Taking President Hinckley Seriously

In the April 1997 General Conference Pres. Hinckley said everyone deserves “three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’”1. If local leaders take this seriously, then:

  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t think they are worthy?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who hasn’t resolved a serious sin?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t wear garments?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t pay their child support?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who smokes or drinks?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t pay their tithing?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t keep the sabbath day holy?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who supports teachings contrary to those of the Church?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t follow the teachings of the Church with their family and others?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t obey the law of chastity?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who are living in a same-sex relationship?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t sustain the General Authorities?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t have a testimony of the restoration?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t have a testimony of Christ?
  • What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who is an atheist?
Please repeat the above questions in the following ways:
  • Who in our congregation can be a friend to someone who …
  • What “good word of God” should be presented to someone who …

I’m sure many will suggest that some of the people above aren’t worthy, or don’t come to church anyway. Do you really think that is what President Hinckley meant? And while his talk was oriented toward converts, are you really going to argue that less active members or those who are struggling with the Church should be given different attention from converts?

If we are serious about welcoming people, don’t we need to make them part of our community?

If local leaders are serious about involving everyone in their units, won’t they have answers for most of these questions ready? If they don’t, how likely will it be that everyone will be integrated?

Now let me take this a step further. If we don’t have someone coming to our meetings on Sunday who smells like cigarette smoke or liquor, or who is violating some commandment, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves “are we being welcoming enough?”

33 comments for “Taking President Hinckley Seriously

  1. I’ve worked with atheists in the choir and in scouts, non- & transitioned members in activity days and in scouts, as well as a variety of support positions (facilities, activities). My wife had non – members in RS positions when she was president. It worked because they wanted to help, understood we were a religious organization and were respectful and supportive of our beliefs and goals, even if they disagreed. The times it didn’t work was when people were antagonistic about the church and its teachings. Not surprisingly, those were the “loyal opposition” with axes to grind. So yes, it can and does work well. It doesn’t depend on the church as much as it depends on the attitude of the individual. IMHO, of course.

  2. Family History is one program that welcomes the assistance of everyone, member or nonmember, worthy or unworthy, orthodox or unorthodox, as long as they are reasonably intelligent, attentive to detail, and curious about the past.

  3. What responsibilities/callings can be given to…

    The responses are choir, family history, scouts (which of course, the LDS church no longer has an association with). Yes, you can connect with people who don’t seem to be interested in the LDS church through activities that LDS leaders tell members to be involved in that aren’t directly church-related. Can a ward leader give them a calling? No. In fact, if local leaders did actually ask them to meet them at a ward building and formally give them a calling, I think it would deter them even more, where they might be more prone to participate through a casual, friendly invitation without the dressings as a calling.

    I think that most members are plenty welcoming. And I don’t think that the lack of smoke-smelling alcoholics at the ward house is a sign that they are not welcoming. The fact of the matter is that it is simply hard to get people who aren’t interested in church (atheists, people in same-sex relationships, good luck), no matter how much welcoming you do. And bear in mind, that a lot of welcoming wards off a lot of people. People stand to lose friends if the welcoming is too strong. Even subtle welcoming can cause rifts in the relationship. Inviting people to church (maybe once, but multiple times?), let alone giving them a calling, is socially risky. Your question seems to be one similar to, “how can we get more converts in Norway?” There isn’t much more that you can do than what is already being done, at least not with the current policies, teachings, infrastructure, and so on. Leaders could reshape things and you might get different results. The leaders are already reshaping to some extent. But there is only so much you can do.

