The Cake

Baking is not on my list of talents. I am a frugal eater and not at all adept in food decorating, so my abilities reach to basic banana cakes and chocolate chip cookies. I love beautiful things, I just can’t seem to make my small, stubby fingers weave those things from my imagination into tangible offerings.

The other day our very loud doorbell rang over a very loud, screaming child. Surprisingly chill, I opened the door to find one of my ministering sisters holding a large piece of her leftover birthday cake. This cake, layered with a chocolate drip over white creamy icing, and decorated with Kinder and Ferrero chocolates, was indeed a welcome sight. We gratefully consumed the confection my sister had carefully made for her own birthday to share with her loved ones.


I am turning 30 this year. I like to joke that I feel old, but that’s not true. This is the best I’ve felt in my life, and I naturally want a cake to reflect the auspiciousness of this age milestone. My ‘thirty, flirty and thriving’ cake.

I immediately had my husband request that our friend makes the cake, just like the one she had shared with us. I had one condition . . . she had to let us pay.

When I was a teenager I babysat a stranger’s children for a whole day, so they could attend a wedding. When the time for payment came, even though I could really use the money, I refused. It was about 10% wanting to impress a boy and 90% because that’s what nice Mormon girls do, right? We serve. Maybe I took too literally the concept of laying up treasures in heaven, and not in the earth.

But when is treasure, or in this case, remuneration, deserved? I’ve asked myself again and again, and I’m not sure if there is a firm line in the sand. I do believe, however, that Mormons aren’t always good at paying for skilled labour. We give so freely, and I fear sometimes we inappropriately expect the same in return.

Thus, we had a hard time convincing our friend to receive money for making my cake. With a (friendly) threat of simply firing her, she finally caved in and let us pay for her skills that neither of us has. It felt right to pay.

Some questions I’m going to ask myself in the future:

  • How many hours will this take the person?
  • Are there material costs involved?
  • In the outside world, do people expect to be paid for this?
  • Am I utilising skills that the person has taken considerable effort to gain?


What are your thoughts? What are some other questions we can ask ourselves before asking another member of the LDS church for assistance?

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18 Responses

  1. Jan Signore says:

    Excellent point, i like your questions and feel we should pay for services absolutely. It is, perhaps, an unintended side effect of our giving/service culture that at times it goes too far.

  2. ST says:

    A good questions for me would be: does this person want other people to know that they can offer this particular service? Are they doing an enormous favour for me that they wouldn’t generally do? I have heard of lots of people who don’t share what they are good at because they don’t want other people to constantly hit them up for help.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    As a musician who has now played piano/organ for 54 years at church, I find that it’s not only the money I would have been paid anywhere else, but the taken for granted attitude that gets old.

    • spunky says:

      Agreed. When I was teaching community classes at a college, no one would bother to take the classes — but they always asked me to teach the same exact classes at Ward and Relief Society activities for free. I don’t mind sharing my skills, but I do mind being obligated into forced socialism without thanks (and often by people who vote anti-socialist politically). It is overt selfishness.

      I am so glad that you paid for her to make your cake! Maybe remind her that she still gets blessings for service? Because it seems to me that people justify taking advantage of others because they pay “In blessings.” BAH!

      • Amelia Christensen says:

        Spunky, well…I do have a lot of feelings about prosperity gospel…ha ha.

    • Amelia Christensen says:

      Elizabeth, thank you for everything you do. You’re awesome.

  4. Sally says:

    I recently asked my best friend to make my husband’s birthday cake and I paid her. I wish I could have paid her more, but we were both satisfied enough with the arrangement. Absolutely, paying money and offering gratitude are both types of showing that a skill, time, thought and energy have value. Being fellow ward members is sometimes a good reason to ask or accept services without pay, if you would treat any other neighbor the same way. *Expecting* stuff for free (which I’ve done over the years, I admit, mostly because I was broke) *because* we are fellow ward members is kind of abusing the principle.

