Calling all callings

All of the units in our stake (they call it a “ring” here in Belgium) have been reorganized. We’re going from 14 small units to 8 larger units. For us, this means that two more small branches are joining our branch in Gent. We’ll be big enough to be a ward!

We meet on the first floor of a large building called the Elysium. For the month of April, our meeting place is getting refurbished with new flooring and so forth, so we won’t meet there again until May 7. And that should be an interesting Sunday. It will be the first meeting in the renovated space and our first meeting with the members from Brugge and Kortrijk.

But more importantly, as of May 7th, everyone is released from their callings, except the ward clerk. We’ll have a new bishopric and every other job will need to be reassigned.

I have been serving as second counselor in the Young Women’s auxiliary. But the other members of the presidency have already been given new stake callings, and I doubt I’ll have a new job as we’ll only be here for a few more months. (That is the only thing saving me from the anxiety about what I’ll be asked to do next, which I always feel when I’m released from a calling.)

In any case, it’s gotten me thinking about the different callings I have been given over the years. To that end, I present to you Rachel’s Church Callings, an incomplete list:

  • Relief Society Teacher (BYU single student ward. First year that the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals were used.)
  • Relief Society Pianist (BYU married student ward. This is a calling that I am not well qualified for, and it was especially painful given that I didn’t have a piano to practice on and there were so many other women who could easily play much better than I could.)
  • Family History Consultant? (I think my husband I were both called to this as some point in our early married years, but the memory is fuzzy.)
  • Relief Society Teacher (San Diego, while we were at UCSD for my husband’s graduate program.)
  • Primary Music Lady (Not the actual chorister at first. More of an assistant chorister. That made it difficult because I had to do the job the way someone else wanted it to be done and not try my own ideas. I also got to lead the nursery singing time, which I loved. Nursery Singing Lady is the best calling ever. Eventually the main chorister moved, and I had more autonomy. The entire six years we were in San Diego, my husband was the primary pianist, his dream calling, so while I was in Primary we got to spend all of our Sundays together. It also meant that our son got to go to Nursery at 14 months because that was easier for the Primary Presidency that trying to juggle him during singing time.)
  • Enrichment Activity Specialist (I worked with the RS counselor to plan and execute RS enrichment activities. This was a period of transition away from Homemaking, but we still did many of these educational types of things because we had so many young married sisters who were interested in learning about baking, cooking, sewing and gardening. It was at this time that I developed the philosophy that you put on the best, most useful activity you can, with as few frills as possible. A successful activity is one that is good for those who showed up, but there is no need to guilt anyone for not coming to an optional meeting.)
  • Primary Counselor (We had three counselors in this ward because the primary and nurseries were so big. I was called to be over the nurseries, but I was never good at keeping track of all of the littles. But our secretary, who was awesome, knew everyone. At this time, I learned a lot about running efficient presidency meetings.)
  • Junior Primary Teacher (This was in our branch on Long Island, New York. I taught all of the junior primary, from ages 3-8. It was a small class, usually about 7 kids. Some had pretty impressive attention and behavioral challenges. Some were very bright, and some hadn’t learned to read yet. Two were my own kids. I learned that a good structure gives the kids time to talk and tell me about their week or anything they found important. Everyone gets a turn. No interruptions, so each kid can speak their piece, and it turns out when everyone believes they will be heard, they are willing to listen to each other. I also always brought carrot sticks or apple slices for them to munch while I told the stories from the lesson. Never candy. And we always did art projects, so their hands could be busy and they could stay engaged. And sometimes we would do jumping jacks and yoga.)
  • Relief Society Counselor (Because our branch was about half Spanish speaking, we had to translate all announcements and handouts into Spanish as well as English. It’s good to have someone good-naturedly laugh at my mistakes and still understand and work with me. I also learned a lot about helping people with food orders, serving sisters without legal documentation, moving and mourning.)
  • Primary President (This was shocking. We had just moved to Provo, and had assumed, that after years of being super necessary in our little branch that we would be extraneous in Utah. Not so. The poor bishop had to talk to me for almost an hour before I got over the shock and disbelief enough to consider accepting. After I had been in for about a year, my husband got called to be a counselor in the bishopric, and that made for some pretty stressful [and one very hilarious] Sundays. Here I got to use what I’d learned serving in previous presidencies. I loved all of the children, and felt heavily the burden of responsibility I had to them and to the teachers serving under me. The real burden of leadership is the responsibility for seeing that things are done without the ability to do all of those things yourself. You must delegate and trust others to help, and sometimes they fail you. I would so much rather someone decline a calling than accept it and do a half baked job. Especially when it involves children who need love and consistency. I also came to love the ward clerks and was constantly scouring the new member information for potential primary teachers and cub scout leaders.)
  • Relief Society Secretary (I got released from Primary just before our ward boundaries were redrawn, so this calling was the first in my new Provo ward. I endeavored to be efficient and competent, attributes I value in secretary. I also came to realize how much clerical work volunteers provide the church. A lot of these number things should just be someone’s paid job. Useful and necessary perhaps, but not very spiritually uplifting, at least for me.)
  • [Scout Processor] (With the ward change, my husband got called to be the Scoutmaster, and by default, I became the scout processor. I served on the scout committee (something I had learned about because being primary president also meant being cub scout committee chair), helped run Boards of Review, recorded advancements and bought awards at the scout office.)
  • Young Women’s Personal Progress Adviser (We had about as many leaders as young women in our ward, but this was still a nice calling. I got to work with the young women in the same way that I had been working with the young men through scouts and the board of review interviews.)
  • Scout Committee Member (I finally got called to do what I had been doing for almost 4 years shortly before the Wood Badge training. My husband was reluctant to go, but I thought it would be fun and informative. He agreed to go with me. Then they realized I didn’t actually have a scout related calling, so voilà.)
  • Young Women’s Counselor (This brings us to the here and now in Belgium. We have five young women in our branch from three families. One of them is my daughter. It’s been a delight to get to know these girls, and I’m thankful that they all speak English and are happy to help me with my very limited Dutch. I’ll miss this work.)