  4. One problem Utah wards have is there are not enough callings for all the active women, let alone taking a risk of asking a semi active or doubting, or any other fringe person to accept a calling. My only “sin” was that I was feminist, not loudly vocally feminist, just a quiet socially withdrawn introvert slightly liberal politically and slightly feminist. I always had calling as we moved around through 20 years of active duty military. But then hubby retired from active duty and got a job in Utah. There, amid wards that were already over staffed, I went ten years with no calling. We moved in and my husband was quickly given a calling, but I waited and just was never called to anything As an introvert, I found it hard to make friends without a job to be working on together, so I also went without a friend. I finally approached the bishop and flat out told him I was beginning to struggle with even attending because after 10 years in the ward, I still felt like an outsider. He gave me a calling, but it wasn’t actually necessary, nor was it working with other people, but one of those “invented” callings that fits the lowest definition of a calling, so it was kind of a failure. I eventually succumbed to the same problem they found was causing new converts to drop out of activity, no calling, no friend, no nourishment in the gospel.

    People, even life long members still need something to do to feel slightly needed or even wanted, and life long members still need a way to make friends, and they still need nourishment in the gospel. Invented callings just to give people callings don’t cut it as far as the “something to do” nor do they help introverts make friends. Home or visiting “Ministers” who don’t minister don’t cut it as a friend. And after 40-50 years of hearing the same lessons over again our lessons and sacrament talks don’t cut it as nourishment in the gospel. And our leaders wonder why they are losing people.

  5. I actively avoid callings. Having a beard and never wearing a suit jacket helps a lot. I do callings when asked, but I have managed to avoid leadership at this point.

    Other than that, I agree with Nate GT.

  6. When the new endowment came out I recommended it as less sexist. I am in my 70s and my bishop in his 30s. He had me in to his office, told me I couldn’t use negative words like sexist about the church. As I could not be trusted not to do that again I would not hold a position, or give a talk while he was bishop.

    Is this what you are talking about?

  7. Nate GT, why are the answers limited to “choir, family history, scouts“? That seems excessively narrow, IMO. Is the ward really limited in this way? What about community outreach efforts? Can‘t one of those listed above be asked to find out what is going on in the community that ward members should know about? Or what about working on service opportunities in the neighborhood? Are they out of bounds??

    I think part of the problem is that often, we active members limit what we think of in church to the typical activities we see done — the standard programs of the church. I‘ve looked in the handbook and I don‘t see anything that limits a bishop or branch president, or a stake, to those activities.

    You suggest that local leaders can‘t give these people callings. Why not? I admit that many callings have requirements isn’t the handbook, and you may be right in those cases. In other cases the members of the ward might find it socially unacceptable — like having someone who smokes teach Sunday School. BUT, I don‘t think there is anything written to say that a Bishop can‘t or shouldn‘t call someone who isn‘t living the word of wisdom to teach Sunday School. Are you really suggesting that there are limits that aren‘t in the handbook?

    As for being welcoming, well, I think welcoming comes in many different forms. We send all sorts of messages in our buildings and how we act, in addition to what we say and what the signs on our buildings say. If we unconsciously ignore people we don‘t know, is that welcoming? If we turn away when we smell cigarette smoke, is that welcoming? If we act uncomfortable because of how someone is dressed, is that welcoming?

    One of my worries is that the average ward or branch is that we are so comfortable with the norm that anything outside of that norm seems like a threat, and we stay away — and that translates to being unwelcoming in subtle, and sometimes in not so subtle ways.

    So when I suggest that a failure to have those in our meetings who obviously aren‘t living the external standards of the church might mean we aren‘t being welcoming enough, I‘m simply asking that we think about how our actions might be perceived. People generally want to fit in. If we can get them to stick around long enough, they will change their behavior to fit in — at least while they are at church. The message will be sent by our living the standards. No need to rub it in.

  8. Anna, your story is heartbreaking. I‘m so sorry!! You shouldn‘t be treated like that!

    I‘m glad you reached out to the Bishop, but sad that your calling was an “invented“ calling. BUT, I have to defend such callings. Some calling is better than none, and what seems unnecessary can often become important even though unnecessary. A lot depends on how local leaders view the calling, and how the person called views the calling. If you are willing to take an “invented“ calling and go beyond what is expected, you may be able to make it important to someone. [I say may because a lot depends on the calling and on how local leaders react.]

