Thanks for your question, Liz from DC! I’m Rebbie, from LA and I will attempt to answer it.
So you heard about the old callings, did you? Sounds epic, right? Sounds like something only Frodo or Jason Bourne should know about. Well, the awesome thing about being Mormon is that you get to experience the joy of having a calling…every day of your life.
So what is a calling? To answer your question, I’ll need to explain a little how the Mormon Church is run.
Every baptized member of the Mormon Church has what your friend has. A personal assignment, known as a “calling.” We don’t hire Bishops or pay leaders to preach to our congregations. Instead, every member pitches in to make the church function as a whole. It’s self-sustaining. Like FUBU. For Us By Us. Except not quite that exclusive. It’s more like For Ourselves and Others, By Us. FOOBU. Put that on your jersey and wear it.
So what kinds of callings are there?
Callings vary in scope and assignment. Some are small, once-a-week-at-church assignments while others require multiple meetings throughout the week. But whether it’s working on a service committee, serving as a Bishop, or feeding your whole congregation at the Christmas Party, you will be put to work. If you try to hide, someone will find you and ask what you’re up to this Saturday at 7 AM. “We’re cleaning the church. There will be donuts.” I don’t advise hiding.
I know what you’re thinking. What a pain! And I won’t lie, it kind of is. But it’s also a fun way to get to know each other. Some people say Mormons are cliquish, which I will admit can be true, and indeed is not our most becoming quality. But if you and a stranger were tasked with making a Christmas feast for 300, I venture to say you would be friends by the end of it. In fact, I submit that it is impossible to be anything other than BFFs after such an experience. We bond during these times, which creates a community of BFFs that may appear cliquish to the general public.
Really though, having a calling is great. It’s pretty much like when you did chores growing up, only your allowance is paid in warm fuzzies.
Fun and Less Than Fun Callings:
FUN: Currently, I’m serving as a Sunday School teacher. I am a 24-year-old female. If that seems weird to you, it’s cool cause it seems weird to me too. I am not naturally inclined to speak in front of large groups about Jesus. But it’s been a great opportunity for me to study the Gospel, strengthen my beliefs, and share them with others.
LESS THAN FUN: In college I was in charge of preparing a monthly Sunday meal for our whole congregation. I had $100 a month to feed 100 people. I remember one meal in particular. Let me paint the scene for you…
The year is 2010. The temperature is freezing. I am a student at BYU, which means my church meetings are held on campus in the Science building. I have decided that a good meal this Sunday would be some nice, cozy soup. So I head to the local grocer and get as many packages of frozen soup that one hundred dollars can buy.
I call everyone I know and cobble together an assorted dozen of Crock Pots.* Some of them, the College Edition I suppose, held no more than a few handfuls.
On the designated meal day my committee and I found a spare classroom, plugged in our Crocks, and settled in to wait while the frozen soup blocks thawed.
To our dismay, shortly before mealtime we discovered that not all of the plugs in the room were fully functional. Imagine three girls in high heels hauling Crock Pots around the linoleum halls of your college, frantically searching for working power outlets. It was rough, man.
Long story short, by some miracle the soup was liquid and the people were fed. We even had some left over! So much that we decided to bring it to a person who was sick. On the drive to her house, I had stationed the Crock Pot on the car floor between my ankles. My friend who was driving hit a pothole, and we both yelled “NOOO!!!!” as Clam Chowder sloshed all over my tights-covered-ankles and onto the floor of her car. We laugh/cried all the way to the invalid’s house and knocked on her doorstep, hands full of Crock Pot, ankles soaked in Chowder. Just happy to be there.
If I had any doubts as to the possibility of the feeding of the 5,000, this experience did away with them completely. It also sealed forever in my heart my dear meal-making committee. Laura? Sarah? Britt? Where you at, ladies??
Enough with the frozen soup. How do you get a calling?
Callings come from the Priesthood leadership in each individual congregation. Together, they assess the needs of the congregation, counsel and pray together about who they think could be good for a certain calling, and extend the call to the individual.
When you’re asked to take on a calling, you choose whether to accept it or not. If you say yes, you are given a Priesthood blessing to have spiritual guidance to help you fulfill the calling to the best of your ability. If you say no, we duct tape you to the wall and launch water balloons at you.
Jokes! If you feel unable to fulfill a certain calling, your leaders work to find one that suits you better.
The process of assigning callings goes back to the fact that we believe in modern revelation, which is a much bigger topic and deserves its own post. But as it applies here, we believe that callings are inspired. We believe God knows us and knows where our efforts will be best put to use.
I don’t mean that Angels come trumpeting a name into the Bishop’s ear. But through thoughts, feelings, or spiritual promptings, the Priesthood leadership are guided to know who should be put in which calling. I can attest to the fact that certain callings I’ve held in the church have absolutely been what I needed in order to learn and progress at that time in my life.
I guess the bottom line is, we are a church that believes in work. It’s not a just-on-Sunday thing, it’s a lifestyle. And part of your commitment within that lifestyle is to pitch in and do whatever is needed to FOOBU.
Props to whoever turbo-photoshopped this pic.
I’m grateful for the chances I’ve had to experience lots of different callings. Surely none have required me to return the ring to Mordor or kill a bunch of people in order to rediscover my forgotten identity. But they have taught me how to work, how to contribute to something bigger than myself, and most importantly, how to laugh/cry over spilt soup.
If you want to read a much more inspiring explanation of callings, read this talk, given in a Priesthood meeting by one of the leaders of the Mormon church, Elder Uchtdorf. He’s German, not elvish. He is also amazing.