#hearLDSwomen: I Was Pressured to Accept a Calling

I was called to be a counselor in the stake Young Women presidency. I didn’t think I could or should fill that calling. I have MS and my energy and physical abilities are limited. But the stake president was certain that God wanted me to serve there. He was insistent, and I accepted the calling.

I did my best for two years but it was too much for me. I asked to be released. The stake president told me no, God wanted me to be there. For a few months I tried to have faith in his certainty even though I was exhausted.

I began to feel a total lack of autonomy. Why was I trusting a leader I barely knew to make decisions about what was best for me? I again asked to be released and was again told no. I went home devastated.

After praying about it, I knew what I needed to do. I told the stake president that I would fill my calling for one more month while he called my replacement. He was taken aback. He sputtered. He insisted he knew better than I, that God wanted me there. But I stood my ground and have never regretted it.
– Anonymous


A few weeks after I spoke in sacrament meeting about having postpartum depression, I got pulled aside by a bishopric member to get a calling. He asked for my husband to come with (my husband had gotten a calling a few weeks previously and I was not invited to that meeting; they also assigned us to speak in sacrament meeting without asking me). He asked me to serve in the primary, which is what I felt was the last thing I needed for my mental health. I expressed my concerns and he told me to think about it and get back to him. I felt like no one was listening even though I was trying very hard to express myself. I didn’t feel like that was ever going to change and I quit going to church a few weeks later.
– Hope


Pro tip: Trust women to know what they can or can’t handle, and respect their decisions regarding callings.

Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. If you would like to submit an experience, please do so here.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23).

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28 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    As a young mother who desperately needed some adult conversation, I’ve been called to be Nursery Leader and I’ve been called to teach Primary. I’ve also been called to Scouting. Also, my ex used to telecommute. He happened to be abusive, but abusive or not, he was around the house 24/7/365. I really needed some time away from him. That may sound terrible to someone happily married, but I did. Anyway, all of our callings while were in that situation were joint callings.

    It really isn’t about what the member needs or what God wants. God wants our sanity. I’m willing to bet on that. It’s about what’s convenient for the church.

  2. Anna says:

    I was pressured to be RSP. I felt uncomfortable with the idea because I am a terrible introvert, hate hate hate making phone calls, and had lived in the ward two months so I didn’t know the women yet, was in my early 20s which I feel is too young, and pregnant and had very difficult pregnancies. But they had asked my husband before calling me into the room and he was beaming and nodding, and the bishop did not even consider my misgivings, but pushed on how good he felt about it and was sure this was inspired. I was too young to stand up to authority and too insecure to argue for long. I asked to go home and pray about it, and reminded that the current RSP had already moved out of the ward, and how we were never supposed to turn down callings.

    It was a DISASTER. I spent the whole calling praying to be released. From then on, I took my right to pray for myself and if I did not feel good about it, I said no to the calling.

  3. Christine says:

    Dear Sisters, you do not have to accept callings that you feel you cannot handle. You know your limits so set personal boundaries. Of course we all need to accept opportunities to grow, but if you feel it would be too much for you for whatever reason, just say no. In the moment, think about the call that is extended, do you feel a feeling of peace or a feeling of uncomfort? If you feel any variation of discomfort simply say “This calling won’t work for me right now, but I love and appreciate the confidence extended to me with this call.” I doubt that pressure will be pushed back at this point but If it does happen, simply repeat “this calling won’t work for me right now.” No apology or explanation needed! Don’t accept callings that you already resent. The Lord doesn’t want that! If you can’t be 100% committed, then kindly and lovingly decline. There is no need to resent the Leader who extended the call. Even if he “pressures” you. It’s your brain that decides if he pressured you or not. Once you leave, he will simply begin the process of praying for someone else to fulfill that position. You aren’t going to receive a black mark next to your name on the records of the Church, You isn’t become the project of the next Ward Council… absolutely nothing will happen. Then you have a choice, leave and feel confident in your decision to decline the calling or leave and feel guilt. I suggest you cast aside all guilt that your brain wants to feed you. Instead, seek for that confident feeling.
    If you find yourself without a calling for awhile, consider it a blessing. A confirmation from The Lord that he understands your season.
    If you feel you need to be released from a calling, then ask to be released! Simply say “Due to personal circumstances, I need to be released immediately, thank you for understanding.” That’s it. No debate, no guilt, no anger… just a simple declaration done in love.
    No one in Church wants you to feel overwhelmed and stressed. I understand that Church culture states that we accept every calling extended, but that is just culture. Everyone is just trying to do their best. Aren’t you just trying to do your best? Give everyone the same understanding that you would want. Set personal boundaries, it’s ok, it’s not a problem at all.

