Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making my Proper Contribution

I've become a big believer in running the Church more like a volunteer organization1. I've talked about this before2. There's something to be said for trying to match people to performing responsibilities at church in which they are interested and find fulfilment.

Reality gets in the way sometimes though. For example, based on the reports I've heard from leaders of the children's organization (we call it Primary) at my congregation, it seems that there are really very few people who want to work in Primary, and hardly any more that are willing to work in Primary.  One of our friends was talking about this with Janelle one day and--apparently exasperated by the constant search for people willing to take on the enormous inconvenience--declared "If you don't want to work in Primary, stop having children."

(No really, it wasn't me who came up with that.)

Her reasoning was genius.  Children enter into Primary when they are 18 months old.  They remain in Nursery until the January 1st following their third birthday, and then they progress through different age-based classes until they turn twelve.  All told, they spend about ten and a half years in primary.  For our purposes, we're going to truncate this to ten  years of Primary time for each child.

Now let's assume that the usual class size is about five children (there is undoubtedly a wide variance here, but for most of the young ages, five children seems like a good class size for amateur teachers).  Lastly, we'll assume that we would like to have two teachers per class3.  For a class of five children to go through ten years of Primary with two teachers, you would need to staff 20 teacher-years4.  If we are fortunate enough that all five of those hypothetical children have two parents, then you would have a pool of ten parents to staff 20 teacher years.

Now, do the math--if the parents of the children are going to carry the load of staffing Primary (as is customary in most volunteer organizations), then for each child a parent has in Primary, the parent should expect to contribute two years of time teaching.

To put this in personal terms, I have two children.  Thus, I should expect that I will spend four years teaching in Primary, and that Janelle will also spend four years teaching in Primary.

The total time spent will vary, of course.  Perhaps your Primary only uses one teacher per class--cut the number of teacher years in half.  If the class sizes are larger, the total time per parent will decrease.  If the class sizes are smaller, the total number of time will increase.  If you have some parents who are willing, eager, and enjoy working in Primary, they can stay in Primary and other parents will carry a lighter load.

But at some point, somewhere along the way, if you have kids in Primary, you should expect to be staffing Primary for 1-2 years per child5.

I'm not really sure how a declaration like this would be received.  After all, the way volunteers are recruited in the Church has a bit of a mystical veil over it.  Making the claim that parents should be expected to carry the weight of the weekly church-based instruction kind of flies in the face of the "called by inspiration" model.  I imagine this has helped create the current culture of dreading and avoiding Primary callings but grudgingly accepting because turning down any responsibility in the Church is a sign of diminished faith6.

The reality is simple.  Children need to be taught at church, and adults will be needed to do the teaching.  If you have children, you can't fairly expect to pass off your kids to a volunteer organization each week and never contribute.  So if you have children, don't be surprised or horrified when your number comes up.  You did this to yourself7.


Going back and making this personal now: I have two children in Primary.  And I have yet to spend a day in Primary.  You could make the case that I'm not making my proper contribution to the Church.

Perhaps that will change now that I've just been released from my responsibilities in the Sunday School.  Sure, I can think of a handful of responsibilities I'd rather take on other than teaching children.  But I look back over the responsibilities I've had in the past decade, and let's face it: I've had an incredibly good streak of really enjoyable (for me) responsibilities.  I think it's time I started to pull my own weight around here, don't you?

Oh, and if anyone in my Primary Presidency reads this, I've actually really enjoyed spending time in nursery when I've been there the past few months--especially with the youngest kids.  Just saying.

So please--PLEASE--grab me up before the bishop asks me to do something truly terrible; like working with adults.

