What Mormons Don’t Do: Asking to Be Released

I have always understood that there are some things you just don’t do in the LDS faith. One of which is going to your bishop and saying, “Hey, I need a different calling.” But that didn’t stop me from doing that very thing last September.

Now, I’ve heard the Mormon Urban Myths of people doing things like this. Oh, like one time I heard about a sister,we’ll call her Sister A, who went to talk to the bishop after Sister B had been called to be Relief Society president. Sister A told the bishop he made a mistake calling Sister B to be RS President and that she knew that she, Sister A, was supposed to be called as RS President. Crazy town, right?

But I’m not talking about that kind of extreme. I’m talking about your average LDS Ward Member that just can’t handle their calling. Or in my case, callings.

I’ll have to admit, it took a lot of courage for me to step into this unknown, inappropriate thing. But I took that courage based on a LOT of episodes of The Cultural Hall Show. (this one, that one, and then this blog).

Here’s how it went down for me. It all really started over the summer. We were selling our house, buying our house, and had to get the foundation fixed while in the middle of those two complicated transactions. We lived in a hotel for 28 days, lived out of boxes back in the house for 7, and then moved in with family for 14 days.

I should mention too that I moved within my same ward. Yes, my ward boundaries are pretty big in that we moved out of the city limits but we are still in the same ward.

After what seemed like forever, we closed on the house. We moved in. And the next day I started teaching seminary.

Oh, and I forgot to mention a few things. In the middle of the 28 days in the hotel, I found out I was pregnant with #2. My husband and I also both work full-time jobs, and have a toddler.

Additionally, I was serving as the Primary Secretary in my ward and my husband was a counselor in the bishopric.

Now, I had been doing all this stuff (minus the pregnancy and the newly move into the house) last Spring and teaching seminary. And I didn’t mind things too much.

But after a few weeks in the new house, still living out of boxes, I was stressed to the limit. I knew something needed to give. I remember crying before going to a doctor’s appointment, worried that I’d lose this pregnancy because I hadn’t taken a prenatal vitamin in weeks, hadn’t slept more than 6 hours in weeks, and hadn’t eaten anything but Mac ‘N Cheese and Ramen in weeks. Yeah, that was my clue that something needed to give.

For those out there that teach early morning seminary, my props to you. I agree wholeheartedly when Brother Sherinian described teaching early morning seminary as the best and hardest thing ever all at the same time. (Listen to his Cultural Hall episode here).

When I looked at my life and what could give- teaching seminary was the only thing that made sense. It was the simplest cut to make my life easier.

I wasn’t sure how to do it. I mean, my ward is pretty spread out and it’s difficult to get in to meet with the bishop. So I sent an email. Something fairly short that said how exhausted I was. That I needed more time for my family and to establish my new home.

I didn’t get a response right away… and I was extremely nervous. I eventually got a email saying that my husband could teach 2 days a week to ease things up a bit. This helped me get more sleep, but nothing really changed… for weeks. Our entire lives revolved around Church.

Eventually General Conference rolled around and I enjoyed the spiritual reprieve to just listen and not plan or teach or prepare…. well my husband had to run the projector at the Church for the Saturday sessions. And we fed the Elders in-between sessions. And my husband helped a family move in. But still this was a huge break (for me).

But one of the Sunday Afternoon talks made me mad. Elder Andersen shared in his talk a story about being released from his calling when his wife was called to be an early morning seminary teacher. I was so frustrated. We were putting our time as a family on the back-burner to overwork ourselves in Church and here was an Apostle sharing an example of how things should balance better.

I’m never one to sit on my hands. So, I sent a second email to both the bishop and the high councilman over seminary to share with them my frustration and to reference the talk.

This time things changed… a lot. Maybe too much. We were both released from our respective calling (minus primary secretary for me) and my husband was put in as seminary teacher. It’s been nice to find that life-balance again. To have weeknights home together and to have Saturdays to unpack boxes.

I will admit, I probably could have done this better, more diplomatically than prattling off a few angry emails. But I am glad I did one of those things Mormons don’t do.

