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My dad, III. The clergyman and the church employee

Published: Tuesday 18 Aug 2020 | Edited: Saturday 12 Sep 2020

So this one is easy. Timeline time:

1963 - 1978

My dad is born in '63. I imagine he went through the church's full treatment for kids: the Primary.

The Primary is an organized program of religious instruction and activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for children from eighteen months of age until their twelfth birthdays.

During this time, the church was still officially excluding black members of the church from priesthood callings and participation in Mormon temples.

1978 - 1982

As a teenager, he attended church, I think, but it wasn't a particularly important part of his life, from what he told me.

When he was 18, his local bishop asked him to devote more time and money to the church and to take his membership more seriously. He paid a few years of back-tithing and started preparing for a mission.

1982 - 1983

Served as a missionary in the Tempe Arizona mission. He served inside of a brief window where the church was trialing 18-month missions for men, in contrast to the decades before and after where they served two full years. Lucky duck.

His stories about his time as a missionary became more and more elaborate and fantastical as the years went on. My mom said that once I left to serve a mission of my own, my dad starting telling stories that conflicted with things he told her about it when they were first dating and married. Even though the details were a little questionable, it was clear that his experiences in Arizona were a major touchstone of his life. He became fully invested in the church, and fulfilled the mission as a rite of passage.

1983 - 1985

Attended the church-owned Ricks College, the predecessor to Brigham Young University - Idaho. He met my mom here while they were working on their Associate's degrees, and got married.

1985 - 1989

Earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree at Utah State University in Logan. This four-year period was a brief oasis of secular education in a long stretch of experiences in church-owned and -operated environments. And still, he was in Utah, so not a real break.

He spoke fondly of an ex-Mormon professor of his who drank coffee, smoked cigars, and talked a lot of shit on Mormonism. He seemed to appreciate the authenticity of the "outside world" in contrast to the bubble of Mormonism that he inhabited for virtually his whole life.

1989 - 2001

Admissions officer at Ricks College / BYU - Idaho. Even though my dad got his Master's in hospital administration and planned on moving to Florida after graduation, he settled on staying close to family and taking a low-level position in the admissions office at the small college. In this interval, he enjoyed several in-office promotions.

Probably the most impactful aspect of this time was his relationship with David Bednar. Bednar was the university president while my dad worked in admissions. Bednar guided the university through its transition from a two-year college to a four-year university with many accredited programs, from June 2000 to August 2001.

My dad loved David Bednar. On a few occasions, Bednar asked my dad about his opinion on university management. My dad felt loved and validated by him, I think. My dad introduced me to Bednar when I was about 9-years-old.

2002

This year was a turning point in my dad's relationship to the church, both as a member and as an employee, I think. He was called to be the bishop of a university student congregation. Without going on too much of a tangent, there's an important distinction that needs to be made:

My dad spent his whole life as a member of the church, and a little more than half his life as an employee of it. The church is a church, obviously, but it also runs businesses and schools. Whether the businesses and schools are still the church is a grey area. They work kinda like normal, where they post job openings and filter through applicants. For most of the positions, though, they're somehow able to legally discriminate against non-members. Most church employees who work for the universities are required to maintain their status as temple recommend holders.

That concept is like a whole 'nother thing. But it basically means that they have to be top-tier Mormons: paying their tithing and obeying the big commandments, like no drugs, no shit talk against the church's leadership, and no sex that isn't husband-wife sex.

Since maintaining this standard of living is a job condition, church employees can be fired if they lose their status as "temple worthy."

In 2002, my dad was called to be a bishop for the first time in his life. Since 1989, when he started working for Ricks, he had to be temple worthy, but becoming a bishop meant he was now a high priest. Becoming a high priest is one of the really big levels up for Mormon men. It brings them into a smaller circle of trust and comes with a lot of responsibilities for their congregations.

It also meant that instead of interfacing with students as a paid admissions officer, he was primarily interacting with a subset of about 150 students at the university in this more personal, spiritual capacity as their bishop.

