Friday, November 16, 2012

Gail's Top Secret but Patented Plan to Avoid BishopDOOM

[Recently two wards in our building have gotten new bishops. Some people aspire to various callings in this church—like my not-so-secret desire for an adult teaching calling—but no man in his right mind wants to be bishop, and no woman in her right mind wants to be the bishop’s wife. Way too much work and responsibility, and way too few perks. I revised my own emergency trapdoor escape plans, but then decided I was being selfish by not sharing. So, for the first time, I am publishing my previously “Top Secret but Patented Plan to Avoid Bishophood. Bishopdom? Bishopdoom.”

A Fate Worse than Falsehood

Eight years ago, when I was pregnant with Daniel, I showed up at a Raleigh 4th ward party with Eric. Bishop Garrison greeted me and then asked, “Where’s Jon?”

 “Jon’s on a business trip in Germany,” I explained.

“Does he travel frequently?” the bishop asked.

Alarm sirens went off in my head.

On the one hand, I was speaking to my priesthood leader. And I believe in being honest.

On the other hand, I could see where this was going.

“Well,” I hedged. “He doesn’t travel all that often. But when he does, he’s gone for weeks at a time.” Desperately, I plowed on, “And he’s really busy at work.” I did not add, but thought, loudly, “Besides, Bishop, you know perfectly well I’ve just been diagnosed with a major health issue which will take a long time to get under control.”

He looked unmoved.

I sighed, then took the bait. “Why do you ask?”

“We’re looking for a new ward clerk,” the bishop explained, and I cringed.

My father has been ward clerk several times. I have fond memories of him coming home and complaining about “those idiots in Salt Lake”—not the General Authorities, but the programmers who were writing the appallingly bad first generations of financial software for the clunky computers our archly-conservative church had finally adopted. (The reason Dad kept getting called as ward clerk was that, frequently, he was the only man in the ward not terrified of the machines.)

Jon had also been ward clerk when we were dating, back in the Gainesville 4
th Single’s Ward.
I had a rough idea of what the job entailed, and I was Not Happy.

“Ewwww.” I made a face.

“We’re looking for a honest person we can really trust,” Bishop Garrison continued, relentlessly
That brought me up short. Jon isn’t just honest, he is exceptionally so. He has many sterling qualities I admire, but that’s one of his best. “Jon is very honest,” I admitted, recognizing that I had just sealed his—and my—doom.

Then I cursed my own instinct for integrity. Just because
he was a Saint didn’t mean that I had to be. Surely this was a crisis worthy of a little white lie. “But he has, um, unrighteous dominion issues,” I added, quickly.

The Bishop looked at me levelly. “Sister Berry,” he said, “Anybody who knows Jon would never believe that. And anybody who knows you would never believe you’d put up with it.” Drat. He was right. I should have picked something more credible.

“He flirts with other women!” I claimed.

Bishop Garrison looked very skeptical. “Well, then, he needs to come talk to me about that,” he said. “And while he’s in my office, we can discuss his calling as ward clerk.”


“Jon has just gone back to school,” I mentioned.

“As long as he roots for State, and not Carolina,” the uncompromising clergyman shrugged. 

Desperately, I asked “What would it take to get him out of this?”

The Bishop smiled. “Unless you bring me a certified letter from a state officer indicating that he is currently in violation of his parole and ought, this moment, to be in prison, you’re stuck.”

“Prison?” I asked, “Or jail?” Perhaps I could fake some documentation saying that he’d been driving around without a license and had been sentenced to a month in the county lock-up…? 

“Prison,” the Bishop stated firmly, and then walked off.


The Interview

Well, Jon came back from Europe. A week or so later we were Summoned to the stake offices for The Obligatory Interview. I took Eric and hoped he’d throw a meltdown. (He didn’t. Back then he was an eerily well-behaved toddler. He has never had good timing, alas.)

I think it was President Despain who talked to us. He started going over a job description with Jon. I interrupted desperately. “Would this be a good time to mention Jon’s word of wisdom problem?” I asked.

“Yes it would,” he answered gravely, then pivoted immediately back to Jon. “So, Brother Berry, in addition to financial duties, you would also be expected to maintain membership records…”
I blinked in shock. I had expected at least SOME kind of reaction. It was as if the man had been warned about me.

