was the counselor over activities. And it was brutal. Phillip says I have an excellent poker face when it comes to acting normal, so I don't even think anyone knew how completely out of my element I was.

And yet, I grew a lot through the calling. I learned I can get better at things I'm horrible at. I also got a front-row seat to see our Relief Society president helping people and just loving them, whoever and wherever they were. She was (and is) a great source of encouragement and example to me.

Hardest-to-Like Calling

(Sunbeams Teacher)

My co-teacher when I taught Sunbeams (the 3- and 4-year-old class) was one of my favorite people ever so I liked working with her, but I struggled with the calling. I had a hard time getting into fluffy lessons like "I Am Thankful for Fish" (seriously, that was Lesson 11) which really didn't even matter because most of the time I was just putting band-aids on fake boo-boos or fielding a long and irrelevant story about someone's pet guinea pig in answer to an important question.

I don't think this would bother me now, but I was at a different place in my life then. The kids I had at home were 5, 3, and 1, and I was probably feeling the same burnout young moms might feel in nursery.

I try to come away with something I learned from every calling, and even though I struggled to find it this time, my co-teacher and I still provided a positive place for the kids to learn and be on Sundays, and that's important, too.

Favorite Calling

(Primary President)

For almost 3 years I was president of Primary, our congregation's children's organization. That includes looking out for the welfare of each child, managing the logistics for all the Sunday classes and weeknight activities, planning quarterly kids' activities outside of church, and once a year, putting on a big program where the kids present what they've learned that year.

It was so much work, and I loved it. I liked problem-solving, meeting families of the kids, communicating with the teachers, and organizing things so we could all get our spiritual buckets filled at church. I guess I felt sort of like a religious cruise director. Is that a thing?

The Primary president is also in charge of staffing all those classes (probably about 30 people altogether) and remember how I said all those teacher positions are filled by calling? So I learned a lot about prayerfully selecting people for callings and discerning God's will. If you ask me, learning what answered prayers feel like is one of the most useful life skills there is.

Most Inspired Calling

(Visiting Teaching Coordinator)

Since babies are basically black holes of your time and energy, the bishop sometimes releases you from a heavy workload calling when you're expecting a baby. Which is why I didn't tell the bishop I was pregnant when I was the Primary president; I loved my calling.

Unfortunately it didn't work, because he called me into his office and released me, anyway. My new calling (should I choose to accept it) was Visiting Teaching Coordinator. Basically, I would be a record-keeper of sorts for the Visiting Teaching program, the church's program for people to take care of each other.

I was really sad — for about a week, and then my pregnancy turned complicated and I wound up on bedrest in the hospital. And wouldn't you know it? Visiting Teaching Coordinator was the perfect calling for me to do from my hospital bed and during the difficult birth and recovery ahead.

Coincidence? You can draw your own conclusions.

Calling I Would Most Like to Avoid

(Relief Society President)

As much as I loved learning from the example of the Relief Society president I served with as a counselor, I wouldn't want to be her.

Of course there's no required personality for a Relief Society president, but I feel like I lack the compassion and ease with people necessary for the job. The Relief Society president is a supportive rock to so many women in our congregation, but I think I'm too awkward and can never find the right words to say without putting a lot of thought into it first (there's a reason I'm a writer and not the host of a live radio show.) I would feel unbearably inadequate to fulfill such an important role.

Publicly stating this feels dangerous, since we in the church like to joke that when you're comfortable with your current calling, you get released; when there's a calling that stretches you, you get asked to do it. I'd say yes if I was asked to be Relief Society president, but I'd need major help from God. MAJOR.

*   *   *

And those are most of the callings I've had (plus one I haven't) and what I thought about them.

If you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what's been your favorite calling and your hardest calling? If you're not, what do you think about the idea of callings?

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Janette said...