1 Probably because it is a volunteer organization
2 See my posts about Informed Inspiration here, here, and here.
3 I suspect this is not standard operating procedure through most of the LDS Church, but it seems to make a difference on the stress level felt by the teachers. If this isn't how your congregation operates, perhaps you should consider it.
4 A 'teacher-year' is a unit of time that measures the amount time a teacher is on active duty. If you have two teachers in a class for exactly one year, you have staffed 2 teacher-years.
5 I will say, however, that the more children a parent has, the closer this number should get to 1 year. Imagine, for instance, a family with six kids. If each parent worked 12 years in Primary, they may only get about 3-4 years outside of Primary, and I don't think that's necessarily healthy for their own development. It is no doubt a complicated balance to find. Open communication with leaders about balancing the needs of the congregation with the needs of the individuals is always crucial.
6 Gag!
7 This does not, however, give ward leaders justification to guilt or manipulate people in to service. I'm grateful that the leaders in my ward are sensitive and compassionate toward the needs of individuals, and I hope leaders across the world will show that same compassion.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What Makes a Really Good Day at Church?

I had a scout campout this weekend.  We went to a scout camp nearby, shot guns, threw knives, and launched softballs out of a six-foot slingshot.  It was awesome.

I got nervous, though, because I realized I had forgotten to make arrangements for someone to teach the youth Sunday School class1. I managed to make way to church in time to teach a lesson, but only with 10 minutes to spare.  And I was wearing the clothes I had been wearing to the campout.  In my defense, I put on my newest shirt.  It really was the best thing I had to wear.  I hadn't shaved in two days, my hair was matted and probably nasty looking.

So anyway, I walk in to the church and hang out by the classroom I'm expecting to teach in.  I see some of the students, and this is the conversation we had.

"Are you teaching us today?"

"I thought I was, but I just saw I have an e-mail from [teacher] that says she's going to be here and teaching today."

"REALLY!  Oh that's so awesome!"

They completely lost any interest in anything I might have to say.  And I was completely dead to them as soon as they saw the little newborn.  It was a good moment.

I went to Sunday School for the first time in...I can't remember the last time I went to a Sunday School class.   I didn't stay long.  I got up to check that the baby wasn't being a problem in the other class.  No problems there.  I took a moment to recommend a second teacher for that class (something I should have done weeks ago, apparently).

Next I got pulled away by a member of the bishopric.  I was informed that they had recruited a new Sunday School president, and, although I had been assisting the former president, I was not being retained in the new leadership.  I have mixed feelings about that, but there's really nothing to be done, and I don't feel like going into it right now.  What struck me as funny was the counselor who informed me and thanked me for my time then asked me, "so what other callings2 do you have right now?  I'm sure you're doing three or four."

Technically, I do have one other calling, but it kind of went defunct over a year ago, so effectively, with the termination of the Sunday School service, I have no official volunteerism in the congregation.  When I said as much, the counselor stated, "That's odd.  It seems like you're always doing something, or someone is always looking for you."

Yes, I'm bragging.  Because I felt good right then.

There were two other moments that really made my day at church. First, one of the women caught me in the hall.  "You just got back from camping, didn't you?"  The tone made it clear that this was a statement, not a real question.

"Is it that obvious?" I asked.

Her eyes scanned me from head to toe, then back up again.  "Yes." she declared.  The she sniffed the air.  "But I can't smell you, so that's good."  And then she went about her business.  I was highly amused.

Lastly, when I sat down in the chapel for Sacrament meeting, I noticed the Deacon's Quorum President coming down the aisle.  It is his responsibility to recruit other priesthood holders to help distribute the sacramental bread and water to the congregation, and since he's somewhat familiar with me, it isn't uncommon for him to ask me to help.  He approached my pew.  I made eye contact, and I saw his lips start to move.  For a second, I thought, He's totally going to ask me to pass the sacrament in my gross camping clothes.  Then he thought better of it.  But the near-invitation still made me smile.


Next month's camping trip will probably be close enough that I'll be able to make it back in time for church.  It's a bit of a bonus for me; the choir is singing that day.  I'm wondering if I should pack something traditionally-church-appropriate or wear the usual camping clothes.  Perhaps I should buy a shirt like this one and wear that for the choir performance.  Put it to a vote?

1 The usual teacher has been in enjoying (enduring? tolerating?) postpartum recovery and I've been coordinating/teaching her class in her absence. Ironically, after making the effort to get back in time to teach, I showed up to find her making her return appearance. It was a happy reunion for all of them.
2 In LDS terminology, a calling is an invitation to volunteer in some capacity of the congregation's administrative or ministerial arm.