    I‘ve found that some “invented“ callings are also unstructured callings — those without a handbook or instructions and without any track record of what others have done. So not only does the person called need to do the work for the call, they also need to come up with the structure — list of to do items, deadlines, ways to communicate with others, etc.

    For example, our ward has a “community liaison“ who works with the local Interfaith council (most interfaith efforts in the Church are handled at the stake level for some reason I don‘t quite understand — perhaps because that makes the most sense in Utah, where the area a non-LDS congregation serves is the equivalent of several stakes). The sister who has that calling has had to come up with a lot of procedures for the calling. It takes a lot of effort, but I think it works.

    I do have one suggestion that might help — look around your ward and see what, outside of the standard callings, you could do to make a difference. Then either assume that responsibility, or ask the Bishop to be assigned that responsibility.

    I like the following quote from Richard Rohr: “The best critique of something wrong is the practice of something better.“ So I think the best critique of the fact that the ward hasn‘t given you a calling is to find a way to contribute positively, hopefully without stepping on toes, even if you haven‘t been assigned that.

  9. IAW, that wouldn‘t work in our ward or stake. We‘ve had Bishops called with facial hair. Fortunately, Church culture isn‘t the same everywhere.

    Geoff, I‘m sorry! I think your Bishop is just plain wrong. [Believe it or not, Bishops ARE often wrong. And most of them admit it].

    Yes, I do think your example is at least part of what I‘m saying.

    I repeat my advice to Anna: “The best critique of something wrong is the practice of something better“ — go find a way to contribute positively to the ward, hopefully without stepping on toes, and do it, even if you haven‘t been called or assigned that. It’s your church too. You shouldn‘t let a local leader keep you from serving your ward, or your community. You don‘t have to be “commanded in all things.“

  10. As a teenager, my wife had a friend who was part of a less active family. Kind of came to church, kind of didn’t situation. After leaving her parents house the friend went inactive. After a few years she realized that she wanted to go back to church, so she did. Her bishop took President Hinckley seriously and called her to teach a junior primary class. She loved it, and the calling helped motivate her to attend church regularly. But the calling didn’t last long. The parents of some of the kids in the class did not like the fact that their young daughters were being taught by a woman who was (gasp) living with her boyfriend. The bishop told her that he didn’t want to cause issues with the stalwart families in the ward and released her from the calling. She tried to attend church after that, but knowing that a bunch of members didn’t want her around, killed any interest in continuing to attend.

  11. Anna: We also spent 20 years in the military and then settled in Utah . . . and then the best thing we ever did was move away — back to where a ward welcomes everyone and appreciates you.
    Where we live now, every ward member understands that their Number One calling in the church is to love their neighbor without reserve and without a checklist. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is treated like a child of God. We love them into activity – or, into Baptism.
    The level of love and Charity is astounding. It is understood and non-members and less-active are going to be a bit different and that greeting and fellowshipping them is a test the Lord has given for US to pass; not them.
    We recently had a pastor from one of the other churches in town visit on a Sunday, and he got angry that we were so nice to him — he’d been telling his congregation that we were a closed, unwelcoming people, and then our little ward just up and proved him wrong without knowing what we were doing.
    No, I will never move back to a place where are wards are so big that there’s no callings — and no fellowshipping or no welcome to those who don’t fit our picture of who’s allowed through the door.
    Oh, and where we live 90% of the men have beards to keep their face warm in the winter, including the bishopric, and half the men and boys wear bow ties to church. (I’m a fence sitter: I wear both bow ties and neck ties.) We are referred to in the stake as the Bow Tie Ward.

  12. Kent, of course there are many ways for actives to interact with less actives. What the OP seemed to ask was how to engage them through the official ward channels via callings with the ultimate goal of bringing them to church. Then in your response to me you seem to be a bit looser in how you think we should go about this and that we don’t need to conform to rigid structures in our outreach. OK, that’s fine. My question then is at what point does outreach need to be structured?

