It helps to have honest professional people helping you with any project.
Just about five years ago I was called as an LDS Branch President to serve in a Hispanic Branch. I enjoy being in charge, having keys to the buildings, making the final decisions and being a leader has it’s perks in some sense of the word although I had no idea what I was in for five years ago. I love the people and appreciate them. They are part of my family and you build a very close connection to people when you work with them constantly and for such a long period of time. Working with those with mental illness has been a challenge, trying to help people that are not willing to do their part is difficult. Telling some people that you cannot help with certain things is extremely difficult. In certain circumstance telling people you can help is very rewarding.
Having them understand that I am representing the Lord is difficult and at times overwhelming. We set up many different seminars including having a dentist come in 3 different times, medical people to help with health education, we had financial classes several times, several group therapy sessions as well as marriage therapy classes. We had emergency preparedness seminars with city leaders that came in to help. We had the County health department come with like 20 support staff once. We have had seminars on overcoming addiction as well as many other wonderful activities. My office is full of my books and things I am accumulated over the last 5 years. My head is also full of memories, ideas and experiences.
My Wife has been very supportive of my calling, now that it is coming to an end I have plans to join a gym with her and begin to get ready for a 3 day pioneer reenactment trek where we will pull hand carts. I also have plans to get back to reading more. I used to exercise much more than I currently am. I weight 215 lbs when the doctor tells me I should weigh 170 so I have put things on the back burner for this calling because there is just not time to do everything. I currently teach CERT for the City once a week on Thursdays and that adds to the schedule issues. I know it is hard on families to have someone in the family in such a calling. I do want to make it clear that I am gratefull for the experience of serving. Long ago when I was young many Bishops would serve for over 20 years at great sacrifice.
LDS Mormon Branch Presidents perform similar functions as Bishops from a ward but normally for smaller units called branches. We have 354 people in our branch and often we will have an attendance of over 160 and occasionally over 200. Bishops are ordained ministers and are Bishops for life but a Branch President is set apart for a specific time and then released. Bishops also get released and when they are not serving as a Bishop they cannot perform weddings or other duties of a Bishop. Bishops and Branch Presidents are also the President’s of the Priest Quorum in the unit and Presiding High Priest in the unit (Branch or Ward)
Sharing some of my experiences will help me as I reflect on the past 5 years. For some readers that may be very boring although it could enlighten some people that are not familiar with these positions. Many member of the Church have had family members killed or die in accidents or of illness. Many of these deaths occurred outside the country and most of the people could not attend the services because of circumstances including lack of funds or paperwork. I have learned to listen and often I want to solve someones problems but it is much better if I can strive to help them solve their own issues. One sister came in and her son has been killed and dropped off on the curb and there is no way I could begin to understand her pain and suffering. When there is a death in the family the church offers the building free of charge for the funeral services as long as specific guidelines are met. (No alcoholic beverages and specific music etc…)
I intend to share some personal observations although I need to be very careful not to share any of the private information that I have experienced. The calling has been incredible although it does take up a great amount of time. Nearly all day each sunday and often meetings at night as well as 1-2 days during the week after work and Baptisms on other days that also take up time taking leaders away from family and work at times. To say that this calling is not time consuming or stressful would be misleading so there is often a great sacrifice to family, work and friends. We as leaders are urged to put family first although at times that is just not possible. Other meetings are also added such as Stake Bishops trainings other committee meetings. In a hispanic branch and other units there are also many meetings and parties where food is involved, dancing is a big part of the culture and this involves planning, time and cleanup. Visiting the homes of members and non members is also a time commitment.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a lay ministry where local leaders are called to serve for periods of approximately 3-5 years and sometimes longer. These are not paid positions and not really voluntary either in the sense of the word volunteer because people don’t get to decide if or when they want to be a church leader. This is decided by revelation and inspiration. There are factors that help determine who to call that include a worthiness interview, record of paying tithing and offerings, church activity etc…. Bishops and Branch Presidents are not perfect although they should be good examples. They are also required to be married.
The Church is divided into geographical areas and our area of about 10,000 population (This can vary depending on the area) is what is called a Stake which normally has 6 or 7 Wards often with one of those units being a branch or two. Some wards have up to 600 people or more on the books other wards have around 300-400. Most wards have about 30% attendance with specific areas having much higher attendance where the members are more active like Bountiful Utah. Our hispanic unit encompases the entire stake boundry. A Stake Presidency is made up of a Stake President that is the Presiding officer or Priesthood leader in the area, he is the President of the High Priest Quorum in the Stake and he presides over all the Wards and Branches, he has two counselors as well as other support people such as secretaries and 12 high counselors that assist in much of the work.
