In most small Mormon wards, active members are saddled with more than one calling. In some cases, these service assignments have curious juxtapositions both in skill set and timing.
My recent request from the bishop to teach gospel doctrine the second hour of church and retain my nursery calling the third hour raised more than a few eyebrows across the congregation. "Of course I can do it," has been my standard reply.
The north and south poles may be polar opposites, but they both have snow.
After two weeks, I've learned my two vastly different callings have a lot of similarities.
In nursery, we have children who have not spoken a word since the day they arrived. In gospel doctrine, many have the same mute tendencies. Likewise, certain vibrant, confident 3-year-olds tend to dominate conversation, activities and the attention of the teachers — traits some gospel doctrine students never outgrew.
My challenge in both classrooms will be the same — to encourage manners, patience and sharing (toys in nursery, time in gospel doctrine) and provide enough inspiring conversation that even the most quiet will want to actively participate. Bright eyes of interest don't dim with age and are a weekly reward for service in both places. I guarantee the thrill of seeing a shy 2-year sing after nine months of silence is the same as hearing back-row Joe share a faith-promoting experience.
In gospel doctrine last Sunday, I found myself using the same techniques of positive reinforcement to encourage a change in behavior. When I want the toddlers to fold their arms for prayer, I don't bark out commands, I simply compliment the one who is folding his arms and the others quickly learn to mimic. So when Sister Hughes walked from the back of the room to a closer seat up front, I stopped to compliment her and hope the rest gather forward in our classroom without nagging.
In nursery, snack time is our salvation. A few graham crackers are a surefire way to elevate blood sugar levels back to normal range and simultaneously ignite smiles and attention. So imagine the upturns on the serious faces of gospel doctrine regulars when I brought small bags of popcorn to munch while we watched a short movie on Zion's Camp.
I prefaced the snack with a thorough analysis of the symbolism of salt found in Doctrine and Covenants 103:9-10. "For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men. And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men."
Unsalted popcorn really is good for nothing, but add a little salt and a drop of butter and you have a treat that catches the minds and hearts of Sunday School attendees (at least those not on low-sodium diets).
We talked about the properties of salt: Sodium is so unstable that it bursts into flames when placed in water; it will bubble furiously like it's constantly upset. Chloride is greenish, highly toxic, but combine it with sodium and the two substances create life-sustaining salt.
Members of Zion's Camp all had their weaknesses, but when passionate tendencies combined with mighty miracles, the anger in some transformed into faithful devotion and they were sanctified, becoming leaders and saviors of men.
We talked about how salt can lose its savor, but not from harsh conditions or difficult situations. It isn't the pressure or the temperature that finally ruins salt, it's the influence of outside contaminants. The same can be said for the faith of a Mormon. We should all expect our devotion to be challenged by life's circumstances, but faith will be sustained by repelling the contaminating influences of pride and sin.
Did I mention that object lessons work for all my students — 18 months to 88-plus?
So, I'll encourage members of both classes to go to the bathroom before class begins.
I'll bring snacks on occasion and object lessons every chance I get. And I'll join the ranks of genealogy librarian/Cub Scout den leaders, facility manager/Young Men counselors, stake music chairperson/compassionate service leaders and anyone else with dual callings that can seem curious. And by the way, to all nursery workers out there: My Primary president and I are working through the idea of first- and second-hour "teams" to cover nursery. We'll take any suggestions on how to handle the transitions and look forward to seeing rejuvenating dedication in our volunteers who can spend an hour with the children and an hour learning with the adults
Stacie Duce serves in the nursery each Sunday in Hamilton, Mont., and is a magazine editor and columnist.
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