Meaningful Contributions at Church

job-fit-bestIf I did have a faith crisis, it happened long ago.  Now, I’m simply in varying states of conflict (or harmony).  At times, the conflict ebbs and I feel peaceful in my church attendance. At other times, the conflict flows and I feel upset, frustrated, and full of angst.  Periodically, the conflict reaches a real crescendo – and then I feel despair. The cognitive dissonance threatens to tear my soul in two.  That’s where I am now.

I turn to my usual tools at times like these: I make lists, which helps me sort through the chaos; I talk to many different friends, which helps to spark ideas and connect dots. And I pray – for both comfort and guidance.

When I get through this particular moment of conflict, I’ll write another blog post  about my full process. But for today, I am focusing on one of my lists: contributions.

I am a fan of Strengths Finder – and I am fortunate to have a good friend who is trained in Strengths Leadership and coaches me in my own strengths.  She suggested that I make list of my possible contributions. I am most happy when I can bring my strengths and talents to a group and contribute in meaningful ways. (I suppose we are all most happy when we can do that.) I’ve come up with a list– and maybe half of what I would like to contribute to my church – requires me to hold priesthood.

Let me pause in my story to pick up a parallel story. Over the past several months, a family of six have been investigating the church and attending my ward. They were baptized about a month ago.  The father and oldest son in the family were recently ordained to the Priesthood. I wasn’t at church when they first participated in the ordinance of the sacrament, but a friend from my ward told me that the father was moved to tears. He later expressed: “I never imaged that I would be able to participate in a church in such a meaningful way.”  And I thought: Exactly! I don’t imagine that I will be able to participate in my church in that meaningful way.

So, what do I do with my list? Should I be happy about the ways I am able to contribute or frustrated about the ways I cannot contribute?  Or both?

And what about you, dear reader?  In what ways do you feel happy in your contributions? In what ways do you feel frustrated?

And … yes … here’s my list.

  • With my strengths in arranging and organizing:
    • Managing all Visiting Teaching logistics (I adore Visiting Teaching)
    • Create agenda for Counsel Meetings (think: Executive Secretary)
  • With my strengths in connectedness, positivity, empathy, and responsibility: MINISTER.
    • Visiting Teaching
    • Healing Blessings
    • Comfort Blessings
    • Blessings for expectant mothers and new babies
    • Baptize
    • Administer the Sacrament
    • Praying with and for others
    • Leading group prayers
    • Care for children
  • With my strengths in communication and influencing (and my love of testifying): PREACH
  • With my strengths of context and seeking – and my natural curiosity:
    • Participating in nuanced gospel discussions
    •  Substitute teaching in Primary, Gospel Doctrine, and Relief Society

 

Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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15 Responses

  1. Nancy Ross says:

    I hear you, Suzette. All I ever wanted to do was to do more at church. The gulf between what I was called to do and what I was capable of was painful. One time my bishop asked me what kind of calling I would envision for myself. I told him that my dream calling was as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. A few weeks later I was called to Primary and my husband was called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher. He did a great job in that calling. But I spent so much time in Primary, I wanted opportunities to grow in other ways.

    You have a lot to give. I know that you will be able to figure this out and find meaningful paths to growth and service in the Gospel, in both formal and informal ways. #solidarity

  2. Violadiva says:

    As I read through your list, I can’t help but make unfortunate mental notes, “Girl calling, dude calling, girl calling, dude calling”
    wouldn’t it be great if we could have callings that really built upon our strengths as humans, rather than limit us by our gender?
    Those are your strengths, for sure. One of our wise-woman elders advised me recently, “create your own calling! Show up on your own terms!” which I love….but one can’t exactly call themselves to a ward council position…..

  3. Spunky says:

    This is lovely, Suzette. I don’t have a ward or branch to attend regularly at the moment, and I’ve enjoyed that freedom. At the same time, I think I’ve enjoyed it because I know whatever I am called to will inevitably mean I am frustrated in not being allowed to participate and make change and serve to my greatest ability. I don’t miss having callings for that reason.

  4. Becky says:

    Ah, I always feel more frustrated in my own limitations on my contributions than I feel limited in what opportunities I have. If that makes any sense. I have however longed for a teaching calling a number of times in my life. I guess now is my chance. Or January will be anyway. I hope your cognitive dissonance has eased at least somewhat by then. Because one of your contributions I’ve always appreciated is your insightful commentary in lessons. I will do my best to make my lessons worth attending!

  5. Andrew R. says:

    I hate to rock your boat, but I can do a list too, and think of callings I would be great in but have never held, and probably never will. We don’t get to choose our callings. We get put where we are needed, even if it is not the ideal for us. Sometimes we grow in that calling (more often than not). Sometimes it doesn’t work, and we can learn from that too.

    You have an interesting “ministering” list.

    Healing Blessings
    In the 33 years since I was ordained an elder I have assisted in the blessing of the sick on a few occasions. However, as percentage of the time spent doing my duty, callings, etc. in the Church (excluding family commitments) it is tiny. Priesthood holders do not spend their time touting for business (in fact they are scripturally forbidden to do so). Of course, we can all pray for the sick, and prayer is mighty powerful and not gender specific.

    Comfort Blessings
    As above, only even less so.

    Blessings for expectant mothers and new babies
    I have only ever blessed my wife as a pregnancy related blessing. I have only ever named and blessed my own children.

    Baptize
    I have baptised one person other than my 7 children.

