Thursday, March 21, 2013

Confessions of a Mormon Bishop

by Russ Hill on March 19, 2013 

I pulled into my driveway at 12:30 AM this morning. 
I sat in the car in front of our dark house for a few minutes. Everyone inside was asleep. The whole neighbourhood was still and yet my mind was racing. So many questions. So many emotions. Sadness. Hope. Inadequacy. 

Welcome to the life of a Mormon bishop. 

Like pastors, priests, and clergy in other religions, those of us asked to serve as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints spend hours behind closed doors meeting with people who allow us into the darkest corners of their lives. 

They come to us for various reasons. Because of guilt. Because they have lost hope. Because they have been betrayed. Because they don’t know where else to go. Because they feel worthless. Because the person they are isn’t the person they want to be. Because they have questions. Because they have doubts. Because they believe in a forgiving God yet feel disconnected from Him. 

They come and sit in front of me. Some hesitate. Take a deep breath and grasp for courage to say out loud what they have been hiding inside for days, weeks, or years. 

Others almost run in. They spill before I sit. They’re anxious to clear their conscience or announce their doubts. Each one is different. 

For hours every week I sit, and listen. 

I did not ask for this opportunity. I never considered I might someday have an office in a church. I have no professional training for this position. I am not a scriptural scholar. I have not walked through vineyards with robe-wearing monks. And, if you’re wondering about vows of celibacy let me introduce you to my four kids. 

All I did was answer a phone call. Show up for a meeting. And nod when asked if I would serve.

I don’t sometimes wonder why me. I always wonder why me. 

And yet they come. Share their stories. And look to me for wisdom. I’m not sure any of them have learned from me. But, I have learned so much in the hours I’ve sat in that office listening to them. 

I have learned that we believe it is a strength to conceal weakness. 

I have learned that it is easy to want others to overlook our flaws as we expect perfection in them. 

I have learned that it is hardest to show compassion and grant forgiveness to those closest to us. 

I have learned that while curiosity is a strength it can also be a curse.
I have learned that we are creatures of habit.
I have learned that faith is a muscle.
I have learned that it is far easier to deny deity than to deny desire.
I have learned the mystery surrounding death forces a consideration of spiritual matters.

I have learned that observance of the Sabbath recalibrates perspective and improves judgment.

I have learned that most of us bare scars from the failure, disappointment, and fear in our lives. And, we prefer to wear long sleeves.

I have learned that to deal with life’s pain most of us choose one of the following: alcohol, drugs, pornography, or spirituality.

I have learned alcohol and drugs are the easiest path. As long as you’re willing to never stop drinking, smoking, or swallowing.

I have learned pornography is highly addictive and has nothing to do with sexual appetites and everything to do with escape. And that the habit is never overcome in isolation.

I have learned that we feel like a failure when we make mistakes even when we profess a belief that the purpose of this existence is to make and learn from them.

I have learned that forgiveness is the greatest gift we can offer someone. And ourselves.

I have learned that many know about Jesus Christ but more of us could make an effort to know Him.

I have learned that the strongest among us are those with the cleanest mirrors.

I have learned that the sins of parents profoundly affect children. And are often repeated by them.

I have learned that affection from parents profoundly affects children.

I have learned that most communication between parents and children is what psychologists call “superficial.” Strong relationships are built on the “validating” variety.

I have learned that children desperately desire parents who listen.

I have learned that churches are not museums or catwalks for perfected saints but rather labs for sinners.

I have learned that “tolerate” and “love” are two very different verbs despite what popular culture professes.

I have learned that there’s more sadness in this world than I had realized.
I have learned there is more goodness in this world than I had realized.
I have learned that to be happy is a choice.

I have learned those preoccupied with serving others have less time to count their problems.

I have learned that a habit of one brief moment of spirituality a day can alter one’s entire direction.

I have learned that we want God to grant us space to make decisions but step in to stop others, nature, mortality, or illness from hurting us or those we love.

I have learned those who have made more mistakes have a great gift. Empathy. Now to the matter of searching out someone who hungers for it.

Indeed, I have learned I have much to learn.

The names of those I meet with will never be known. Confidentiality demands I never disclose their stories.

But, late last night as I sat in my car on the driveway I decided I should compile a list of what the people I meet with are teaching me, and I wanted to share it.

Editor's note: 
While there is no formal training that automatically qualifies anyone to become a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the position (calling) does have an extensive list of requirements. 

Nobody becomes a bishop without first having served in many other positions of responsibility (doubling as further training for new positions), or without having first shown an ability and willingness to abide by a code of living, including a set standard of ethics and morality. 

  • For more details on this or other questions of the church, you may chat online with missionaries through this link:
  • To have missionaries come for a visit to answer more detailed questions on any of the above issues, follow this link:

While people asked to serve in church leadership positions must adhere to a code of living that might seem strict to some, it could be seen as liberating to others. Addressing issues such as faith, ethics and healthy living, this code of living really relieves the individual of many of the heavier burdens in life. This does not mean that a bishop or anyone else in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does not experience many of the same struggles, that so many others are faced with in today's world. Bishops often have good experience in how to deal with trials and difficulty of their own, using the wisdom of the many directions given in the scriptures and through living prophets.

While the above mentioned bishop claims to be no scriptural scholar, he would still have a good working knowledge of the scriptures knowns as the Standard Works, including both the Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Pearl of Great Price and the many directions available from living prophets addressing current issues. 

  • To get your own copy of the Holy Bible, follow this link:
  • To get your on copy of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, follow this link:

While callings in the church are not patterned like a typical career ladder, if does involve steps that allow plenty of opportunity for growth and learning. Many members of the church has seen, that experience learned in church callings often applies equally well in careers and employment opportunities. But, by the time someone is called to be a bishop, a lot of learning has already happened on many different levels and the person called to be a bishop is not only qualified but also ready to serve in such a position, although they often (in a more humble view of themselves), may not feel that they are quite ready for such a responsibility, yet.

Only after considerable amounts of thought and prayer is someone asked to serve as a bishop. While someone asked to serve as a bishop almost always is highly qualified, it is never an easy decision to make, it is never taken lightly, and only through considerable thought and prayer can someone serve and continue to serve as a bishop.

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