  5. Allison says:

    This essay and the comments align with something my husband and I have been discussing lately. In our ward alone are 3 disabled teenage girls (one is our daughter.) 2 of these 3 girls are not attending girls camp and one of the primary reasons for both is there simply isn’t the support there that these girls need to successfully navigate camp, physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually. The parents of all three girls – and several YW leaders – are willing and have gone to great lengths to involve these kids in church activities, but it basically comes down to this: these girls each need para-support at camp, just like they receive at school. I don’t think each girl necessary needs 1-on-1 support 24/7, but having professional support makes a world of difference. Here’s where it can get tricky: Most of church leadership seems unaware that competent, compassionate para support isn’t the same thing as YW leaders keeping an extra eye on girls at camp. Nor is it the same thing as having mom there at camp, to keep things rolling. Competent, compassionate care sometimes requires either hiring professionals, or providing actual training for those who are willing to act as para-support. Imagine that – spending money to make things work better for members of our congregations! Our volunteer, freely-give, freely-take system doesn’t always work. In fact, sometimes it actually hurts!

    • Olea says:

      Allison, I think this is absolutely something a bishop should have no problem with paying for – and good bishops would come up with the idea themselves. Have you had church leaders be unwilling to pay, or just so blind to the idea of professional care that they haven’t realised what a difference it would make?

  6. Ziff says:

    Thanks for raising this issue, Amelia. I agree that it seems like a common one in Mormon contexts. I really like your set of questions at the end.

    Your point reminds me of some research I remember reading about (years ago, so I might not have it exactly right) about how people viewed their relationships, as being more communal or exchange. In a communal relationship, you don’t balance the books to make sure everything is accounted for. Everyone just contributes what they can in terms of labor or whatever. This is how a couple or family might (ideally) operate. An exchange relationship is governed by rules and norms of business transactions. Everything is accounted for and paid for. I’m sure there’s a spectrum in between the two poles too.

    Anyway, I wonder if this isn’t an extra complicated issue for Mormons because in the past, we were so much more communal, and even now a ward can sometimes feel like relationships in it are communal, for at least some of the people who are most welcomed. But then, as you point out, it’s an easy thing to abuse, even unthinkingly, and take advantage of other ward members. We can assume that a relationship is more communal and not (or under-) pay someone for their work because of it, when the other person expects it to be more an exchange relationship. Or it can work the other way around (although this might be less common), where someone wants to give their labor out of generosity, and they might feel they’re being pushed away and treated coldly if they’re paid. It’s complicated for sure.

  7. Joni says:

    At a F&T meeting within the past year, an older man volunteered the YW (but only the YW, not the Y M, of course) to babysit ward members’ children for free so they can attend the temple. I leaned over and whispered to my teenage daughter that she will do no such thing unless she WANTS to. I still find it galling that an untreated man thinks he has any business informing my daughter that she will work for free.

  8. OregonMum says:

    A sister who made fabulous cakes (not professionally but as a hobby) would make me gorgeous cakes for my children’s birthdays (I have no talent in that area at all) but didn’t feel comfortable accepting money. So I would buy packs of diapers and present them to her at the cake drop off.

    I think it mainly comes down to the willingness to help each other out. There’s a group of us in the ward that constantly watch each other’s kids for appointments and such. We never exchange money because we know that when we need it, those sisters will be there for us. Then there is another sister who just takes and takes and asks and asks and has never once given back. As hard as I try to be Christ-like, I’m pretty fed up with her. But because she’s an inactive sister I feel that to cut her off entirely will be tantamount to cutting her off from the church. So big guilt trip there.

  9. Chiaroscuro says:

    I like this reminder that we should pay for services when we can. There are also sisters who would love a beautiful birthday cake and can’t afford to pay. Those sisters will probably never ask someone to do anything about it. I don’t particularly love cake, but there are so so many things I have wanted and been unable to afford or ask for. Its hard to know what a good balance would be

  10. Olea says:

    My sisters and I were taught (by our mum) that we should offer to babysit for free for couples who wanted to attend the temple. In my case, having junk food around, being allowed to read after the kids were in bed, and having interesting conversations when the parents came home was payment enough. Especially because I didn’t have many other ways to serve ward members. But, when I was babysitting for a work responsibility, a date or another appointment, many ward members paid generously. I wonder how many of them saw paying me as doing me service. I hope that many of us can follow your lead, and do others the service of giving them cash money plus an excuse to do something they love.

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