Filling in the Gaps

I was recently directed to an article from 2004 at FAIR, with a shortened title “The Place of Mormon Women.” I don’t intend to comment on the entire article, but one particular part of it:

On a personal level, when serving as a Relief Society president in a singles’ ward, the bishop invited me to attend all Priesthood Executive Committee (PEC) meetings, a distinctly non-conformist practice, since only priesthood leaders are to attend. For over a year and a half, I attended PEC as a full participant in that committee’s decision-making process. Although not officially condoned in Church leadership manuals, and probably subject to criticisms and raised eyebrows by more traditional members, that sharing of leadership and counsel by a bishop with his young Relief Society president represented what Christianson has described as the “negotiation process…in which men shared their authority,” and what Cheryl Preston has described as women working within the accepted, institutional structures of patriarchy for increased gendered equality.

What strikes me about this was that this woman was able to have a very positive experience and an expanded sphere of influence because she had an exceptional Bishop. In this particular case her Bishop did what he did with her despite the church’s guidelines and tradition. I suspect that this sort of thing happens rather a lot. I can think of all sorts of examples from my own life, and from the stories I’ve heard ’round the nacle, of conscientious individuals filling in the gaps left by the institutional church, and creating a positive experience for the people in their stewardship.

When a great leader fills in the gaps this way, the people who benefit from it are often unaware of it. When a young woman’s leader provides refreshments for an activity out of her own pocket, the girls don’t know the difference. When a Bishop invites a newly called RS president to PEC, chances are she or someone else in the room will be completely unaware that it is not standard practice. Discovering that your experience with the church was as positive as it was only because of the people involved and often despite church guidelines can be hard. Learning that the positive things you thought were standard practice are actually against the official rules is murder on a person’s testimony.

I bring all this up because I’m in a position to be a leader that fills in the gaps. I’m still running the Activity Day girls in our ward, (I swear I’ll write up more activities, you know, sometime). Recently a new girl joined our group and her grandmother wrote me an email asking about their goal booklet, about the awards, about writing up the projects they’ve completed, and about how she wants to get to work on it all so her granddaughter won’t be too far behind. It broke my heart to have to write her back and explain that the church doesn’t even provide a certificate to the girls for completing their little booklet, let alone any sort of pin, or badge or even a necklace. And the goals are so flimsy and insubstantial that a girl who attends our activities regularly will complete the entire book almost 3 times over by the time she turns 12. If the girls in my ward are going to get the program they need and deserve it will be because I filled in all those gaps.

This particular case (the inadequate Activity Day program) is frustrating to me for several reasons. First that the burden of this is being borne by women. Each new leader has to reinvent the wheel for each individual group. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of women just in Arizona each trying to come up with some token of achievement for her group of girls. And if the adult women called to lead those girls don’t fill in that gap with their own sweat and tears, then the girls start off their adolescence with a church program that doesn’t meet their needs and pales in comparison to the cub scouts. Second I actually am concerned about setting the bar too high (maybe I’m just flattering myself). Are these girls going to be disillusioned when they grow up and get called to be primary president and see how awful the program really is? Might it not be better to not get their hopes up. Lastly the thing that bothers me the most obvious problems aren’t that hard to fix. I could drive down to the nearest office supply store and pick up a stack of generic certificates to pass out to the girls. I could even load up photoshop (or gimp or inkscape) and custom make a certificate to give the girls in a couple hours. If it is that easy for me, what is keeping the church from doing it?

Which brings me to my final thought. Next week is our annual recognition dinner, where the girls and their families eat a meal the girls made, and each girl has a chance to share something she’s proud of. Part of me wants to stand up at that dinner and say “I’d love to pass out certificates to the girls who have completed the Faith in God booklet, but since the church doesn’t make certificates for them I assume that they aren’t meant to get one, and should instead learn that doing good is its own reward.” Maybe when I want to get released I will do that. But I think that if the parents, the bishops, the stake leaders, and so on were made aware of the problem in such a blunt way then maybe something might be done about it. My real fear is that by filling in the gaps I’m just making it easier to ignore the problem.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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31 Responses

