With the exception of student wards, every ward or branch I’ve attended seems to rely on a few families to fill all of the major callings. We’ll call them “the same ten families.” In our Long Island branch, there were about six families that carried the load. The branch president was married to the young women’s president. The young men’s president was married to the Relief Society president. The Elder’s quorum president was married to the primary president. We weren’t president level material there: my husband was a counselor in the young men’s presidency and the gospel doctrine teacher while I was a Relief Society counselor. Even so, we were exhausted by church and looked forward to moving away just to get a break on Sundays. (It was hard to leave, and we still miss the people of our branch.)
So we moved to Provo. We thought that here, in the middle of happy valley, we would be extraneous and possibly ignored. We looked forward to settling down into an anonymous calling like nursery leader. But it turns out that by purchasing a home in an area that is mostly occupied by students and renters, we got fast tracked into the same ten family status in our new ward.
As soon as our records arrived, I got called to be the primary president. A year later, my husband was called to be a counselor to our new bishop. He’s over primary, which is both convenient and frustrating. I have a much better sense of why it can take so long to get callings through the spiritual confirmation and administrative hoops, and he can see exactly how much stress the primary president feels when classes have substitute teachers every week because the previous teachers had a baby or moved away and the new ones haven’t been sustained yet. One of the happy bonuses of our callings is that we get to sit together during ward council meetings. It’s the only time we’re together at church.
But I have to wonder why, in a solid family ward with good attendance, are there still a just a relatively few families that are considered strong? Why does the work of serving in the church fall so heavily on them? I can remember exactly which families did most of the work in the small ward I grew up in in East Texas. The same people rotated through all the auxiliaries, every few years being reshuffled into one presidency after another.
I’m not surprised I’ve ended up in one of those same ten families. While we don’t aspire to leadership callings (especially not now that we’ve been in them), we do come to church regularly and are reliable and competent in fulfilling our callings and participating in other church activities. (In other words, I think the bar for inclusion in the same ten family club is pretty low.) Sometimes I’m even inspired or creative in my calling. I’ve been in for a few years now, so I know all of our children and I’m confident in my ability to serve them. But I have to admit that I am getting tired.
I was raised with the stories of pioneer ancestors. You put your shoulder to the wheel, work until you’re exhausted, and then work some more. You have to endure to the end. So I go to church, and I work. I’m glad to be able to serve. But unless all of us in the ward share the load, those same ten families are going to get burnt out. Some days I feel myself charring around the edges. So what can we do to spread the work around, to give everyone a meaningful opportunity to serve and let those who are already serving have a break once in a while? How do we break past using the same ten families?