    My wife and I are friends with a same-sex couple who are married and have an adopted daughter. One is a former LDS. We have had dinner together, my wife has gone shopping with them. I’m pretty sure we could invite them to a service project (say, preparing meals for sick children at the hospital) and they would come help out. Could we secretly say that we are fellowshipping them into the church and giving them secret callings (that they don’t know are actual callings) to participate with us in service projects and so on and so forth. I suppose we could. But what is the point of having formal church labels placed on these interactions? Why not just say, “be friends with atheists, LGBTQs, and smokers” and call it a day? Why feel the need to consider all of our interactions fellowshipping and invitations callings? Because at some point there is a formality to the term calling. And it is a formality that I’m fairly sure many of those you listed (particularly atheists, those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ, and those who support teachings contrary to the church will outright reject).

  13. I think this is one of the issues with the “good, better, best” mindset: it leaves out and can shove out people who aren’t currently acting the “best” (as defined by the institutional church), notwithstanding that acting better is preferable to good, and good preferable to not.

  14. Nate GT: I think your question about formality is a good question. Of course there is some point where formality enters into the situation (although it isn’t necessary to formalize everything). But I don’t think we should draw rules about when to formalize and when not to formalize.

    For some 18 months or two years or more, our ward has had a handful of non-members who have attended — they come basically every week. Missionaries have taught them, but not for the entire time. They seem to enjoy coming, but haven’t been interested in baptism. Shouldn’t they be given “callings”? Or maybe some kind of responsibility? As long as they want to participate, let them participate, right?

    I believe most wards also have those who are struggling with following many of the church’s teachings. Some are essentially atheists, but still come and participate. Others like the church, but are gay, with all the problems that arise in such situations. Still others struggle with the word of wisdom. If they come to church, or want to come to church, is there no way to help them feel like a valued part of the congregation?

    I don’t think how formalized callings or responsibilities (or whatever you call them) are matters as much as including others who want to be included.

    My point in the OP is that we often don’t even consider giving them callings or responsibilities, and when we do, we too often conclude that they aren’t worthy of a particular calling, and leave them without one.

    Why can’t we brainstorm and come up with a nice long list of callings/responsibilities that could be given in such situations? In my experience we don’t have enough possibilities in mind, and not having such a list makes it much harder to include others.

    I suspect a large portion of the reason why we aren’t as welcoming as we should be is because we simply haven’t thought through the details of what we might do. The only model we have is the standard list of callings and the standard understanding of what those filling callings should be.

  15. MH: I agree. If we want to be welcoming to everyone, then we have to accept good and let the good become “best” in its own time. And, if we are honest with ourselves, then surely we know that, while we may be good enough, we are also not “best” (i.e., perfect)

  16. The Handbook explicitly says that not every member of the Church should serve in a Church position. See Handbook 1, Section 6.9.2.

  17. Nat, can you provide a quotation? I don’t have access.

    But, I’m told this is the section about Disfellowshipment, right? In the chapter on church discipline and name removal?

    In context then, I don’t think this refers to those who haven’t gone through church discipline.

    And, depending on the situation, I believe the Bishop could make assignments to those who have been disciplined, if he believes that will help the person’s process of repentance and returning to full fellowship. That’s all the more reason for thinking through a list of possible callings/assignments/responsibilities that might be given to those who don’t hold temple recommends, etc.

  18. One dimension of these thoughts of expansive callings is the question of how expansive church activity should be. If the church is a happening place with sports and plays and concerts and a preschool and a health clinic and organized service to the poor in the community and the world, then various neighbors will find an interest in taking part and can be tasked with carrying out parts of such activity. If the church reins all that in to limit the demands on its members and restricts itself to strictly religious functions that none other can provide, then 1) fewer neighbors will be interested in taking part, and 2) there wouldn’t be much to do that could be assigned to the unbaptized and unbelieving.

