For the last several months I have been the editor of my ward’s monthly newsletter. This experience has been interesting in many ways and I wanted to share a few thoughts about it in this setting. First of all, I fully acknowledge that the existence of a ward newsletter is a luxury of being in a large, fairly active, geographically close ward. Although I have come to see many benefits from having a well-written ward newsletter, I still think it should be low on the list of priorities for any church unit. I live in Utah County and our ward boundaries are fairly small. This is one of the only wards I’ve lived in during my lifetime that has teachers come around to each home to collect fast offerings each month, and as part of their duties they distribute the newsletter to each household (I know that they also distribute it to everyone who lives in ward boundaries as well). If printing and distribution of the newsletter were more difficult I’m not sure it would be worth it, but from what I’ve seen thus far it is one of the tools we have available to us to foster better unity among our ward family and in our ward it seems to be working.
One of the issues my calling raises for me is related to the fact that our cultural ideals state that any member can be called to do anything, and even if they don’t have the skills, God will qualify those whom he calls. However, most of us can think of plenty of exceptions to this rule. Music callings are an obvious one; no matter how well-intentioned a calling may be, an untrained person cannot suddenly acquire the skills needed to play the music on Sunday after being called on Saturday. Some members have incredible social anxiety and would do a terrible job teaching a group; while a teaching calling could possibly be a chance for the Lord to help them grow through a challenge, it could just as easily be an exercise in humiliation for everyone involved. If my calling had been given to someone else who did not own a computer, who did not have internet access at home, or who had no experience in writing, editing, or document design, the outcome would be vastly different. I know that part of the reason why I enjoy my calling is the fact that it involves skills that I have developed for years and that I am comfortable using. We have a narrative in Mormon culture that privileges sacrifice and struggle over comfort, but for right now I am happy and more productive in a calling that is not a sacrifice or a struggle for me.
Related to issues of skill and experience when it comes to callings is the fact that there is a difference between using your skills in a calling at church and using them in a professional setting. In the past, I have been in the position of editor or instructor when it comes to writing. My job was to critique writing, improve it, change it, and help the writer learn how to communicate more effectively. However, my fellow ward members are not writers or composition students. I cannot reject the incoherent, error-ridden prose occasionally offered to me with a declaration that it is not worthy. Although the Church places fairly high literacy demands on its members in the amount of reading, writing and analysis required for both teaching and personal study, members have varying levels of education and experience with the written word. In my calling, I am learning how to deal charitably with the sincere offerings of others who have not had the training or experience in writing that I have. I know I have a kindred spirit in the classically-trained choir director who realizes that a ward choir is more about enthusiasm than it is about precision.
I hope that no one misunderstands that last paragraph; I do not fault my fellow members for the quality of their writing any more than I hope they would not fault my total ignorance if I were to try and join our ward volleyball team. My point is that for most people in this world, writing and editing are not a priority, but they still want to offer something to our written newsletter. Each month my job is to try to shape those offerings into a whole that somehow transcends their individual strengths and weaknesses. This community building process is also the point of the newsletter; next month our ward family can read about touching experiences at Girls Camp, a scholarship created in honor of a ward member who is a retired professor, a new baby born to ward members, notes from missionaries serving in other countries, the achievements of Primary children, and a recap of our most recent ward activity. Some contributions I had to edit a little more heavily than others (like realizing that most of the older members of my ward would be unable to understand a missionary’s assertion that “The MTC is so sick. Our lessons are really dope.”) I hope that most of my editing will go unnoticed; I try to balance keeping the authentic voice of each contributor with a need for clarity and concision. When I first accepted this calling admit to self-satisfied thoughts about how well I could do it and how much everyone would admire my work, but it has taught me that the best editing I do is invisible. This has been a valuable lesson to me as a writer and editor and I hope I can remember it in future callings that are perhaps less of a natural fit for me.
Have you ever had experiences when professional duties and Church duties overlap? Have you ever been called upon to use your creative talents or skills in a Church setting? Church activities often expect a fairly high level of reading and writing skills (and, these days, comfort with technology); how do we best deal with the fact that our wards contain members with widely varying skill levels?