    • Mel says:

      Except that I DID turn down a calling that was not a good fit and I WAS blackballed from further callings for the next year and a half. One of the counselors told me that it was because I was unwilling to fill a God-ordained calling so they chose to “punish” me by not allowing me the opportunity to serve until I had sufficiently learned my lesson.

    • Anna says:

      Right, said dripping with sarcasm. I did turn down a calling that I felt that I could not handle and I was not offered any other calling until we moved out of that ward years later. Bishops often think that if you refuse an offered calling, you are not really an obedient worthy member, because they are arrogant enough to think that their inspiration trumps yours, and of course if they are inspired to call you, anything you say about why you can’t accept the calling is seen as a lame excuse for not keeping your temple covenant to build up the kingdom.

      Of course, not all bishops are arrogant jerks, some will actually listen and realize there is a problem they were not aware of and find a calling more suited to your abilities at the time. But, you are playing bishop roulette. So, your mileage may vary.

    • Mary says:

      I’ve turned down a few callings. Only one time was my refusal treated with respect: I was literally physically incapable of fulfilling the calling. They found a new one for me, very quickly, and I took it.

      When I’ve refused a calling, the first response I’ve literally gotten a couple of times is being told I would not be given another chance at a calling for at least 1.5 to 2 years while I “learned my lesson”. I’m beginning to think this practice and this script might be buried in the handbook, somewhere.

      So, that looking at that season of not having a calling is sure a nice way to put a bright shiny coat of paint on the shaming the bishop is trying to give you.

      In the meantime, during that season of no calling, you are being excluded because you don’t get to know people and you are being judged, because asking what someone’s calling is is common small talk and if a person doesn’t have a calling, it’s assumed they aren’t worthy.

    • ElleK says:

      In a perfect world, Christine, everything you said would be true. I hope you continue reading the comments here and the other posts in the series: unfortunately, things are often badly mishandled, and often at the expense of women.

  4. Cam says:

    As someone who has been on the other end of the spectrum (the issuer of callings), I will tell you flat out: we trust you. When someone turns down a calling, we simply go back to the drawing board and try and do our best to figure out what God wants us to do. Ultimately, the decision to accept a calling is between you and God. The two of you know best.

    • Florence says:

      Cam– Consider your words carefully. *We trust you.* YOU may trust those you lead, but you cannot speak for all. There are many, many, MANY leaders who place more trust in their own “inspiration” than in the thoughts and feelings of others. While you may have intended to give comfort, your comment felt unempathetic, patronizing and dismissive to me.

      • Old Man says:

        I read “we” as Cam and his fellow members of a particular Bishopric. I seriously doubt that Cam was attempting to speak for Bishoprics on a global scale! It sounds like Cam’s crew has an empathetic, appropriate approach.

      • Anna says:

        Once again, bishop roulette.

      • Mary says:

        I took Cam’s comments as patronizing. The reason I did was there was no acknowledgment whatsoever that things could be different for other people or under other bishops. They are. They clearly are.

      • Wondering Why says:


        What is your proposed solution to “Bishop Roulette”? The reality is that even with a paid ministry it’s roulette. If women could be Bishops we would also still have roulette.