Outside of these official church callings, I feel that I have been called to teach and to work as an advocate for environmental stewardship issues in an LDS context. I find it interesting that many of the skills that I have deliberately developed have never been tapped for service in the church. It saddens me a little. But I am also grateful for the chance to serve in capacities that I would never have chosen for myself because each one of those assignments stretched me and gave me new skills and perspectives.

Thinking back over your service in the church, what callings have stood out to you? Which calling taught you the most? Which was most unexpected? Do you also feel anxious when you get released because you don’t know what’s coming next? (I think of it as rolling dice, or, to be more biblical, casting lots. Either way, it stresses me out.) And please tell me what your ideal calling would be.

29 comments for “Calling all callings

  1. I apparently don’t have any skills my wards need, I have had 2 callings in 10 years and haven’t had one for the 3 years we have been in our current ward.

  2. I love teaching adults, so I’ve thrived when I’ve gotten to be a Gospel Doctrine teacher or an instructor in the Relief Society. RS teacher is the dream calling, in my opinion, because it’s only once a month, you get to think about how to apply theology to lived experience–which is like my favorite thing ever–and you don’t have to do administrative stuff or go to endless meetings. But because my views aren’t always the most orthodox and I’m kind of in a marginal demographic, most wards I’ve been in would never have seriously considered putting me in those positions. I will always love the two San Francisco Bay Area wards I was in for giving me teaching callings (and being not just tolerant but enthusiastic about it when I brought in stuff like academic theological approaches).

    The callings that have nearly killed me, on the other hand, are ones which have required me to contact people using the phone (ugh, but this was in the days before email was common) and try to convince them to do things (so not my strength), even something as simple as doing the Friendship Basket. I was a an utter failure as the Friendship Basket Coordinator in a BYU ward.

  3. SortaFairytale, I understand what you mean. When I don’t have a calling, at first I admit I feel some relief. But as it goes on, I wonder if my leaders know and appreciate me and what I have to offer. This list represents 20 years of service. At some point, I’ll have served in my last calling, and the list won’t grow any more. I wonder what that last calling will be.

    Lynnette, I would love to teach in church again, either primary or perhaps Gospel Doctrine. When I was in my early 20s, I thought I would be a great GD teacher, and really wanted to do it. But I was never called, and now I’m not so sure of myself. I am less orthodox now, so I may never get the chance to find out. And I’m okay with that now. I do concur with the pain of being forced to call people. There were so many times that I would do extra work myself in order to avoid calling and asking someone to help me.