  1. Markie says:

    I empathize with the desire to expose the gaps by refusing to fill them, but I’ve gotten the feeling from your previous posts that your main concern is your girls and how to give them the experience they deserve. I don’t think somehow deliberately making a choice that you think is detrimental for them to make a point to a local priesthood leader who has little or no control over the institution of activity days is your real M.O. I think that for most people, being the beneficiary of ‘fill in the gaps’ leadership can actually strengthen their understanding of the injustice when they are made aware of formal policy. If a R.S. president has never heard of or experienced a woman at P.E.C. it may not even cross her mind that it’s a possibility or that it’s a detrimental policy. But if she has previously experienced a leader who filled in that gap (or even only heard of it), she’ll know how it could be done and may be willing to fight for it. Your girls who grow up to be primary presidents and see how the program is really structured will have an example of how it can be done better. I think it’s a false dichotomy to think of it as either pointing out injustice or doing what’s right despite official policy. Go ahead and point out the problems to your local leaders, write a letter to the General Primary President, even tell your girls that you want to do more than is required of the regular program because you think they’re awesome. And then go ahead and fill in the gaps as best you can.

  2. Maureen says:

    I feel cared for when something missing is pointed out to me. I feel enlightened and appreciative when I am shown how things could be better. I didn’t come to conclusions about inequalities on my own. It was The Exponent and places like it that helped me see and understand. So I think eliminating ignorance and the perpetuation of ignoring is in everyone’s interest. Why not fill the gaps and make it so they can’t ignore them? Instead of not giving them certificates, do and say, “Unfortunately the church does not (yet?) make certificates for girls who have completed the Faith in God booklet, but because I believe you girls deserve further recognition I have gone out and had these made in your honor.” Or something like that.

  3. spunky says:

    I think that filling in the gaps is okay. Even preferable in some cases. My thoughts are more based on the idea that this is *supposed* to be a global church; as a result, the boy (cub) scout program is not used – so far as I know- outside of the US. Whereas the Activity Days programs are used throughout the church in all countries. Sure, a certificate from the church would be nice, like the Young Women’s medallion. But some wards can’t afford to purchase the YW medallion, even though it is supposed to be awarded globally, nor, in some communities would it be wise to wear a gold Young Women’s medallion. So my concern with making too many systematised awards would be the translation of these awards in a global application in a manner that doesn’t burden the ward (or the leaders) or risk endangering the girls.

    In consideration of this, I still think that in cases where women are extended authority beyond the church handbook should be encouraged. I remember as a YW that presidents always called their own counsellors. As a young adult in Utah, it didn’t occur to me to not “call” my own counselors when I was called to a presidency, and the bishop seemed impressed that I took initiative to seek my own direction in whom to work with. I never knew, until I was well into adulthood, that bishops and stake presidents could (should?) call an entire auxiliary presidency without input from the presidents. And should I ever be called to a presidency again, I would not suddenly give up my authority and omit seeking my own revelation and direction just because a handbook tells me so. Because I had leaders who filled in the gaps and therefore taught me to seek my own revelation, I became the person that I am. Not all of my teachers did this, nor did they have time to. But the ones who went the extra mile in the few cases that they did made all of the difference in the world. So I am okay with filling in the gaps when it suits.

    • Miri says:

      Huh, I never knew that the bishopric can call the counselors for the YW class presidencies. I guess that’s one thing my ward wasn’t uber-conventional about! Who knew?

    • Whitney says:

      EQ presidents call (and set apart) their own counselors, right? So do other quorum presidents (Deacon, Teacher, Priest) call their own counselors? Or do they have to submit the names to the bishop, who then calls the counselors?

  4. Jessica says:

    The new handbook does say that RS president are invited to PEC at the invitation of the Bishop.

    This topic is so near to my heart. I feel with my whole soul that the problem starts and is solved in primary. The older the girls are before they see that their are huge gaps the better off we will be. If we teach them that inequality i not the norm and as they grow they will be more willing to speak up because they have experienced equality so the lack will seem odd and not normal.

    I have been taking up this issue for two years and finally I think I came to the conclusion that I was going to really try to solve it. The primary president (I am 1st councilor) is such a wonderful woman but with gender issues she is so opinionated and wrong and does not listen to myself or the other women. I think the the biggest issue I had to argue was that I was not trying to recreate the cub program. I have issues with the program the cost, the restrictiveness, and the I think it is distracting. I would LOVE to live in a place that does not have scouts. I think it would be more equal. Anyway this is my argument very condensed:

    That as representatives of Jesus Christ we are responsible for make sure that the girls do not feel that they are treated unfairly. That standard treatment of girls and women a generation or two ago is no longer acceptable. That we must never allow any girl to feel that she is less loved by God than her brothers. And it is our responsibility as leaders to express God’s equal love to all of His children in a way that is noticeable and obvious to each child. Children notice at a very early age.

