When I was baptized two years ago, the missionaries explained to me that there are no paid positions in the Mormon church, that all leadership roles are filled by volunteers who also work their regular full-time jobs. Having no previous experience with churches, I smiled and nodded and continued to view the bishop as a permanent figure of authority rather than a person temporarily filling a need.
Well, two months later that bishop moved to Texas. The next bishop was a friend of mine, Danny Arnett. Up until that point Danny had been just another member of the congregation and when he later moved to California and was released from his calling, he again became another member of the congregation. I knocked this around in my head and, after a solid 30 seconds of deliberation, decided that this was weird and that I could never view a friend as a bishop. Danny was someone I knew from potluck picnics in Battery park, not intimate one-on-one meetings about my spiritual growth.
Pretty soon I landed myself in one of these interviews with the bishop for a limited-use temple recommend. These are routine meetings with a set of scripted questions that the bishop has to ask you every several years, and unless you’re a serial killer, the responses you give are predictable. “No Bishop, I still don’t have loose relations with other men or shoot up heroin in my free time.”
Okay, so the questions aren’t actually that specific or colorful, and neither are the interviews.
At this point in my life I hadn’t been a member for long and my husband still looked at me askance every time I said the name “Jesus.” Zoe was less than a year old and a handful so I’d leave her at home with Oliver while I went to the church at 14th street for three hours every Sunday. And for three hours I’d enviously eye the complete, picturesque Mormon families that occupied entire pews, ever aware of the empty space next to my seat and ever pretending that I didn’t care, pretending that I was accepting and not the kind of woman who resented her husband for excerising free will. This fooled everyone except my husband.
At the end of this brief temple interview with Danny, he looked me in the eye and said, “Veena, the Lord knows how badly you want to bring your whole family to church. Oliver is a great guy. He is smart and perceptive and he is seeing the changes in your family as a result of your faith. Keep loving him and supporting him and know that you are never alone in this.” Then Danny addressed three other specific concerns in my life that I had not mentioned to anyone. Apparently any worthy person can convey a message from God.
My eyes had a perpetual leak for the first nineteen years of my life so I really hate crying, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not play it cool. I cried.
I wish I could say that after that point I never again pressured Oliver to come to church and never again doubted that church leaders are ordained of God, but neither is true. When we moved out of the city to Connecticut, I had five separate people tell me unequivocally that Bishop Hunt is “the best bishop ever”: one returned missionary, two families I knew in the city, and two families I met when moving here.
My sixth sense is cyncism, and whenever large groups of people agree on something, that sixth sense tingles. I came to Connecticut very determined to be the one person to hate Bishop Hunt. I work with the young women in the church, so I even tried to pump his daughter for information about his fatal flaws, but she just shrugged and said they got along well.
When I first came to church here Bishop Hunt recognized an eight-year-old who had just been baptized and spoke about her love of the Lord and how he hoped we all would have a chance to “feel of her spirit.” It sounded exactly like the kind of trite over-enthusiasm I’d expect from someone faking his way through the gospel, but it didn’t quite satisfy me because somehow he actually sounded like he meant it.
I’ve gotten to know Bishop Hunt through meetings, activities, blessings, and more of his trite but heartfelt remarks during sacrament meeting and it turns out he actually does mean it. I don’t know if you’re meant to have favorite bishops in the same way you’re not meant to have favorite children, but in the same way you actually do have favorite children (though you never admit it), Bishop Hunt is my favorite. With his guidance I’ve felt tended to, like I’m part of the flock. I believe in this divine organization. Our callings allow us to efficiently care for our brothers and sisters inside and outside of the church; even my husband, parents and brother have been moved by the bishop’s warmth, though they do not recognize it as the Spirit of Christ.
I’m still idly searching for the hidden dark side that always exists, but Bishop Hunt will leave before I have the opportunity to discover that he maims baby animals for sport or harvests organs from unruly children. Whatever his shortcomings may be, they do not preclude him from being an effective bishop. There is a role for each of us in God’s kingdom, a divine opportunity to serve others no matter what weaknesses we may have.
Bishop Hunt has managed to look after the whole Ward for the past five or six years while also looking after six kids and a full time job. And as it always goes in marriages, his awesome wife has shared that responsibility, adapted to demands on her husband’s time, and held her own calling teaching the four year-old children in the ward. When we dedicate our lives to Heavenly Father, He expands our definition of family, giving us the capacity to care for our own spouses and children as well as others.
Now the Hunts are moving. Oliver’s reaction was, “… Is the Bishop even allowed to move?” We’ve got some vague plans to call up his new employer and say lots of nasty things about him, or at least kidnap the oldest Hunt child and keep her on our terrace. Maybe the closet during the cold months. I also promised God to be more righteous if He lets us keep the Hunt family. We’re working all angles here.
My bishop is a good person, but I know that my main source of sadness is the latent fear of losing this looked-after feeling. But I trust my Heavenly Father that I cannot lose this feeling unless I choose to. I’ve used two bishops as examples here, but I’ve been watched over and cared for in a multitude of ways, by a multitude of people since I was created. Whether it is in the quiet peace I find at the end of a hard day or a gentle squeeze of the hand from my husband, I am saturated in reminders of the Lord’s love for me.
I am grateful. I’m grateful for the Hunts, for my teachers over the years, for my friends who have endured my eccentricity, and for my husband who hasn’t had the sense to leave me yet. I’m grateful for my own opportunities to serve as a vehicle of God in caring for the people around me. I don’t have as broad a reach as some charismatic people I know, but I am a precision laser by His design. I pray to grow in that ability.
Have fun in Park City, Bishop. Connecticut will cope.