  4. Sorta, out of curiosity, have you asked for a calling? It may be that they simply don’t realize it. My experience with ward councils is that lots of stuff falls through the cracks depending on the makeup of the leadership.

    Also, where do you you live? I’d love not to have a calling, but I’ve never lived in a ward that was so short on callings that I didn’t have one. It was usually the other way around.

  5. Since posting this, I have realized that it could be read as a brag list, and that was not my intent at all. I’m genuinely amazed that I’ve been given these opportunities to serve, and I don’t think they have much to do with me personally. After all, I chose none of these jobs, and I was always relieved when released. In some cases, I was likely just the person who was there who said yes. I don’t want to think that having a certain calling makes someone more worthy or valuable than another person, even as I have felt more valued in some callings than in others (I would fail and feel worthless as a Friendship Basket Coordinator; I am so glad that was not my job!).

  6. Yeah, our ward in Provo surprisingly has a lot of people turning down callings so many callings are hard to fill. I remember my wife, when she was Primary President complaining mightily about it.

  7. Not a brag list, Rachel, rather a documentation of excellent service. Thank you.

    I’ve been in most callings except bishop (still trying to avoid that one at all costs by wearing colored shirts and swearing a lot). My favorite was a counselor in the bishopric in a YSA Ward. I loved it. Second most favorite – nursery.

    Most surprising; ward financial clerk. It was a powerful and often moving experience to open a tithing envelope from a Primary kid to see a dime for tithing and a dime for the Perpetual Education Fund, or to see a widow put down $600 for tithing and $400 for fast offerings. Grad students putting in $80 for tithing and $20 for fast offering, knowing that their $800 stipend was about all that I had for the month and they still had room for a $20.

    Worst: High council. I hated knowing everyone’s business. I was once involved in a disciplinary council for someone I knew very well for some pretty serious stuff (adultery, drug abuse, etc.). He was a pillar of the ward by all appearances. Except he wasn’t. Heartbreaking. Traveling around to speak was fun, though.

    Calling I wouldn’t want besides bishop: Primary president. They’re amazing.

  8. I have been serving as Temple and Family History Center Director for almost six years now, and I have also been teaching Primary the last three of those years. Working in the Family History Center has been a big blessing, because two-thirds of the time I get to work on my own genealogy, because nobody else comes in on those nights. You also get to help new converts learn to do Family History, and sometimes you are there when the youth do the baptisms and get to tell them whose family these names are from.

  9. My favourite calling of all time was ward mission leader for 3.5 years. I absolutely LOVED the missionaries that served here and helping them with their problems and stuff, I just loved it!! I did that from fall of 2011 to spring of 2015

  10. Been the scoutmaster for 18 months. I hate it. The boys are fun to work with, but the BSA administrative morass is such a drag. I’ve seriously considered moving to get out of it.

  11. Treebranch,
    Get someone else called to help with the BSA administrative stuff. That is what I would try.

    I got released from being a youth SS teacher (my favorite calling) and got called as ward clerk. I had been financial clerk years ago. With on-line donation and no church courts in the past year the current calling is not that bad. I can remember being told to not accept a donation check from from the bishop’s wife, only cash from her in the tithing envelope. There can be some crazy happenings that the clerks get to experience, but some are really cool.

    Keep me away from being the bishop. We have a fairly stable suburban ward with multiple former stake presidents, etc. in the ward and lots of professionals. There are still a crazy amount of problems that the bishop, and sometimes a few others, have to deal with.

  12. My most unexpected calling – serving as first counselor in a bishopric – was very eye-opening. Among other things, I learned that I do not want to be in ecclesiastical administration; I gained appreciation for and a significant change in attitude about those I see as ecclesiastical climbers. As inappropriate as such climbing may be, it ensures that there will always be someone willing to do what I don’t want to.

    Otherwise, I learned most from teaching Gospel Doctrine in situations where I was not expected to stick to the manual and was free to explore the assigned scriptures in various languages and translations, put the lesson in a larger cultural context, and introduce ideas and viewpoints for discussion that are not the predominant, expressed positions of the mostly faithful, but sometimes smug, class members, all while trying to build faith in Christ and motivate Christian behaviors. If I had been told to stick to the manual, I would have refused to do so until they released me. But, of course, each time I was called, I told the bishopric member that was exactly what I would do.