    At the same time that President Hinckley preached that everyone should have a calling, the church was in the first half of a decades-long move, directed by leaders such as him, toward becoming a more minimal institution.

  19. Good point, John. I must admit that I favor a more expansive model.

    But, I don’t think my OP is necessarily at odds with a more minimal view. As I commented above to Nate GT, if people are coming to church, and if we want to include them, then it makes sense to try to give them some kind of responsibility. Maybe in a minimal model those opportunities would be fewer. So the import of the responsibilities would need to be smaller or shared more, not necessarily fewer.

  20. Nat, Interesting citation (“See Handbook 1, Section 6.9.2”) for a lot of blog readers who have no access to Handbook 1! What is its context?

    John Mansfield has pretty well described those more vibrant protestant churches where I sometimes substitute as organist. Generally speaking, most wards and stakes in our area are not such happening places. Decades ago I experienced such happening places in LDS wards and stakes. Now it seems rare.

    Maybe the burden is now more on local leadership and members to make church a happening place if they have the time & energy (generally not) and the budget (generally not) and the building facilities (generally already overscheduled). I’m rather tired of trying. I wonder how many others are.

    Especially since switching to the 2-hour block and eliminating YM presidencies, our ward has trouble finding enough meaningful callings for active, committed members who want one, to say nothing of the less experienced, or less committed. And we are not a large ward.

  21. Kent, thanks for clarifying your point. As to the idea of expanding the idea of a calling or a responsibility, I would support that. I think it would require some restructuring from the higher leadership however.

  22. Instead of inventing callings, would it be out of place to find out what these members / neighbors are good at or interested in and then put them to work. I’m thinking there’s room in a number of organizations in the ward / stake.

    Self-Reliance Service (education, personal finance, entrepreneurship, employment) Just Serve Coordinators (service coordinators, outreach, etc.), ward music committee, RS compassionate service, two-deep teaching companions in Sunday-School and primary, Public Affairs Representatives,Disability specialists, addiction recovery specialists, Quorum or Class “Specialists” (the new youth organizational structure allows for lots of creativity) in areas of local need or interest.

    Are any of the above listed members somehow unqualified to minister to other members of the ward?

  23. I hope everyone can find opportunities to serve their neighbors, within or without their church communities. But, inasmuch as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an organization with a message, I can understand the desire to rely on faithful adherents of the message for many “callings” within the Church — we want teachers and youth workers and so forth on whom we can rely to faithfully uphold and share our belief system.

    Because we are doing less than we once recently did (no more road shows, Boy Scouts, high priests groups, and so forth) and contracting out much of what members once did in the distant past (grounds maintenance, building repair), it becomes harder (maybe even impossible) to have callings for everyone.


    [from the original posting] In the April 1997 General Conference Pres. Hinckley said everyone deserves “three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God.’”

    This is not what President Hinckley said. Here is what he actually said:

    With the ever-increasing number of converts, we must make an increasingly substantial effort to assist them as they find their way. Every one of them needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with “the good word of God.” It is our duty and opportunity to provide these things.

    Every one of our new converts needs a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with the good word of God.

    With the diminishing number of traditional “callings,” our ward councils and stake high councils should be thinking deeply about finding meaningful ways to involve our new converts. In some areas, this might not be happening effectively. It might be that some re-thinking of our traditional approaches might be helpful.

  24. I think President Hinckley said what he said, in the context of where he said it, and I appreciate his words of counsel. I caution against mis-quoting Church leaders and taking their statements out of context. It seems to happen too often. I encourage careful consideration and application of words of counsel.

    I also caution against proof-texting — but where proof-texting is done, it should be done carefully and accurately.