    It was much longer. But I honesty believe that this is where I start solving the issue. Its a major one and needs to addressed.

    • Miri says:

      Jessica, this sounds awesome. I wish we could fill all the Primary presidencies in the world with people who would do this same thing!

    • christer1979 says:

      Amen amen amen. My mother served a mission in Texas during the 1970s. When elders were giving each other a hard time, they would say (in front my my mom) “Be careful or you’ll get demoted from junior comp to sister missionary!” What sounds now like stupid (and obviously skewed, sexist) joking was incredibly detrimental to my mom. She told me once that when she came home from her mission and came across a GA quote about how God loves and values women just as much as he loves men, she was surprised, gratified, validated, and so happy slash relieved. So when you say this: “That standard treatment of girls and women a generation or two ago is no longer acceptable. That we must never allow any girl to feel that she is less loved by God than her brothers.” … all I can think is, YES. [For the record, my mom does not identify as feminist and is a rather open-minded faithful Mormon whose whole life revolves around the gospel and the church. For her to have ever experienced such anguish because of how women were treated shocks me because she has always seemed so very confident in her position and membership in the church.]

  5. SilverRain says:

    I think that in an incredibly diverse, worldwide Church, we are SUPPOSED to fill in the gaps.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t point out that there are gaps to fill which are not present in analogous programs.

    • Silver Rain,

      You are so right. Filling in the gaps is essential in a worldwide church because one program can’t possibly fit every culture. For a leader to point out how she personally is filling the gaps may appear egotistic.

  6. Jessica says:

    I just also wanted to add that it is also frustrating because women are in the position in primary to make it equal and fill in the gaps. But often I have found women less willing to make changes.

    • EmilyCC says:

      I hate to say this, but that’s been my experience in many cases as well. So many women always want to get permission first. Hooray for those who just go ahead and do it!

  7. DefyGravity says:

    I think filling in the gaps for the girls might help them start adolesence with a sense that they are important. It’s not their job to try to fix the problem at this point. They might become more aware of inequality in the church if they start from place of equality instead of expecting inequality all their lives because that’s what they’ve known. That doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be pointed out to the adults. I like the idea of saying in public that they aren’t recognized by the church, but that you feel this isn’t right and then proceeding to recognize them.

    I teach 8-10 year-olds in Primary, and the girls are all ready noticing inequality. Maybe by filling in the gaps, yet letting them see that you are, they will feel important while noticing a problem… I don’t know. I sympathize with your frustration.

  8. One of the hardest things for people in the Church to learn is that direction from above in the hierarchy should be rare. Having to be told everything to do is an unwise servant and all that. As members, we are all supposed to help more the work along; mending “gaps” we find to strengthen those around us. Most of the programs and guidelines we have did not come from the Prophet getting a revelation, but from individuals and groups trying to make their part of the Church better, and the successful ideas broadened to the Church in an area, country, or as a whole.

    The organization of the Relief Society is an example of this, and I fully believe the change in the handbook to include RS in the PEC meetings is because of Bishops like yours who tried and found the advantage in it.

    I find it cool that we even have activity days, as I’m sure we didn’t when I was young. I was excited when the new Faith in God came out for the YM and YW, as I saw it as a step away from scouting, which does not have the same mechanisms for change. It used to be that the award was just another thing to do that was less work than any merit badge. I’m hoping we can soon extricate ourselves from Cub Scouts, so we can work more to increase the spirituality of all the children, not just the girls.

    Let’s keep finding and trying new ways to fill the gaps.

    • Jessawhy says:

      I tried to even things out for girls once by inviting them to the Pinewood Derby (as per a suggestion at my training as Cub Scout committee chair).
      The bishopric put an end to it before it even happened.

      So, I think we may not get direction from the hierarchy, but they CAN sometimes stop us from filling in the gaps.

      • Ziff says:

        Was the bishop afraid of letting the girls see vividly just how much more the Church is willing to spend on boys than on them?

