Last April, when the Prophet asked us to be ministers, I took his council seriously.
A few weeks ago, I packed up my family in the suburban attack vehicle (our minivan) and headed west. We traveled for an hour and a half to speak at a small community church in a rural town near where I work. I was going to be the minister for a day. In my youth, before I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was actually considering the ministry as something I wanted to do, and here I was finally fulfilling that plan.
As you might surmise, no, I didn’t leave the Church to join another denomination. I was simply helping a friend out. But what was ostensibly a simple favor became something far more rewarding than I could have planned.
An Opportunity to Minister to All
Several months ago I was asked to give a talk at church on the topic of forgiveness. I discussed typical interactions with my coworkers, and since my faith is so integral to my life, discussions about our church come up frequently. In this case, I asked a coworker his thoughts on the topic of forgiveness. We discussed it at some length and then I went my way, gave my talk at church, and thought little of it after the fact.
However, a few weeks later my colleague approached me and asked if I would like to come speak at his church and also bring the group of guys that I sing with. (We sing a cappella hymns at Church regularly. We’re no Vocal Point, but one of our guys did sing in Vocal Point. So you might call us Vocal Point-adjacent. But I digress.)
My friend had previously mentioned how his church didn’t have a minister and they needed to fill the pulpit with a different person each Sunday. The church is made up of both Lutherans and Presbyterians, neither group having enough membership to warrant independent congregations, and so they meet together as a community church. The road has been rough, but the two congregations are striving to create a sense of unity. One significant hurdle has been settling on a minister that adequately represents both denominations, which is no easy task. Imagine trying to even out any doctrinal issues and settling on a compromise leader at church! Then compound that challenge by trying to find someone who wants to move to a rural community.
Knowing my friend’s situation, I was initially shocked when he extended an offer to speak. I even reminded him, “You know I’m Mormon, right?” (This was prior to the re-emphasis on the name of our Church, so don’t get in a huff about it.) He smiled and said, “I know. But if the church council agrees, we would love to have you come.” And they agreed, without reservation.
When I asked what they wanted me to speak on, his response gave me both trepidation and opportunity: “Whatever you want.” Boy, I could have gone anywhere with that. My mind raced as I thought of all the possibilities. After much thought and prayer, I finally landed on something we could all unite behind: the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew. I would base a lot of my talk on Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk, “He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home.”
I don’t normally get nervous talking in front of people. But this time was different.
Trepidation Gives Way to Ecumenism
The moment finally arrived. With my family in tow, I rose to share the Gospel as we know it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a vision of Samuel the Lamanite flash through my mind. Although I didn’t think the congregation would be physically wielding bows, arrows, and stones, I didn’t know how they would react to a Latter-day Saint teaching them in their own house of worship, and I was fully prepared to jump from my proverbial wall to safety. On the flip side, maybe I’d have a Parley Pratt moment and convert a whole congregation, though I highly doubted it. Besides, that wasn’t my intent.
After I concluded my remarks, I knew I had done my best to bring the Spirit to the meeting. I could feel it. I wasn’t sure how others would react and I watched their faces closely. None betrayed their emotion. How was I to take that?
This small congregation of about 30-40 people had opened themselves to having me speak, but had I made any difference? After the church service ended, I was approached by the members of the congregation and thanked for coming to speak with them and sharing my message. Several even asked if I wanted to come back and speak again. My friend who is on their pastoral search committee even said that the council asked if I wanted to come be their minister, or at the least come back and speak again. (Just imagine the puzzled looks when I open up Doctrine and Covenants Section 138!)
I told him I was flattered, but I belonged to a congregation already, I was just grateful for the opportunity to come and unite together as followers of Jesus Christ and worship together and I would be delighted to visit them again and speak.
Opening Mouths, Opening Hearts
Opportunities like this don’t come every day. In fact, I think this might be a singular experience for me and my family. It was surreal and an experience I will never forget, and I expect nor will my family.
None of this would have come to pass had I not opened my mouth and spoken plainly about what was happening in my life. When your faith permeates every aspect of your life, talking about it is that much easier. I wasn’t preaching to my friend or being pushy, I was just asking his opinion about a topic, the rest came from being candid and sincere, letting the light of Jesus Christ shine through me.
I didn’t convert anyone to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that day that I know of. Nor did it matter to me, because I know it isn’t we who convert anyone to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is the Spirit. And if I had a small part in invoking the Spirit to speak to the hearts of the congregation, I am grateful for that chance.
I think this speaks to the global message of the Gospel of Christ, which enables us to unite with people of different faiths and backgrounds. We can and should find things we have in common, things that make us one, to build strength in our communities. As Latter-day Saints, it is all too easy to be insular and retreat to our comfort zones. But perhaps if we spend more time talking to those outside of our typical sphere of influence, we might see a change in the world, and then we will not only be ministers to our own people, but to the whole of the Earth.
You may not be asked to preach to another local denomination, but you also never know what will happen if you just speak up.