Observations on the LDS practice of setting apart individuals in callings.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints there is no paid local clergy; instead each position is filled by what are called “callings”, where local leaders (themselves called in a similar way) extend specific responsibilities to members. I can attest from repeated personal experience that these callings are usually, though not always, directly inspired by God; and, in the remaining cases where leaders ask God’s guidance on whom to call and are told little or nothing, the oath of the priesthood makes up the slack. After a call is extended, the person is presented to the congregation who may raise objections (though I have only seen this done once), and then the person is set apart.
The act of setting apart is a priesthood blessing; these themselves deserve more discussion than I have time to give them here, but the short version is that authorized individuals place their hands on the head of the recently called and one lets God use his voice to speak audibly to the individual. Thereafter, the individual is fully authorized to exercise the rights and responsibilities of the calling.
Another element of callings that deserves more discussion than I can give them here is that every calling has both rights and responsibilities. As I am a ward clerk, I have the right to determine how to execute my responsibilities. This right cannot be usurped by the individual who called me, nor by any other “superior” in the church. Perhaps I shall write more on this divinely-inspired model of governance in another post.
There are blessings associated with a calling. It is often stated that “whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” for the work to which He has called them. I found this is a powerful way when I was released from a calling which had required me to know the names of every member of my ward. I am not naturally good at recalling names; I have been known to forget the name of my boss, of my roommates, of just about everyone at one time or another. But in that calling I spent some effort memorizing photo directories and I could identify by name all 193 ward members. A week or two after my release I was asked to point out a particular individual and as I looked over the sea of faces I realized I couldn’t put names to half of the faces. With the release of the calling came a revocation of the blessing.
A similar, though more subtle, circumstance arose just yesterday. The choir director in our ward asked that I direct the choir in singing an Easter hymn. Directing choirs, unlike knowing names, is something that comes easily to me; it has been two years since I last directed but I had no difficulty in all of the mechanics. I also had not doubt that the set-apart director’s decision was an appropriate one in this one caseI did not, and still do not, know why… but God doesn’t need to explain Himself.. And yet, there was a palpable difference.
Directing a choir involves several elements. Singers must be trained to unify on a theme, that theme must be selected and translated into audible cues, there is an ongoing communication required to keep them together and guide them along… and in all of these, for a church choir, there is room for divine guidance. Normally this is pretty subtle: I let my mind entertain a choice and feel for the Spirit’s disapprobationSometimes the Spirit provides ideas, and sometimes He communicates approval, but usually I find He shoots down bad ideas.. But yesterday when I would do this the answer was nearly always the same: “It’s a fine idea; ask Erin if it is the right one.” The live interaction element the Holy Spirit still directed to me personally, but the shaping and mood He made clear were not my call unless Erin said they were.
Sometimes when I hear people say that “God leads His church” I think of the President of the Church talking to God, and it being all human down from there. This thought is simple, it fits with mirror secular organizations. But in reality, that’s not how it works. God has a line to every person at every level of His work. Being set apart is like being handed a bag of tools and a special phone line.
I feel like I have rambled a bit and need some catchy concluding paragraph. Too bad, not time to compose one.