    The most fulfilling calling has been repeatedly organizing the music for and directing choirs for regional conferences — not that some of the administrative stuff wasn’t both silly and frustrating, however. Unfortunately, I am reminded with each boring, telecast multi-stake, stake conference, that those experiences with capable and dedicated choir members and visitors like BKP and GBH are not likely to occur ever again.

    Yes, there is some anxiety about being released from a calling. It is related mostly to nearly paranoid anticipation that I’d be asked to do something awful like serving in priesthood leadership again. I have learned “by sad experience” not to complain about a calling I’ve accepted, not even in seeking direction without asking to be released, because the next one can always be worse!

  13. I’ve been YM counselor, Elders Quorum Teacher, Temple Prep Teacher, Primary Teacher, Ward Music Chairperson. They were all fine, no big surprise, I was fairly competent, etc. I was called to be the executive secretary. I’m horrible with this stuff so it was pretty overwhelming. I now have even more of an appreciation for all ward council callings though, and every member’s trials and challenges in general. We’ve moved to Utah and I’ve been overwhelmed with a new entrepreneurial job and I haven’t gotten a calling in 5 months, which to be honest is providence, for now. But I miss the blessings that come with that sacrifice.

  14. I’m currently serving as Relief Society President. It’s my second favorite calling I have ever had, which has surprised me. My favorite was serving as nursery leader with my husband as my assistant. Past callings have included YW advisor (teaching Sunday lessons), youth Sunday school teacher, Primary teacher, Relief Society teacher, visiting teaching supervisor, ward mission leader. I hate teaching. I always felt sorry for the RS president in the past and thought it would be a calling to avoid but it turns out I love it. Most feared/dreaded calling is scouts.

  15. Rachel I agree with your remarks about delegation and half-baked commitment. This post evokes a lot of thoughts for me and I think our approach to lay service is quite interesting. It says a lot that usually a bishopric member or clerk has to do a final check of the diaper pails when the building is locked up on Sunday afternoon.

    I’m not a high priest but I’ve done about everything else (13 years outside Utah) except teach Primary which means yes I am a pianist/organist. I’ve moved about every three years but have still been able to predict most of my callings. Most recently (and blissfully) I was an Elders Quorum instructor (in Utah) and taught once a month.

    Gospel Doctrine teacher when I was 30 years old; how would I now do it differently at age 46?

    Ward Mission leader: could also be called ward diplomat or ambassador

    Young Men (multiple times, President once): burns me out pretty quickly. Had to chastise my 2nd counselor when he would not let deacons pass the Sacrament if they were not seated when the meeting began (see Matthew 20). The Bishop sided with me, perhaps because his son was in this group.

  16. What about the callings that your Priesthood leader does not call you to? I know that there are hierarchies of callings, and that the ward has to be staffed. But 9x out of ten, the most vital callings are never made and largely unsung. Rachel alludes to this, but I think most of us can acknowledge that the most important work we do, in the home, church and community, is largely outside of any formal calling.

  17. Favorite: Interim Institute teacher. Weekly classes were hour twenty minutes, so I had a solid hour to teach. Also, the pace was slow, so we could spend alot of time diving into the OT. Great group of college students and young urban professionals. Also, a priori I knew it was only a semester, so it was time-bound.

    Least Favorite: Varsity Coach. I was a Scout Master (SM) on the East coast for 5 years–loved it. Upon moving to the BoM belt, I became a Varsity Coach (Mormon SM for only 14-15 yr olds). Culture was a clash for me and my methods were not effective in new culture. Lack of support from parents, kids, and bishopric led me to resign after 1 year.

    Anxious Time: After being SM, I didn’t have a calling for 6 months. In that “time off”, I was nervous that I’d be called anytime I knew a position was coming available. I didn’t realize that there is safety in already having a calling–especially when you are new to the position.

  18. This made me realize the vast majority of my callings have been teaching. In no particular order, and sometimes simultaneously:
    Temple worker, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Temple Prep teacher, Institute teacher, Seminary teacher, SS President (doing teacher training in particular and substituting), Asst. Ward Clerk (the main clerk was devastated to learn I only had 3 months before, but we went with it anyway), and now Asst. Ward Mission Leader.