A Branch President also has 2 counselors and a support team of clerks, secretaries and other branch leaders. The Mormon Church is very organized and normally works in a very organized way in most units. In some remote areas of the world the branches will operate a bit differently although here in the City our branch operates almost exactly like a ward. In the past 5 years I have performed 23 weddings and 6 funerals. I have met each week with members of the branch for the past 260 weeks. In a typical week I will meet with 6-8 people in interviews. My wife and I have only taken one vacation in that time period and that was just the weekend. Branch Presidents, Bishops and Stake Presidents are common judges in Israel meaning they handle any issues having to do with worthiness and church discipline. There is a process depending on the issues that also includes the high counselors in very serious cases. The Bishops, Branch Presidents and Stake President also help with spiritual counseling.
I understand and acknowledge that I am not qualified to be a therapist so I have taken advantage of the Church resources to help many of my people with professional state licensed therapists during the last 5 years. The cost of this therapy is similar to any therapist you would go to so at times Bishops and Branch Presidents will ask people to preform volunteer work so they feel like they have some skin in the game. I have been very appreciative for this resource since many people that have been abused or that are going through very difficult issues have been helped tremendously with this therapy. I have seen people improve and continue with their lives because the therapy helped.
Bishops and Branch Presidents assist with the administrative decisions and also have to sign off on every financial expense. There are 2 financial audits every year that take about 1-2 hours to make sure that the books are being done properly and to assure that any assistance that was given to the Bishop’s or Branch Presidents family was approved in writing by the Stake President beforehand. Two audits ago the auditor had me pull every check that had been made out to me or my wife to make sure each expense was justified and was done properly. I mentioned that this is a non paid position so an example of a check that would be made out to me be something like me buying a bus pass for someone with my own money or card and then putting the receipt in the file an d then the Church would make a check out for me. In the Branch there are only 4 people that can sign checks and if the check is made out to me I cannot sign it. Each check has to have two signatures.
In emergencies I have paid for hotel rooms and other expenses with my own credit card and on a normal basis if I pay for a youth activity I turn in the receipts and document what it was etc…IN one emergency I paid the hotel bill for a week for a family that had their home burn down. Their daughter had burns over 30 percent of her body and was in the primary children’s hospital and the family needed assistance with several things at once. The red cross was able to help some and some other people also go involved.
The Church also has the ability to help people with food,clothing, furniture and other items in time of need. The goal is to help lift the people so they can pay their own expenses so service missionaries help train people in budgeting and analyze their situation to help them get back on track and be self sufficient. Normally the church does not pay rent for people each month or their bills. An example of when this might happen would be a situation that recently happened in my branch where a sister got cancer and we helped with some of her expenses during her treatment. The church doe not normally pay large medical bills either but helping with food and clothing can help families so they are not as stressed. I have assisted many people that are non members of the church as well. We have to be very careful because there are those that would seek to take advantage of the church and this has happened so Bishops and Branch Presidents strive to use the money of the Lord prudently.
Another resource that the Church has is the DI program which works closely with the employment office of the church to help people get trained or get a job or a better job. In my situation we have used this extensively where we could. DI can also help people with English classes to help immigrants learn the basics and get a job. The concern here is that the DI program requires people to be in the country legally to take part in this program. Many of the people I deal with are not here legally although that is not may job to even ask so we make that program available and explain the limitations. I have thoughts on immigration although that would be a whole other blog.
I mentioned that the Wards and Branches are organized and they function as a team.
Bishopric or Branch Presidency – Bishop/ Branch President and Two Counselors with a clerk and an executive secretary
High Priest Group (Leader and 2 assistants – These are Stake Callings)
Elders Quorum Presidency also President, 2 counselors and a secretary (They will call instructors as well to help them teach)
Priest Quorum Presidency – Bishop or Branch President is the President with 2 boys 16-17 being assistants
Teachers Quorum Presidency – Four young men are called to serve between the ages of 14-15
Deacons Quorum Presidency – Four young men from 12-13 are called to serve
Relief Society Presidency (Oldest and largest women’s group in the world) They also call 2 counselors and secretary. The RS President works constantly with the Bishop or BP
Primary Presidency – Four Women are called and the Bishop or Branch President works very closely with the Primary President.
Sunday School Presidency – There are about 10 instructors under them
Young Men Presidency – They lead the Young Men groups and help them with the Duty To God program to progress and prepare to service a mission and go through the temple
Young Women Presidency – The girls area also divided into 3 age groups 12-13 – 14-15, 16-17 and at the age of 18 they go into the relief society – Same as YM goals different program
Other callings such as library, family history, single young adult callings for men and women etc…
The new material is helping us allow the young men and young women to help teach the classes and learn how to be leaders.
Note: When a President is called by the Bishopric or Branch Presidency the President or leader of that organization will pray and decide on the counselors and secretary and other callings. The Elders Quorum President and the High Priest Group leaders are stake callings since they deal with the higher priesthood.
So I have mentioned the organization and that the calling requires quite a bit of time. Without may counselors I don’t know what I would do because they help out so much. The entire team works together to help the people come unto Christ.
Serving the hispanic community for the past 5 years in a Hispanic Branch of the LDS Church has been a great opportunity, Blessing and an enriching experience.
I don’t claim to be a writer and I have not spend time editing this so please forgive any of the spelling and grammar errors. This is a tiny glimpse of the calling and not really even an overview