    If you want to declare that everyone needs a responsibility in our church organization and that local leaders should provide those opportunities, well, it seems to me that you over-reached by using President Hinckley’s mis-quoted and out-of-context statement as your premise. Your declaration might have merit (I have not offered an opinion), but you will gain credibility by either asserting it as your own declaration or finding another authority to cite. It is unfair to suggest that local leaders might be failing to provide opportunities for everyone while pointing to a mis-quoted and out-of-context from a recent president of the Church as the authority for the suggestion.

  25. I attend a medium sized ward “in the mission field.” We have about 75 active sisters and 70 actve brothers. If you can dream up 145 callings post them in the comments section of this post. I complained to a visiting GA about the lack of callings issue, and he simply said “that leaves more people time to minister.” At first I was disappointed by his answer, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. We don’t need formal callings to bless the lives of others, especially if we’re “seasoned” members. New converts/returning members would probably benefit from a formal responsibility more than others.

  26. IDIAT, I would love it if the individual members of ANY ward actually saw ministering as something that 1) they should spend significant time on and 2) they found gave them a sense of being part of the ward.

    You are clearly right that “we don’t need formal callings to bless the lives of others.” I completely agree. But the question isn’t just whether or not the lives of others are blessed. It’s also whether ward members feel needed.

    I agree that ministering should be enough. But I don’t think that it is for the majority of members.

    [Still, I must admit your comment is giving me plenty to think about.]

  27. If the identity of the saints was defined by faith, hope, charity, repentance, forgiveness and atonement, instead of being defined by our prohibitions—no drinking, smoking, fornicating—we would be a welcoming presence.

    It is easy to serve in white mansions of worship. It is not easy to love a neighbor or befriend a stranger.

  28. If I remember correctly, the context of Pres. Hinckley’s comments were related to retention of new converts. Whereas the theme of this post seems to be chastising “us” for not being welcoming to every single person on the ward list whether they want to be welcomed or not.

    I think the opening post’s questions might be more helpful and relevant if they were based on the same premise as Pres. Hinckley’s. That is, what else can we do to be more welcoming and inclusive to our new members (and to those who show some semblance of interest in church activity vs. those who don’t)?

  29. Limited resources is why. Limited interest is the other why.

    Not all members want to be invited any more. Not all members want a calling (even the “active” ones) any more. And not all members want to hear the word of God any more, at least not from us. In fact, a certain portion of ward lists don’t even consider themselves members.

    So we focus our limited resources (in some cases very limited and stretched thin) on the limited members who want the invitations, callings, and teachings. That’s usually new and returning members, and perhaps some others who aren’t opposed to receiving invitations, callings, and teachings.

    I get your point, and I agree we should treat everyone with kindness. Love our neighbor, pray for our enemies, etc. And we do. But as others have stated, you’re ripping Pres. Hinckley’s words out of context for the sake of a flawed argument. We can’t *make* people be a part of our community, as you proposed above. We can’t drag people into church who don’t accept our invitations. And frankly, we can’t issue callings to people who just don’t care. Many are welcomed, but few show up.

    So we invite (everyone), we welcome (everyone), we serve the community (not just the ward), we teach (whoever will listen), and we do so without the judgement that the original post above implies. And yes, we respect the wishes of the few people who say “do not contact,” perhaps deprioritize some people who are totally indifferent, and spend our limited time and energy with the many others who for now are saying “please include me.”

    There are literally only so many hours in a day.

    The irony of the litany of questions above is the implied judgement of the unpaid, overburdened local leaders who presumably don’t do enough to reach out to the deeper parts of the ward lists. I’ve sat in numerous bishopric meetings where they pray, ponder, and wrack their brains trying to figure how how to get certain people to show up, how to give certain people callings, how to get certain others to do the callings they’ve been given. I don’t know the “us” and the “we” that you’re railing against, but it is so different from everything I’ve personally seen from so many local leaders as to make your opening argument a complete non-sequitur.

    I guess that’s the privilege of being a blogger. Why don’t all local leaders need to feel appreciated? Why don’t we take their efforts seriously?

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