    Administer the Sacrament
    Since as a 16 priest I was also the ward music director I blessed the sacrament on the first Sunday I was a priest and not again – hard to break bread whilst directing music.
    Since leaving home at 19 I have blessed and passed the sacrament infrequently. Although playing the organ has at times dampened my being asked. I did it most when my son was choosing who did it.

    I did prepare the sacrament for years, 14 to 18, as I was usually there before anyone else, and there were not many others to do it anyway. And clear it away. i also passed until I was 13 and called to position of ward music director.

    Praying with and for others
    As above, not gender specific.

    Leading group prayers
    Again

    Care for children
    And again.

    • Your list is strange to me. Why do you act as if the opportunity to give naming blessings and baptisms for your own children doesn’t really count? Do you know how many women would love the opportunity to perform ordinances for their own children? And no matter how infrequent these ministry opportunities have been for you, they certainly outnumber the opportunities for women who are forbidden from ever ministering in many of these ways.

      Standing from your place of privilege and writing long lists in an attempt to demonstrate that women shouldn’t care that they are excluded from opportunities you have personally enjoyed because you happen to be male shows a lack of empathy that is concerning. If you are going to spend so much time at this website, which has a stated purpose of sharing women’s voices, it would be a good idea to spend more time listening to those voices and less time rebutting them.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Yes, I do understand that. But my taking from the post was that it was in connection to things we are called upon to do at church. Calling and assignment related. That is why I specifically stated the things I have done outside of my children.

        My point was that for the most part we all minister. My priesthood specific ministering has been very little. Holding the priesthood does not open up a vast new array of spiritual experiences, it does not help us keep the baptismal covenants of mourning with those that mourn, and comforting those that stand in need of comfort, any better.

        Yes, I appreciate the specific of using the priesthood in our children’s lives aspect. But this was about “contributions at Church”. I have not been a Bishop or a member of the stake presidency. I was an EQP for 3½ years. In every other calling I have acted under the authority of a priesthood Key holder, as have all women.

        Yes I have held callings not available to women, and I think that there are some that could be held by women. It would require some serious rejigging of things (which I am not going to explain unless required), but it could work.

    • Suzette says:

      I understand that we don’t choose our callings. (That comes with pros and cons.) My point is that there are ways that I’d like to contribute to the church using my talents and strengths. I do contribute in some of the ways that are meaningful to me. And I cannot contribute in other ways that could be meaningful to me.

  6. Emily U says:

    I hear you, too, Suzette. I think it can be hard for many men to appreciate how deep this goes for women, because they rightly observe that they are not always in a good place with their callings, either. Their talents get overlooked, they may never be in leadership, etc. But the difference is they could be where they imagine they’d serve best – they’re not categorically denied roles because of gender. The exclusion they at times experience is not the same as ours.

    I’m in a good place right now vis-a-vis church service. I like my callings and I feel like I can serve in my ward in ways I’m good at serving. I guess I’m having a Goldilocks year. I don’t expect it will last too long.

    I like your approach to listing your strengths. Maybe some of these can be put to work best outside the Church, which can be sad because ideally we can use our best gifts in the places we care about most. But maybe there’s a path leading to another place that needs your strengths, too.

  7. Caroline says:

    I hear you Suzette. Im sad every time I think about all the talented women in my ward who will never be in the bishopric, taking part in the most intimate and important conversations about the direction of the ward and how to most effectively minister to people. Not to mention all the other male only callings that would both stretch the women in new ways and benefit all ward members if the opportunity were extended to women.

  8. Emily says:

    Your feelings about church very closely reflect mine. I’m always changing from frustration to acceptance. We moved to a small branch a year ago, and when they called my husband and I in to meet with the district president, after the initial handshake I was completely ignored. They were so happy my husband moved to the branch and made him Sunday School President. In the past year he hasn’t done one thing for his calling. I have professional experience as a teacher and took seminary instruction classes at BYU, I have so much time on my hands in this new place and would love the opportunity to help implement the new Sunday school program. But nope, I pass around an attendance clipboard in primary.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Emily, this is something that you most certainly could do. Often I think the problem is that people spend too much time trying to do the perfect solution, and not the practical one.
      As Sunday School President (Branch) your husband should be directing the teaching in the ward. The Branch council should be overseeing monthly Teacher Training Council. This is what is says in the Teaching in the Saviour’s Way manual.

      WHO LEADS THESE MEETINGS?
      The ward council, with assistance
      from the Sunday School presidency,
      oversees teacher council meetings. In
      most cases, a member of the Sunday
      School presidency acts as discussion
      leader for the meetings; other ward
      members may be assigned to lead
      meetings on occasion.

      There is absolutely no reason whatsoever, why you as an “other ward member” could not be asked to lead these discussions. Utilising your skills and training for the good of the unit.

  9. Emily says:

    I agree that I can help discussions, but that’s totally not the point and I think you know that. Are you saying there is no difference in duties between leaders and congregation? If everyone’s calling is so fluid that we can step in and take over why have callings at all? Why on earth is Sunday school president only given to men? Why give such time intensive callings to men who work when bored stay at home moms could add so much?

  10. Michelle says:

    My contributions include: teaching sunbeams, singing in ward choir and our Stake Messiah choir for the upcoming holiday and paying tithing.
    My frustrations: not being called to temple marriage or motherhood which makes visiting teaching awkward. Single women in the church are not loved…that’s why we’re single.
    Oh well, at least my nephews love me! Aunt should be a recognized calling in the church.

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