        /cynicism off

      • That’s annoying. Maybe a girls-only pinewood derby, for activity days?

      • Jessawhy says:

        He thought that girls and boys that age don’t get along well, and that the girls would end up having their dad’s make their cars (as if the boy’s don’t!).
        I was so angry I wasn’t thinking clearly to counter his illogical arguments.
        Sigh, I really think he just didn’t want to set a precedent that the girls could participate in cub-scout things. It would be hard to reverse that trend.

  9. EM says:

    Ditto Frank. This is probably unrelated but I just had to share this. The bishops are the ones that usually assign which conference talks are to be used for the “Teaching for out Times” lessons with no input from RS and that kind of irked me. So this past Sunday, with a list of lessons in hand, I approached the bishop and suggested that he used these lessons for priesthood and RS. I was never so happy when he thanked me and said that he would look them over and will most likely use them, that it was one less thing for him to worry about. So I await with bated breath to see if he will.

  10. J says:

    It is my understanding that Primary, Young Women’s, Young Men’s programs all came from someone “filling in the gaps”- thinking there needed to be a program, starting one, and then later getting approval from someone “higher up”- and making it an institutional program. I think the massive amount of blogs and sharing websites devoted to Activity Days and Young Women’s and Primary ideas make it even easier to fill in the gaps- without making your calling a full time job and reinventing the wheel. I barely remember some of the activities or the awards we may have gotten at Merry Miss or Young Women’s- but I do remember how I felt there and the relationships I made. I guess what I’m saying is filling in the gaps doesn’t have to mean more stuff- it should mean more substance to the program.

    That being said, I fully intend on holding an Activity Days day camp at my house when my daughter is in the program in a year. There’s enough knowledge between the parents of the girls that we could have an awesome camp comparable to the cub scout camp.

  11. Miri says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like some of the comments here are reading “filling in the gaps” as merely “being creative, adding your own personal touch to things, and magnifying your calling.” That’s not how I understood the issue here. If there are deficiencies and inequalities inherent in the program–which there are–I don’t think those are gaps that should be up to the leader to fill; they are problems that need to be fixed, and leaders “filling in the gap” are basically just doing damage control until something substantial changes. To that end, I think I agree with the first few comments that said we should fill in the gaps while making them visible, especially to the girls; and yes, I think talking to the bishop and making him aware of the gaps should happen too.

  12. Mike says:

    As I understand it, filling in the gaps of our own free will, instead of waiting for the Church to do it, is the best way to “bring to pass much righteousness.” If I recall correctly, that’s how the Primary and the Relief Society both got started.

  13. Starfoxy says:

    To all those who are saying that many of the programs of the church started when members filled in the gap, my question then is what to make of the move towards correlation? Since the rise of the correlation committee the sort of innovation, and local adaptation that would lead to structural change like the creation of the primary or RS has been, at best, frowned upon.
    Not too long ago my Primary President took a moment to ‘remind’ all of the teachers and leaders that we aren’t supposed to be getting ideas for lessons and activities from non-official sources (and by non-official sources they meant sugardoodle). She was only reminding us of this because she had been instructed to do so by other stake level leaders. We’re not even willing to allow coloring pages that didn’t come from the official manual.

    I asked our Stake Primary President about having a stake wide activity for the girls and she and her counselor both agreed that it sounded really really fun, and the girls would like that so much. But it ended with the President saying she would check the handbook to see if it was allowed, and she made it quite clear that if the handbook didn’t say it was okay then it was not going to happen.

    Even since the new handbook, which has been rather up-front about encouraging local adaptation, makes it clear that we are free to leave out or combine existing programs as necessary. However creating new programs, or adding to existing ones is simply not kosher. I think it is a bit rich to then criticize members for just waiting around and not being willing to innovate when we are repeatedly forbidden from doing so.

    • Huh. We’d just had a stake activity days activity and I’ve never been told what is “doctrinal” for my teaching 9 year olds. I’ve also not been told, as the new ward choirister (which terrifies me) what music would or would not be appropriate for Sacrament meetings.

      I’ve seen a number of new programs and changes come since correlation, including the changes to the Handbook, that have started from some ward trying it and having success.

      I’m sorry your ward seems to be on a “by the book” kick. It makes it tough to magnfy callings and invite the spirit when questions and attempts to create progression are discouraged. Progression is the soul of the Church – continually working toward perfection, not assuming perfection has already been given and we just need to “follow the rules”.

