A missed opportunity?

October 27, 2004 | 17 comments
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A couple of months ago I got a call from a member of the bishopric in which he asked me if I would consider being the early-morning seminary teacher for our ward. My wife and I had just made the decision to sign our oldest daughter up for a swim team that would require her to practice early in the morning three days a week, so I had to reluctantly decline. I offered my services as a potential substitute on the days when I didn’t have to take my daughter to the pool.

Since that day, I’ve occasionally wondered if I made the right choice. I don’t imagine that I’ll have that opportunity present itself again, although it is possible. My mother-in-law just finished a four-year stint as a seminary teacher. Every time I talked with her during that time she would always speak about her class with great enthusiasm. She truly loved being a seminary teacher. I read Gordon’s post referencing his time as a seminary teacher and found myself feeling a twinge of regret. On the other hand, Jaymie had her first swim meet with her new team on Saturday and she had a great experience. She’s learned a lot in just the past couple of months, not just about swimming but about working hard, being a part of a team, and self-discipline.

My decision was made easier by the fact that seminary teachers are not called. I’ve never turned down a calling outright (although I have had potential callings not extended due to particular circumstances), and don’t plan to ever do so. I didn’t feel guilty about saying no to this invitation, though. Any regrets I have come from my sense that I might have really enjoyed being a seminary teacher.

I got a visit on Sunday from the same member of the bishopric. The seminary teacher has had to quit, and he wanted to know if I could help fill in until a new teacher could be found. After consulting with my wife, I said I would be happy to help. This morning I got to see what I turned down.

The class is a good group of kids — there were seven there this morning, in varying states of consciousness. Three of them participated actively. All of them responded enthusiastically when I drew a parallel between a particular story and the presidential debates. I could see the sparks of a real class in my short time with them, a group that could be brought together to become something much greater than the sum of its parts (I’m not saying that the class isn’t like this already, just that as an outsider, I was able to see that potential in just a short time with them).

I’ve traded that experience for one with my own child. Now that I know a little more about what I’m missing, I have a greater incentive to make my time with my own child just as rich and rewarding for both of us, and that’s a good thing. And who knows, maybe I’ll get to teach the seminary class for a few more Mondays and Wednesdays yet.

A postscript — I found myself at one point wanting to share the fact that I am guestblogging here, but didn’t. I didn’t want to make an on-the-spot decision that I would regret later. Is Times and Seasons an appropriate place to point a class of seminary students?

17 Responses to A missed opportunity?

  1. Katherine on October 27, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    I would not send an entire seminary class to T&S, although I think on an individual basis it may be appropriate. Remember that the students have varying levels of faith, testimony, and ability to reason, and some high schoolers definitely wouldn’t be equipped to handle the sometimes heated discussions or have their own beliefs challenged.

  2. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 12:38 pm

    “Is Times and Seasons an appropriate place to point a class of seminary students?”

    Not without parental guidance.

  3. Gilgamesh on October 27, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks, I needed this post. I team teach seminary two days a week, and have been having a rough go at it because I have an energetic class, etc… But recognizing the blessings I do feel, in spite of their yabbering, are well worth the sacrifice.

  4. Becca on October 27, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    The idea that teaching seminary is not a “callingâ€? but an “appointment” is still very strange to me, even after teaching seminary for 3 years. I’ve often wondered what the rationale is behind this policy—because the bishop/branch president is still instructed to make it a matter of prayer and inspiration as to who should be “invited” to teach seminary. Wouldn’t the bishop’s inspiration process qualify it as a calling? What makes a calling a calling? If it’s not a calling, do I still have stewardship over the kids in my class? If there is a stewardship (even though it is “onlyâ€? an invitation), does every invitation that the bishop extends to me carry with it a stewardship? Hmmm…

    Although I haven’t referred any kids directly to T&S, I have used the ideas behind several posts to start some interesting class discussions. I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with referring kids here—they would only see that adults in the church have questions, too. I wish I’d had T&S when I was in seminary and my teachers wouldn’t answer my questions.

  5. J. Stapley on October 27, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    Is it an assignment because if it were a “calling�, then the leap to priestcraft for the professional CES folks might be too close for comfort?

  6. The Only True and Living Nathan on October 27, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    If my kids were of seminary age and I lived in your ward, I’d threaten you with physical violence to make sure you continued as seminary teacher.

    I’m also about to threaten the Sanhedrin of T&S if they don’t offer you a permanent blogging position.

  7. danithew on October 27, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    I’m not sure if the Sanhedrin will accept Bryce unless he repudiates any belief in the resurrection. :)

  8. Rusty on October 27, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    Becca,
    You have very interesting question. If the bishop is praying about who he should “invite”, what’s the difference in his answer? Why do we have the moral obligation to accept an inspired “calling” by the bishop, but not an inspired “invitation”?

  9. CB on October 27, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    Re: calling vs. assignment.

    Normally, a bishop would nominate someone to teach seminary. The nomination would be made to the local CES coordinator. The actual invitation to teach is extended through CES, I think. So, while it is a calling in terms of church service, it is more likea a job from the CES point of view. Your boss is the CES representative, not the bishop.

  10. Rusty on October 27, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    CB,
    True, but the CES has only the bishop’s word to extend the invitation to teach. I can’t imagine that the CES people are praying whether the bishop made the best recommendation. They probably just say, “thanks bishop, I’ll give her a call.” Plus, while the CES has the meeting every six weeks or whatever, I’m not going to my CES rep to talk about my students, I’m going to the bishop.