Eventually we came to the part where he looked at me and asked, “Sister Berry, will you sustain your husband in this calling?”

There was a long pause, then an even longer-suffering sigh. “Yes,” I finally said.

See? In the actual moment, I did the right thing. Aren’t you proud of me?

Later, I emailed Bishop Garrison. “I’ll do it,” I announced, “But I’m going to
murmer about it!”

Jon inherited a mess, and he also discovered that a family ward is much more complicated than a single’s unit. Plus, this time, he was required to attend bishopbric meeting. As with most new endeavors, there was a steep learning curve and a high start-up investment of time.


Potent Panic about Potential Plans

This unfortunate experience made me consider. “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” Obviously the problem had been my lack of foresight. “What if someday they try to call Jon as a bishop?” I thought in horror. “I need a Plan!”

Back when I was eight and nine, I was a fairly good actress. I was also slightly sociopathic. Around age ten I actually started to develop a conscience, after which I experimented with indirect dishonesty. Circumlocutions. Misdirections. Smile guiltily over something you didn’t actually do to throw people off the scent of what you really did. Hint, but don’t promise. “It was everywhere implied but nowhere stated.” Change the subject. Dodge. Evade.

Yes, I just posted an essay about how it drives me nuts when politicians do that. You’ll be happy to know that I developed even more of a conscience as I grew up, and by the time I was in high school, I was boringly honest. I would decline to answer questions, or change the subject, but not deliberately try to deceive anyone. Well, I still played mind games with people for fun on occasion, but I let them know I was kidding. Mostly. (Remind me to talk about how I torture missionaries for fun. Next post.) Even when I tried to slander my sainted husband to Bishop Garrison, I couldn’t suppress a twinkle in my eye.

I mulled over the possibilities. What if I practiced saying Jon was an alcoholic until I could do it with a straight face? No, I’d never pull it off. I couldn’t bring myself to slander poor Jon for real. Let alone lie to priesthood authority. Let alone keep a straight face about it.

Besides, if they did believe me, poor Jon would be in danger of losing his temple recommend. And then when they figured out that I had been lying, I would lose mine.

I needed another option.

I had a long time to think it over.

Jon remained ward clerk for the next five years, through three bishops, a ward reorganization, and a move to a new building.

He had a short break when we moved to Leander, and then got called again. Over a period of about a dozen years, Jon ended up serving as ward clerk for nine of them.


The Interview, II

This time I didn’t fight the process, I just appalled everybody by being blunt. When Brother Perry called in 2009 and asked to schedule an appointment for us to meet with a member of the stake presidency, I said, “Hold on a moment,” and then, not even bothering to cover the phone, hollered, “Jon! Are you free tomorrow evening? I think it’s going to be ward clerk again.” I’m not sure, but I think I heard a muffled snort on the other end of the line.

When we met President Oldroid, I closed my eyes and said, “Let me guess—ward clerk.”

He looked appalled. 

“What?” I asked. “As soon as you make it official, I promise to shut up and not mention it until after it’s announced in Sacrament Meeting. But in the absence of revelation, we’re allowed to use some imagination. I just like to predict these things.”

“Well, first I need to interview your husband, and determine his worthiness, and then we can discuss what brings you all here,” President Oldroid told me sternly.

“Oh, he’ll pass,” I assured him. (Jon did, of course. But then Jon is, as we have already ascertained, Very Honest. Also, obviously, long-suffering. Hopefully my entertainment value makes up for everything I put him through.)

The Brilliant Plan
Part I of my brilliant plan is just to be who I am. Irreverent towards anything not actually sacred. Polite, but opinionated. That doesn’t even trouble my conscience, since it is honest. (Do you suppose these charming personality traits are the reason I still don’t have that adult teaching calling?)
If the Stake ever calls us in and indicates they are considering Jon for the position of Bishop, I will, however, take it to the next level.
“Oooooo, the Bishop!” I will squeal, clapping my hands delightedly and doing my best to mimic a “Valley Girl/airhead” accent. “Oh, sweetie, you would do such a good job! You could call Eric as the Deacon’s Quorum President. That will look perfect on his BYU application. And you totally need to release Jane as Relief Society President, I can’t stand her. One time she told me I should be more tactful. Me! And, I mean, that was sooo hippocratical of her. Plus, like, everyone in the ward already knew Sister Klatsch was a welfare case. So, yeah, totally. She should go. And can I be in Young Women's? I have this great idea for an activity where we have a girly slumber party and stay up all night watching the Twilight movies....Oh my gosh, all my friends are going to be sooo jealous! I am like, literally, dying to post this on facebook!!!”