  19. Ward Clerk never gets a break, hey? Everyone else released and still plodding along wresting MLS into submission.
    I’m currently clerk for my ward (no assistants or anything) and it has been the most eye opening calling I’ve had. The amount of time and energy the Bishop spends herd his flock was, until this calling, largely transparent to me. I might grown about 7am Bishopric meetings, but then I realise he is home maybe two or three nights a week, so it’s not all that bad.
    When I took the calling though, I asked the SP how long he thought I might be in it. He paused for a moment and then said, “Well ward clerks usually last at least two bishops, and around here we keep our bishops in the job for at least 5 years!” Two down, eight to go!

  20. Clerk is the only calling I’d put up with EQ, Bishop, SP or RSP. No break as you say. While I’ll admit to getting tired at times of hyperactive 9 year olds in scouts, compared to many callings I have it easy.

  21. I’ve been stake membership clerk for almost fifteen years. One thing never changes – I might as well wear a button that says “Move records OUT!” and another one that says “Keep addresses current and neat.” It’s become much more automated over the time I’ve served, which is a bit of a relief – I have a lot less to do than I used to. The drawback is that I can’t help the clerks with MLS or LCR because I used MIS the three times I was ward membership clerk.

    I’m also a temple worker – that has a fixed time commitment, but I’ve learned a lot. Maybe more than I wanted to about how the temple operates.

    I was just called as an elders’ quorum instructor. That I enjoy, and it’s only once a month.

    The hard part right now is finding time for home teaching.

  22. (And in that fifteen years I’ve worked with three stake presidents and five stake clerks.)

  23. I know this will sound heretical, but as a woman in the church, the list of potential callings one can have is rather narrow. My own mother has been in 40 years of cycling through your list over and over and over with minor differences each time. After a while it begins to feel like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’. I don’t know. I respect people who humbly go about such service for a lifetime- sometimes 60-70+ years this way. Each calling they sincerely approach with renewed vim and vigor. I think it is because they sincerely love the gospel and love the people they work with. That, dear bloggernacle friends, is a miracle, that is the often over-looked heart of Mormon life.

  24. I’ve been the ward executive secretary twice, once before smartphones and once after. Before smartphones I was a real gatekeeper for the bishop, just about all of his interactions with ward members went through me. Now with smartphones probably 50% of that interaction is through direct texts and emails that I’m not a part of. I see executive secretary as being a less vital calling now.

  25. Ward clerk, asst clerk, primary teacher (2-3 times), Elders teacher, music leader, choir director.

    I’ve a hard time, physically, getting through an entire block of church, much less callings, which kind of limits the options. Loved clerking, dreaded teaching. Don’t know what I’d do with a leadership position. If I was ever put in High Council, I’d make trouble requesting the women stake leaders as speaking companions, making them go last.

    Scouts would be a nightmare for me. Wish I could serve with the YW.

  26. Currently I teach Gospel Principles in French to a small number of mostly African immigrants in our Texas ward. I’ve never really enjoyed teaching, but it’s not so bad. I really like the language aspect of it though.

    Other callings in no particular order, Organist, SS Teacher 16-17, Primary a couple times, Asst. Exec Secretary, Elders quorum secretary, Gospel Doctrine teacher.

    I would mostly just like to be either choir pianist or primary pianist. But all the wards I’ve lived in have been teaming with pianists and since I’m male the seem to try to reserve me for priesthood callings and let woman handle music. I was lucky to be organist for 6 months.

  27. Starting right after mission and marriage: Primary teacher (as a newlywed), EQ counselor, EQ instructor, YM presidency, Gospel Doctrine, back to YM presidency, SS instructor (16-17 year olds – fantastic), EQ instructor, ward clerk, GD instructor, EQ president, bishopric, primary teacher, special needs activity program/Ward Special Needs Coordinator, and currently YM advisor.

    I wasn’t active during my teenage years, and didn’t understand Mormon teenagers much, so being in the YM program 15-20 years ago was extraordinarily difficult for me. Worst calling I had. Now, though, I’ve got teenagers and that makes a big difference.

    Bishopric was emotional and awesome, but the best church service time-period was immediately after, and for the next five years. I was teaching primary on Sunday to classes that have one or two special needs lil guys. While I held that calling, I’d go to a Thursday night Special Needs Activity Program (SNAP) and do merit badges and Duty to God activities with special needs individuals of all different capabilities, ages 12 to 75. Utterly life-changing.

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