Here’s how I would do it better:

  • Before accepting a new calling, take a moment to evaluate my life and my time and be sure I can actually handle the responsibility of the calling.
  • Also before accepting a new calling, make sure there are plans to release me from my old calling (I’ve been told for almost a year now that I’m going to be released from Primary Secretary. It’s difficult to really get into serving when I’m waiting to be released!)
  • If my situation changes while in a calling, I won’t wait around for the bishop to “clue in”. I wouldn’t even wait for an appointment. I’d just go up and tell him at church, even if it’s 5 minutes before sacrament meeting starts.
  • Never, ever, ever put my family on the back-burner. When all this happened, my daughter wanted to potty train. We didn’t go there because I was too busy. When we finally potty trained her 3 weeks ago from writing this blog, it was a lot harder because she didn’t understand why my attitude changed.

After all this happened, I found a few articles online about how to politely go about asking to be released. And of course, I can’t find any of them now to link up.

I think now my biggest fear now is that I have a scarlet letter of sorts that will prevent me from being asked to serve in more demanding church callings in the future. Because life changes. Already we’ve become pretty settled in our home to where we could handle more.

There’s no way to know how it will all play out. For now I keep reminding myself that my relationship responsibilities are first to my Heavenly Father, and my family, and then to the demands of Church service. If I never get asked to serve again, I still have those first two things to worry about. The rest is out of my hands.



No Comments

  • Jessica says:

    As the First Presidency has said we should only have one calling, you shouldn’t have had to ask to be released. Seminary and a Secretary position are extremely demanding. Obviously, I didn’t read your second email, but I hope that Elder Andersen’s talk called the bishopric to repentance. I think sometimes, humans serving in big callings just screw up-forget to release people, forget how much they are asking of people because they simply have something more urgent in front of their face. My feeling is, they feel guilty and they are not blaming you for any of it. I think you did the right thing.

  • kyle says:

    I think this post is a great example of just how over-worked members can get in our faith. I also think your bullet points on what you could have done differently are spot on, but I also think this post speaks to another thing that “mormons aren’t supposed to do” and that is…it’s OK to say NO to callings.

    I’ve said no to several callings, all because when I was asked I did your first bullet point. After serving in a bishopric I can safely say that not all callings are from God. Most of time time, bishoprics are just trying to fix holes, and sometimes your name gets picked, and sometimes it doesn’t. But really, folks, it’s Ok to say NO to callings.

  • Alison says:

    I think about this a lot. I live in the bible belt where our boundaries are large and we generally have at least 2 callings. I agree with your bullet points, but i feel that the one calling thing, as ideal as it is…would not work everywhere because there are just so many assignments and too few people who WILL accept callings.

  • Andy says:

    What a great article. I agree with everything you have put in here. I think Chow and Kyle both give great advice. It is okay to say NO. I have had to turn down callings before and I gave the Stake Presidency the reasons why. They called me to be an early morning seminary teacher and I couldn’t do it because I travel for work. Their answer was to get a substitute or combine with the other class. I felt it wasn’t fair to the youth to get passed around so I said no. In a perfect world I would have been able to do it but I couldn’t at this time in my life. I am so grateful that I felt the promptings of the spirit to say no, not only for me but for the youth. From someone who served as a Bishop, it is okay to say no.

  • Jimmy Jon says:

    If you are completely unable to perform your calling, move aside, I say. For the 18 mo our son was undergoing cancer treatment, and for a year after he passed away, we didn’t have callings. I was upset because I loved my Sunday School Class (13-14 yo) but I just couldn’t do the constant running to Primary’s, keeping our son away from bacteria/viruses, and running a household with three other kids, one of them a newborn.

    That said, I think the fear is that if too many people ask to be released, the ward will fall into an 80/20 or STP Ward (Same Ten People) situation. The bishop has it really tough to walk the fine line of showing compassion to people who were in a situation like mine, and kicking lazy people in the butt. My current ward is the opposite of the stereotype. My wife is the Primary secretary and she’s always complaining about everyone asking to be released and others saying no. We’re constantly down three or four Primary teachers and with the church policy of two teachers in each classroom, this makes for a nightmare for the presidency. Add into the mix the percentage of people who just take off on vacation each weekend without notifying anyone and it’s a constant scramble for help. BTW, this is in South Jordan, aka Mormonland.

  • andrew says:

    Chow. You are my hero. I am currently in my 3rd year of law school, was blessed with our first child in October and am teaching early morning seminary. That being said, when they asked me to do it halfway through my second year of law school in the midst of an extremely difficult set of classes, I did say no. But I also offered to reconsider for the next year if they were unable to find a teacher (they didn’t). After lots of prayer and consideration with my wife I accepted. I’m not going to say its been the best, but I do love it and the experience it has given me.