      I hope I did not come across as critical. my experiences have just been different, and in that there is hope. I’m very glad of your open and passionate writing on this. It is something we need to be reminded aobut from time to time, so we’re not just resting on our laurels (or Mia Maids).

    • Mike says:

      Well, you do what you can in the framework you have. I always felt free to teach directly from the scriptures, even when teaching a correlated lesson. In fact, I was encouraged to do so. I also felt free to use any object lesson, attention gathering activity, or even coloring pages I chose to, within the boundaries of reason. Like Frank, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve experienced such an under-the-thumb approach. I imagine correlation is useful to make sure true doctrine is taught consistently across a worldwide church, and I can imagine occasional doctrinal concerns about coloring pages if, for example, they showed Jesus being baptized by sprinkling, but most wards I’ve seen still trust individual teachers’ judgment, and give people more freedom to act within the correlation framework.

      There’s also a lot of freedom to act outside the framework of correlation and Church control entirely — the same place primary and RS got started, and the same place Scouting still lives (Well, mostly. The Church has a lot of influence, but not direct control.) In fact, I recall that some of my best experiences in scouting were at things run by the (non-church-affiliated) district or council, with leaders who might be Mormon but weren’t there because of their calling. I imagine that in places where Scouting isn’t the Church’s official program for boys, they’re stuck with the same anemic Activity Days program as the girls, but they still go and do fun things outdoors and get awards, and such — just without church sponsorship for that part of what they do.

      The church stumbled on a ready-made program for boys, so it’s mostly pretty good. What’s keeping the church from filling the gaps itself, either in small things like giving the girls certificates for the Faith in God award, or in big things like massively improving the Activity Days program, seems to be corporate inertia. Where I’ve seen that inertia shift, in the correlated church, it’s been because people outside the church filled in the gaps first. The Varsity and Venture programs for young men were around in the scouts first, because the scouts found a way to fill in the gap for older teenagers — then the Church brought them in as the programs for Teachers and Priests. Single Mormon adults in different age groups were setting up firesides and dances before the YSA program got much attention from church leaders. Similarly, giving the girls great activities outside of Church sponsorship seems like the best way to push that inertia forward, and even if it doesn’t, at least your girls won’t have fallen through the gaps.

  14. Marilyn says:

    I’ve never commented here (although I’m a faithful reader), but I couldn’t resist a quick comment on Activity Days. I recently had this calling for several years, and I loved it. One of the things I loved was the lack of structure, charts, things to check off so you can get a certificate, etc. This gave us a great opportunity to do many wonderful things—invite ward members to share and/or teach something they are passionate about, have speakers from the community, respond to service projects specific to our area, do quirky things that popped into our heads. I’ve been a cub scout leader, too, and I enjoyed it, but the freedom of the Activity Days program is wonderful. I felt like I had the trust and authority to design the activities to best serve the girls. Please, please—no charts and certificates. (Also, by the way, I’ve been a Relief Society President invited to participate fully in PEC meetings. I appreciated that. They need our voices in these meetings.)

  15. Angie says:

    We “fill in the gaps” by ditching activity days and enrolling our daughter in community activities.

  16. Jessica says:

    So if you could change activity days however you wanted to and on one would complain and money was not an issue how would you change it?

  17. Moriah Jovan says:

    Re Activity Day in specific: My kid found it to be mind-numbingly boring and her attitude about it is a shrug and, if she’s feeling particularly vociferous about it, “meh.”

    Had a chat with my bishop’s wife yesterday and her attitude about Activity Day is even worse than mine. The more I get to know her the more she’s my kinda people.

    I haven’t even looked at the Faith in God book. I know it has goals or something, but you know, I’ve always been wary of goal-setting “guidance,” even when I was a YW because either a) the goals were too simple to be of any value or b) I was an idiot who couldn’t understand the directions and c) WTF–spiritual goals? The YW medallion was, to me, a joke because I knew what the other girls’ goals were and I just couldn’t imagine why someone would get an award for…that.

    I’ve been going along with the post and the comments, nodding, and then I came to Marilyn’s and…wow. That just turned my attitude on my head. I hesitate to point fingers at the current leaders, but what if–just WHAT IF–my ward had a wild’n’crazy woman in charge of Activity Day?

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