        People are fallible. We could employ a system where we applied for callings, and the best person would be chosen. But that would leave many with no calling, and certain callings un-filled.

      • Anna says:

        On bishop roulette….Um, my first response is why ask me? I didn’t invent the concept that bishops can be great or terrible and the individual member has no control because we are not allowed to switch wards.

        But, I can toss my worthless opinion out there I guess.

        I don’t think we need to go to paid clergy, but more training for bishops would reduce some of the variation in how bishops deal with things. Mormons are about the only religion where people do not volunteer for what we call callings and those religions have a lot of unpaid positions. We are closer to Voluntold. But as some of the bishops who have come on this thread demonstrate, with respect for the individual, their circumstances, and respect for their free agency, this problem of undue pressure goes away. So, we just train bishops more.

        Then we set up some kind of system where unhappy members can report problems, so when a bishop is handling things badly, the stake president can set up the appropriate training.

    • Dani Addante says:

      Cam, I agree. This has been my experience so far. The person should always have a choice. I assume that most bishops are good people and will give the member a choice.

      • Peggy Sobczak says:

        Remember all those times in conferences when our leaders have told us that we don’t have to accept callings? I don’t. I get the impression from listening to my sister’s stories that this problem is widespread. The first step to changing this part of our culture is to admit that there’s a problem.

  5. SC says:

    A woman in my sister’s ward repeatedly turned down callings while struggling with mental health and member infighting problems, until the bishop tried using her membership as leverage to get her to accept a calling. She called up my sister (the RSP) in tears and asked, “Can he do that?” My sister called me for advice and I had just watched the new Handbook 2 training video where we learned that local leaders can discipline sisters without stake approval (but not MP holders) so I was the bearer of bad news. Unrighteous dominion against a sister in need of nurturing, not bullying and threats—it made me sick.

    • Wondering Why says:

      “learned that local leaders can discipline sisters without stake approval”

      Not true. Sorry to intervene, but false statements like this just fuel anti-leader rhetoric. A Bishop must have the stake president’s approval to convene a DC. And, with that approval he can discipline all members of his ward except where excommunication were a likely outcome – and many aren’t.

      Handbook 1, Section 6.2.3
      The bishop has authority over Church discipline in the ward, except the excommunication of a man who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.

      The bishop must confer with the stake president and obtain his approval before convening a disciplinary council. If evidence indicates that a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is likely to be excommunicated, the bishop immediately transfers the matter to the stake president.”

      • ElleK says:

        Wondering Why, this comment violates our commenting policy. You may not call someone a liar; you may only speak from your own experience. If you continue to make such comments, you will be placed in moderation.

        The whole point of this series is to hear women. Please listen when we speak.

        The fact that there’s a policy in place doesn’t mean it’s always followed, and there’s nothing in the policy that would prevent a bishop from threatening a woman with discipline or excommunication. Since she is not allowed to read the handbook you quoted from, there is no way for her to know that his threats, at least for excommunication, are probably empty (though he doesn’t need SP approval for informal discipline).

      • Moss says:

        I just wanted to point out that, while thousands of men have access, there are 9 women in the whole church who have access to Handbook 1. Carry on.

      • Wondering Why says:

        There are only nine women who have a copy, not access. There is nothing in the Handbook that prevents its contents being shared with women – nothing.

      • Wondering Why says:

        I didn’t call her a liar. I said she was wrong. Bishops can not hold councils with out the authorization of the stake president.

        I didn’t say that the person’s bishop didn’t threaten her with discipline. I find it sickening that any bishop would do something like that. But, having been had a bishop threaten to speak to the stake president about me I know that it happens.

  6. M says:

    I am so grateful that when I went to my bishop (who was also a friend) and told him I needed him to extricate me from a stake calling he told me he’d find a way. I learned from a disastrous calling my mom had when I was a kid that you HAVE to advocate for yourself and enforce your boundaries.