I think it would work.

Now, if every woman tried it, the efficacy would diminish.
That’s okay, because most LDS women couldn’t pull it off. Most of them would be too honest even to attempt it.
I don’t need to renounce all my scruples; I just need to have fewer than any of the other candidates’ wives.

Jon is safe! (You’
re welcome, sweetie. But, really, I’m doing it for all of us.)


Carolyn said...

Add in "I can't wait to find out all the dirt on so-and-so's lives! Confidentiality doesn't apply to your wife, right? Spousal immunity?"

Cheryl said...

I think my current habit of telling the bishop he's a fool and telling the stake presidency that I don't like them may help keep my husband safe, although that was not my motivation.

Anonymous said...

At one point in Sarasota your father was simultaneously ward clerk and stake clerk.

Has Jon ever needed to drive 120 miles round trip to meet with the other stake officials?

When you were two years old, your father was released as ward clerk and called to the high council. The stake covered a huge territory in central Indiana, which Dad traversed on Sundays. I couldn't help noticing that his trips to the far reaches of the stake took more time than driving to bishopric meeting, about a mile from home.

Then, when you were four, Dad was called as stake executive secretary, and I was stake name extraction director. During stake conference weekends, counting from Thursday night presidency meetings, we averaged 13 round trips from our home in Brownsburg to the stake center in Fishers, at 53 miles/trip. That's the reason we bought a home in Fishers after returning from Sarasota.

I laughed myself silly at your comic reactions to Jon's actual and hypothetical callings. You have captured a slice of Mormon culture with a twinkle in your eye.


Krenn said...

Wait, and not four hours ago, you were accusing ME of hypocrisy and failure to respect due authority?

Gail said...


I don't think I realized that Dad was also the Stake Clerk.

No, Jon never had to drive 120 round trip miles, but he did hold down several years as ward clerk, to four different bishops, while also having young kids and trying to finish a master's degree.

I almost included "A Day in the Life of the Average Ward Clerk" as part of my post, but Carolyn said it sounded too whiny, so I cut it.

After reading your descriptions, I'm glad I cut it!

I remember some of the Executive Secretary/Name Extraction years. I used to go with you sometimes and play under the microfiche tables. I have one fond memory of going with Dad and getting parked on a couch in the stake offices. I left to get a drink of water and got locked out--without my book! I think I was a young six-year-old.

On the other hand, my primary teacher was in awe that I knew President Chamberlain personally. "You just walked up on the stand," she said breathlessly, the next week, "And shook his hand..."

Anonymous said...

Dad has just clarified my memory. In Sarasota he was financial clerk, not ward clerk. But he did serve simultaneously as financial clerk to both the Sarasota and Gulf Gate Wards and as stake financial clerk. This was just after the ward split, and apparently no one else was ready to handle the books.

Gail said...

Wait...he held three different financial clerk callings in three different "jurisdictions" concurrently? That's NUTS. Further proof that the Sarasota ward wasn't ready to split just then.

Anonymous said...

My conclusion was that the church leaders knew they could trust your father to manage the Lord's money.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well I only check Facebook every year or so and just now saw your comments. I hope you guys are doing well and miss our interactions.

The great thing about being a bishop and issuing a call is in the sure knowledge that it is the right thing to do. If Jeff Garrison were making the decision - I would have been terrified. But as always it was not me but our Heavenly Father. All I had to do was listen to Him and act on those instructions.

The other great thing is in knowing that, not only would Jon do a great job, but that he too would listen and follow the promptings he received.

I always considered it a choice blessing to serve with the Berry family. Never have so many concerns been expressed that simply meant - I will do and do all I can to server the Lord!!