I'm currently the RS counselor over activities, even though my idea of a good activity is for everyone to read a book. By themselves. In their own homes. I loved nursery (sit on the floor,eat snacks, and don't worry about being reverent) and Primary pianist (spying on my kids when they can't see me). And oh, I play the organ in the temple, which is so peaceful. I am so rejuvenated after breathing the temple air. Thanks for sharing your beautiful heart with us!

Melonee said...

My favourite calling was being a relief society teacher for two years. I only had to do it once a month, I love to teach, and I felt I got to know the women in my ward really well.
Now I am the Relief Society president, and even though I now REALLY know the women in my ward well, it’s a tad more busy and stressful. Ha ha.
I love that you have written about callings and are so open about your life experiences! Your posts make me feel like I know you!

AmyW said...

I love being the primary pianist. When you live somewhere with nearly no piano players, this is the calling you get. I have been nursery leader and loved it, sacrament pianist (we have since prayed an organist into the ward, Yay!)and many others along the road. I like that we volunteer our time and energy and that callings are somewhat temporary...unless you play the organ...

Peggy said...

We ALL want to avoid being Relief Society president! My favorite calling was the 7 years I spent taking early morning seminary. I loved being with those teenagers every school day at 6am and seeing what amazing youth we have. Was is challenging? Yes. But I love teaching our the youth.

Amanda said...

I think the idea of callings is interesting. I do understand the idea of having people move around to different things, and it sounds like you learned a lot and grew a lot during your different callings. However, since you asked!, I don't love the idea of someone else speaking to God on my behalf and deciding for me what my calling is going to be. I think that should be something God reveals to me through prayer and the use of my specific spiritual gifts. I don't personally like the idea of someone else telling me where I am going to serve in the church. I know you can choose to accept the calling or not, but is it common for people to not accept a calling unless there were a specific reason (like a big life event)? Anyway, I'm only saying that since you asked what we thought about callings! Totally not trying to argue :)

AnneMarie said...

This is so fascinating to read about! I have a question that it totally unrelated to the subject of callings, but I thought of it when I read the caption of your photo in this post: Are there specific standards/architectural requirements for the local LDS church buildings? I've noticed that pretty much every church building (maybe they're all different, but in my observation it's everything that's not an LDS temple) looks so similar in its architectural style! So, now I'm really interested to know if this is just coincidental happenstance that architects who make LDS buildings all like the same style of building, or if there are specifications from the Church leaders that they are following.

Ann-Marie Ulczynski said...

This is so interesting! How often does your calling get reassigned; as in, is there a standard length of time for each calling? Also, for new members who have just joined, is there a period of education and acclimation before they are assigned a calling? I’m so interested!

Jenny Evans said...


I think a lot of our church buildings do look similar: white steeple, brick building, similar shape. I can usually pick one out on the street while driving through a place I don't know. :) But some are really unique and quite interesting - here are a bunch of photos of Sunday church buildings I found courtesy of the church's media library:

That said, in places where the membership is really small, we might have Sunday church in a rented building or even in someone's house!

Jenny Evans said...


I did ask! I'm genuinely curious how it strikes others because it's just my everyday normal.

Just to be clear, we definitely believe people can talk directly with God through prayer and get divine guidance for our lives and our families.

I think it's rare for people to turn down callings, although plenty of people say "I need some time to pray about it first and make sure that's what I'm supposed to do" and that's totally fine.

Jenny Evans said...


There's not officially a standard length for a calling. Once I was a counselor in a Relief Society presidency and moved after two months! (Not because of the calling. I was in school and they knew I was only staying for the summer.) On average most callings I've had have lasted between 1-2 years before I get a new one.

New members are usually given a calling fairly soon after their baptisms. There's no set "first calling" that people have, but I think teaching the children's classes after church are common first callings (kids aren't so scary and you learn best when you teach it to someone else.) Usually a new member would be co-teaching with a more experienced person.

Thank you for all your questions! I honestly didn't know if this post would be super-boring for everyone to read so I'm glad it wasn't.