    I’m so sorry for those who have had to face down unrighteous dominion.

  7. Dani Addante says:

    I’ve always been told that I should never turn down a calling. And that callings come from God. But I don’t think all callings come from God. A friend of mine received a text message with questions about his availability and then was given a calling in a bishopric because he was available. He had a tough time in this calling and wanted to be released but they didn’t want to release him. They wanted him to go to all these extra meetings which he didn’t see as necessary, so he didn’t go. Later, he was released. They were also encouraging him and his wife to attend different wards, which seemed strange to me.

  8. Wondering Why says:

    About ten years ago I met with the then Second Counsellor in our Stake Presidency. He released me from my calling as a Stake High Councillor. He then asked me about my mornings. Because of my, up to that point, involvement in the stake I knew that a new Seminary Teacher was needed in my ward.

    I told him what he already knew – I take my kids to Seminary, wait in the car, and then take them home. Then I go to work. Not ideal, but that’s it. This was just as the new Seminary year was starting.

    Then, suspecting that he was about to call me as a Seminary Teacher I pointed out that in the next six to eight months I was going to be out of the country for a total of at least three months, and possibly more.

    This stake presidency knew me, knew my capabilities and also my work. I trusted them to always do what they felt the Lord wanted them to do. However, instead of insisting I take the calling, and that a way might be found to cover, he didn’t extend the calling. About five weeks later I was called as Young Men president in the ward.

    All the leadership training points to members keeping leaders informed about their circumstances, and that information being used to make informed decisions. It is sad that this is not always the case.

  9. Darren says:

    Bishop here.

    1) Callings are affected by inspiration. This is a mixture of availability, known talents of a member, callings that need to be filled, and a few dozen other variables. A lot of time when we are discussing callings, we end up saying to each other “Yeah, that feels right.”

    2) We have incomplete information. We have 600 members in our ward. I cannot possibly know the physical and emotional states of all of them, their current wants and needs, etc. I do my best, but periodically a member says “I need to think about that.” That usually brings me to say “What’s up?” Then more information comes forward, and it’s usually enough to get us to back off and make a different choice.

    3) Running a ward isn’t about making the trains run on time. There are people who are far better at administration than I am, so things fall through the cracks sometimes. I err on the side of ministering. I’m sure that I frustrate some of the old guard who don’t like that I don’t start Sacrament Meeting on time because all the widows haven’t been loved up yet.

    4) I wish women could serve in more callings. My RS President is effectively a co-bishop with me. I couldn’t do it without her.

    • ElleK says:

      Darren, I’m so happy you’re here. It sounds like there are a lot of things you’re getting right, and I’m always so encouraged to know there are men like you out there who are doing what they can to make up for the structural inequities that are in place in the church for women. I hope you’ll continue to read these experiences and look for things you can improve in your own congregation/leadership style.

      While it sounds like you are not coercive, there are other leaders who are (just read the comments in this thread). Please continue to do what you can to use your influence on behalf of the women in your care.

      (Also, I recently learned of a bishop who has called two women as “bishopric advisors,” and they participate in bishopric meetings and effectively act as counselors. Have you considered inviting your RS Pres to bishopric meetings?)

      • Darren says:

        Our RS President does come to our bishopric meetings most of the time and we have a standing meeting every Sunday that lasts from one minute to one hour, depending on need.

        I think that men that aspire to be bishops are crazy. This one came out of left field. I tried to explain all the reasons I would suck at this calling: I don’t like the hierarchical/patriarchal structure of the church, I don’t like the culture of alternatively praising and marginalizing women, I think our programs for fighting abuse are aimed at protecting the church, not the person, I don’t like how the church treats the LGBTQ population, and swear sometimes and my tattoos are visible to virgin eyes.

        The SP smiled and said “That’s why we want you. You love everybody, and that’s what your ward needs right now.” So you get what you get, non-white shirts and all. 🙂

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