When my husband served as a bishop he had two part-time counselors. One spent six months of the year in the Northern part of the United States to avoid the Florida heat and the other spent two weeks of each month with the National Guard. I imagine my husband choose these men as counselors because he agreed with what Brigham Young was reputed to have said: “I’d rather have 10% of a 100% man than 100% of a 10% man.” These good men served valiantly during the time they were in town but it was extremely challenging to work with part-time counselors.
The demands of my husband’s career have required that he travel extensively at times, and whether he was serving as bishop or in the Stake Presidency, he worked hard to make sure the organization he supported didn’t suffer from his travel schedule.
In our society it is increasingly common for people to travel extensively, whether for business or pleasure. It is also common for people to maintain two homes, spending part of their time in one location and part of their time in the other. In wards with lots of members, and lots of leadership, it might be possible to staff every organization with full-time residents. However, in some wards, callings would not be filled at all if it were not for the part-timers.
Hints for Frequent Travelers
Because we have worked with so many part-time residents over the years, and because my husband has traveled extensively himself, we have noticed several practices that make it easier on a ward when someone with a important calling must go out of town.
1) Let people know your schedule in advance. If you know you will be gone from June to August it’s helpful for leadership to know this fact weeks ahead of time. That way they can decide on a plan for your absence: extend a release if necessary, call a substitute, counsel over the telephone, or via email, however the leader feels is best.
2) Should your travel be for a short duration, cover your bases while you are gone. If you teach, arrange for a substitute. If you are in charge of an activity, plan it in advance, delegating assignments and following through from afar.
3) Be available. Unless you are out of the country or on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean, it shouldn’t be difficult to stay in contact with the other people in your organization while you are gone. Email, text, and phone calls will help them make decisions in your absence, and make decisions with your blessing and support. When somebody from your ward or stake tries to contact you while you are away, it is courteous to respond.
4) Avoid scheduling big activities that are your responsibility during the time you know you will be away. For example, if you are Camp Director, it’s probably not in the best interest of the girls in the stake if you leave town for the summer. (Don’t laugh. It’s happened before!)
My Young Women’s secretary travels all the time, but when she’s gone, she’s as helpful as if she were home. She still sends out reminders of events via email and text. She makes appointments for interviews. She keeps track of the Personal Progress the girls’ have passed off. Before she leaves she prints a calendar for the upcoming month and makes certain it gets distributed. She responds to emails within a day. She reminds me of upcoming birthdays and class advancement. I wonder if her vacations are relaxing at all because she works as hard when she is gone as she does when she is home!
When You’re Still at Home
The person trying to run an organization with a frequently traveling staff may also appreciate a few pointers in order to function optimally in a calling. It’s easy to develop resentment if you feel you’re doing all the work and everybody else is off playing and resentment is an emotion it’s crucial to avoid. In order to enjoy your calling as much when partially staffed as you do when fully staffed consider the following:
1) Postpone big events until you are fully staffed. Don’t try to execute a roadshow or a ward party or a service project all by yourself. In my book, Side by Side: Supporting a Spouse in Church Service, I recommend “serving within your means.” Just like we are counseled to live within our means financially, it seems wise to serve within our means. Rather than running faster than we have strength, or trying to spend five talents when we were only given two, we can scale down, cut back, and simplify until we have greater resources to help us achieve greater goals.
2) Serve with your own pure motives. Too often people serve because they desire praise, or the recognition of men. We might “create ice sculptures” for a Relief Society lesson not because they enhance a lesson, but because they impress the women in the class. Serving for the recognition of men can be dangerous because if that recognition doesn’t come, the service seems fruitless. The most satisfying reason to serve, of course, is to bless the lives of our fellow man.
3) Don’t try to judge the importance/necessity/motive of the frequent traveler. Judging others is an impossible task because none of us has the ability to read minds. The Savior is the only authorized judge, because he can “read minds,” essentially. If we let him do the judging we will have a lot less to fret about.
4) Be grateful you are getting any help at all. I like the quote, “Never criticize a volunteer unless you want to be one.” Of course, we’re all volunteers, but we all serve with different capacities. People will increase their desire to serve as well as their capacity when they are validated wherever they are.
5) Take your own break. Everybody needs a chance to “sharpen the saw” as Steve Covey says. Even if you don’t have the funds to travel to far off places, a “staycation” might give you just the rest you need. If you do travel away from home, attend other wards. I find it immensely uplifting and rewarding to meet members around the globe. The warm welcome I receive from Saints who are complete strangers helps me feel God’s love for me. Attending church while on vacation is one of the things I look forward to the most. I learn as much about the place I am visiting from the church members as I do from any tour guide.
It’s amazing that, as a people, we are affluent enough to travel the way we do. It’s amazing that so many can afford airline tickets and vacation homes. Not many years ago, families all lived together within a few miles of one another and would never travel farther than the state line.
The tremendous blessings present in this affluent society bring challenges of their own, and one of the challenges is serving in our own corner of a very large vineyard.
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of Side by Side: Supporting a Spouse in Church Service available at amazon.com and the recently published, Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance.