With Faith and Trepidation

Dear Will:

For the last seven years I have arisen before dawn every day of the school year to teach Seminary, the early morning religion class for somnambulant high school kids. It’s a curiously glorious assignment, one I have performed willingly and gladly since they first asked me to do it in 2007.

Since our church does not have a paid clergy, the whole, elaborate local operation is run by volunteers like me, most of whom do as they’re asked when they’re asked to do it. But we are not given the option of choosing our assignments—we are simply pulled aside and offered the chance to serve. And because we are committed, when we are invited to teach the five-year-olds or lead the choir or clean the chapel, our inclination is generally to say: Sure.

Of course, often we are asked to do things for which we have no true qualifications or training. We simply plunge in with a combination of faith and trepidation, learning as we go—sometimes at the expense of confused five-year-olds or thoroughly bamboozled altos and tenors. That alacrity to both serve and be served in spite of manifest ineptitude is consistent, I think, with the nature of Christ’s early church, which was run by a ragtag bunch of fishermen and tentmakers. They stumbled along, no doubt, but history shows that they were magnified in their task and the world is better for it.

It all brings to mind a favorite story. Peter and John, fairly new to this business of running a church on behalf of the Master, encountered a man who had been unable to walk since birth. Day after day his friends brought him to the temple gates to beg for coins to make his living. When the apostles stopped in front of him, the lame man expected that they would open their purses.

But he was mistaken. “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:6-8).

Peter and John may not have had much. What they did have was a willingness to give—such as they had. To give what they could and let the Savior compensate for that which they lacked. To bless another life—change it even—in spite of the fact that they were mere fishermen.

I bring this up to you now because I have been given a new assignment for which the term inadequate is itself inadequate to express my lack of qualifications. After this week, I will no longer be teaching sleepy teenagers in the morning because I have been called to serve as your new bishop, head of the entire ward congregation.

It’s a terrifying privilege to receive this assignment. I have not been blessed with great executive skills and I have no relevant professional or academic credentials. What I do have is a love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the people in our ward. I don’t expect to be particularly good at this job, but I take comfort in Christ’s ability to help us overcome our weaknesses (see Ether 12:27). If not for that, I wouldn’t have a chance.

It comes to that and little more. I really don’t have much. But such as I have, I’ll gladly give.

PW

Looking on the Heart

Dear Will:

When I was in the second grade, Robert Maxwell and I were appointed by Mrs. Appleton as ball monitors at Mariposa Elementary. What that meant is that at the end of the last recess of the day, when all of the other kids were in class doing Reading Time or whatever they called it, Robert and I were roaming the playground, gathering up all of the balls and putting them away for the night. It was fun and cool at the same time, especially because it meant we got more playground time than anyone.

The trickiest task was detaching the tetherballs from their poles. We could barely reach the chains to which they were clipped, as I recall, so we had to give one another a boost to achieve our purpose. It’s hard to believe, to be honest, because I have since returned to Mariposa and noted with some surprise just how close to the ground those chains hang. Could I have really been that small when I was in Mrs. Appleton’s class?

I suppose it was a bit of a stretch (literally!) to assign two boys so small to that task. But what a terrific affirmation it proved to be. We were unsupervised, trusted to do an important job on behalf of the entire school. And although the chore itself was not especially difficult, it was useful to others and an important assignment for me. It caused me to think of myself in a slightly different light—as one who was worthy of trust and capable of representing others in a meaningful way.

I find myself thinking back to Mariposa School because my youngest son Seth turned 12 yesterday, which meant that today he received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon. His initial assignments as a priesthood-holder will not be especially difficult, but they will be of importance to others. He will be passing the sacrament to the congregation each Sunday, facilitating in this small way the renewal of eternal covenants and commitments. He will gather offerings on behalf of the poor and needy and return them to the bishop. And he will be given ongoing responsibility for the upkeep and care of the chapel in which we meet.

Seth admitted to me that he was unsure of whether he was ready and worthy to become a deacon. Our bishop, Bishop Hales, assured him that he was and authorized his ordination—and you can already see that it is having an impact on my son. He was nervous and excited as he anticipated this day, as I’m sure he will be next week when he passes the sacrament for the first time. As he grows increasingly comfortable with his duties, however, I think we will witness a maturation made possible by his acceptance of the authority to serve others in the name of God.

You may recall that when David was anointed King of Israel, he was young and unimpressive compared to his older brothers. The Lord gently chided Samuel the prophet for not seeing in David the divine potential that lay within. “Look not on his countenance,” the Lord told him, “or on the height of his stature; . . . for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Likewise my son isn’t much to look at (he’s only 12, after all). But today he was set apart from most boys his age because of the goodness in his heart. Although he’ll be stretched in the years ahead as he works to fulfill his duties, and although he’ll need a boost from time to time to complete his assignments, I’m confident that he will prove to be more than worthy of the trust that has been placed in him. I’m proud of who he is and what he is becoming, and pleased that others have seen in him the divine potential that makes him, in my view, extraordinary.

PW