2004

David Bednar is called away from the university this year, and becomes an apostle. I'm sure it goes without saying, but this was huge for my dad. He was friends with an apostle. He stayed in contact with Bednar over the years, and would visit him from time to time at his office in Salt Lake. Bednar personally made the mission calls for me and my brother, and had a regular email correspondence with my dad; from what I heard, they talked once or twice a year.

2004 - 2013ish

My dad continued as a campus ward bishop for about 5 years. He came back to his home ward in Sugar City for a few months, then was called back to campus, this time in a stake presidency. I think he missed the more personal contact he had as a bishop versus the more bureaucratic relationship he had with church leadership in a stake presidency.

Professionally, he progressed from admissions officer to the dean of admissions to the dean of students, in this period. Increasingly, his connection to the students was really the focus and joy of his work, professionally and religiously.

His position as the dean of students was particularly impactful; for him, and for many of the students he worked with. He was like a liaison between the school and the students. When students were having issues with professors, he would arbitrate a lot of conflict. He seemed to err on the side of helping students. Because BYU-I is a punitive school, students caught violating the "honor code" were not only expelled, but expelled in an atmosphere of religious disgrace after a tribunal involving both school administrators and student officers - their peers. My dad sat on some of those tribunals and seemed to have a very conflicted relationship with the whole process.

Because he was a harsh judge himself, in a lot of ways, sometimes he strongly agreed with the outcomes of these councils. Other times, he seemed to have a lot of contempt for the process, and wished the school would cut students more slack. He personally stayed in touch with some students who were expelled and assisted them in getting back into their programs.

Another key element of his position as dean of students was as a point of contact for local law enforcement. When students wound up in jail for whatever reason, my dad was the first to know. There seemed to be a pretty collaborative relationship between the school and Rexburg law enforcement.

Perhaps the heaviest aspect of the job was follow-up with families whenever there was a student death. He wasn't in charge of notifying next of kin - that was a law enforcement responsibility - but he communicated a lot with families who lost children while they were attending school. There were a lot of suicides. Every year there would be multiple car accidents involving students, and every year kids died.

2013ish to 2018

My dad was called to be a bishop again. This time, he was called to his home congregations, not a campus ward. In the campus ward, all his congregants were between 18 and 30, most of them in an even smaller age range, like 19 to 23. They were all single, and all were BYU-I students. The home ward was a "normal" ward: children, couples, elderly. My dad didn't seem to enjoy his time as a home ward bishop nearly as much as a campus bishop over young single adults. Which makes a lot of sense, in a lot of ways.

Even when his young single students were having issues, I think there was more optimism that they could overcome them with his help. I think he enjoyed working with the youth in the home ward for a lot the same reason, but he ended up dealing with adults that had more intractable problems. On top of that, he had spent two decades in that ward as a congregant. My dad was a harsh judge of character, so he'd been building hostilities against many members of the ward. Those things didn't go away when he became the bishop. If anything, he doubled down on his judgement against the people he considered disappointing.

As a bishop, people came to him as a resource for dealing with marital problems. Ironically, this period was one in which his own marriage was really in tatters. He was over his relationship to my mom, and even gathered us together as a family to say that he had hired a lawyer and would be carrying out a divorce from my mom within the next year. He changed his mind about it after experiencing some of my siblings' reactions to the announcement.

Late 2018

My dad's 16-year reign as a presiding authority in the church is broken as he's released from service as a bishop. I think being the home bishop was a struggle for him, but turning over control of the ward to a new set of leaders that he considered incompetent was even harder.

He loved the adulation and authority that naturally come with public callings in the church. The whole "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" part of Christianity never jived with him. He really did love and serve people a lot. He gave a lot. But he was never fully satisfied just doing it. He constantly talked about all the things he was doing for other people. He defined himself by his altruism, and I think he believed his deeds absolved him in some way from his sins.

To his dying breath, he swore that the messiness of his life was only due to how fully he served and sacrificed for other people.