    I understand the “rules” behind my calling, but the spirit in which it is fulfilled doesn’t necessarily follow those rules.

  11. Kevin Barney on October 27, 2004 at 4:26 pm

    I too had to turn down a gig as EMS teacher. With a long commute into a big city (Chicago), the logistics were just too difficult. But I have subbed a number of times, and I can see how challenging it is to reach young people at such an unearthly hour. My hat is off to those who take up the challenge.

  12. Joe Spencer on October 27, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    A brief comment on callings and invitations… The word behind “calling” in both Greek and Hebrew probably could be best translated as “invitation.” It seems to me that any “calling” is an invitation, something of an opportunity in which to go about doing something greater. The grand “calling and election” seems ultimately only to be the grand invitation, the invitation into the fulness of glory, etc. Sometimes even “callings” to serve in such and such a position should be rejected, as the Spirit directs. Perhaps it is in drawing lines around “callings,” “invitations,” and most everything else in the gospel that creates the problem?

  13. Becca on October 27, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    Rusty–I would think that we were under a moral obligation to accept both calling and invitations made by our bishops. However, I had honestly never thought of seminary as anything other than a calling with a weird “appointment” label until I read Bryce’s post this afternoon. Maybe I’m the only one (I don’t know), but around here I would say that most people generally think of EM seminary as a calling. I think even CES feels like it is a calling–the branch presidents are often reminded at CES meetings to not give any of the teachers other callings within their branches, since teaching 5 days a week at 6:00 am usually precludes substantial participation in anything else. If seminary isn’t a calling, then I guess I haven’t had a calling in 3 years! Interesting.

    CB–This is my third year teaching, and each year the BP (not CES) has called me in to extend the invitation. Usually by around October I get a letter in the mail from CES asking me to have my BP and DP sign off on my appointment, but I don’t know if I would exactly call that an invitation from CES. I’m in law school and I don’t have time to go to the training meetings, so all of my supervision/training/feedback comes directly from the BP, not CES.

    So I guess I’m still lost on the rationale behind the distinction between callings and invitations/appointments. If it looks, acts, feels, and smells like a calling, why do we name it something else?

    But I like J. Stapley’s theory re: priestcraft. When I taught at the MTC I often wondered if I was engaging in priestcraft. Hmmmm….my mission president once gave us his definition of priestcraft–anytime someone preaches the gospel for any purpose other than for the edification of others/glory of God; i.e. if you’re teaching someone the discussions quickly so that they’ll get baptized before the end of the month so your numbers (and you) look better, then you are guilty of priestcraft because you are only preaching for your own personal gain. This has been a good test for me to apply when preparing lessons or talks–am I sharing this information in such a way as will edify others/give glory to God or do I have any ulterior motives?

  14. Bryce I on October 27, 2004 at 10:31 pm

    Becca –

    To try to answer your question, the member of the bishopric who offered me the opportunity initially to be the full-time teacher told me at the time explicitly, “This is not a calling,” implying that if I declined, I should not feel as though I would be refusing to serve in a capacity as directed by the Savior acting as the head of the Church through a divinely appointed representative with the appropriate priesthoood authority. So while I thought carefully about my decision, I ultimately did not feel like I needed to go to any extraordinary lengths to make it possible to accept the invitation.

    My mother-in-law had the same clear understanding of the distinction between her position and a church calling. I think it helps to think in terms of priesthood authority. The bishop/branch president is responsible for facilitating Seminary classes for students in their wards, but the program itself is administered by CES, which falls outside of priesthood authority. As a seminary teacher, you are not accountable to the bishop/branch president, and the bishop/branch president is not directly responsible for your class. That’s how I understand it. I could be completely wrong.

    Now that you mention it, I’m just as puzzled by the fact that we call Scoutmasters in our wards and branches.

  15. Gilgamesh on October 27, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    I think it is an assignment due to the nature of CES. CES in itself is a not-for-profit corporation within the church which includes the BYU’s in it’s assets. I run volunteer programs for my work and even if the volunteers come from a church, legally they still have to be trained and supervised by our not-for-profit to qualify us for the tax breaks we recieve.

  16. Rusty on October 28, 2004 at 12:33 am

    Joe Spencer, that’s an interesting insight into the nature of the word “calling”, I hadn’t really thought of it in that way. Thank you.

    This is quite interesting. It’s easy to see both points of view: 1) The inspiration to the bishop comes from the same Being who knows the best person for the position, therefore a calling and an invitation are essentially the same thing and both carry the moral obligation to accept. 2) The bishop has only the authority to recommend someone to the CES and it’s okay to not accept a position from a non-profit organization, especially when the alternative is to bless your own family. I guess I fell into the first category when I was invited to teach seminary this year. Not to say that Bryce made a poor decision, we just saw it differently and perhaps not even thought about the other position at the time. This is why I love the bloggernacle!

    I suspect that technically I’m wrong to not rely on the CES for help (instead my bishop). I do that, not because I fall under his stewardship, but because the kids do.

  17. DeRucci on October 28, 2004 at 11:23 am

    The one and only reason that it is not considered a calling has to do with the tax-exempt status that the church enjoys. At least that is how it has been explained to me every time I ask someone in authority.