Something you’ll never hear uttered in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — not seriously anyway — is the term “Elder Robert L. Kirby of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
You won’t even hear the variation “Elder R. Lynn Kirby of the Seventy.” Of additional comfort to many is that “Bishop Robert L. Kirby” will never be spoken.
I know this because even if I believed that it came as a direct calling, it would be clear that in the line of authority from God to the church leader, somebody had lost his damn mind.
More important, I would refuse the “opportunity.” That’s because I claim the personal right to distinguish a calling from an imposition — and that being in charge is really a pain in the hams.
Among some Latter-day Saints, past callings are a measure of lifelong spiritual worth as in, “Well, he must be right about that point of doctrine. After all, he was a bishop. Twice.”
If a particular calling or level of authority in the church is a measure of one’s merit, I’ve already had more of that than I deserved or could stand.
The “highest” church rank I ever achieved was executive secretary in two bishoprics, during which I was a paragon of obedience and servility except for the time I wore a Rolling Stones T-shirt to ward council meeting.
What else? I was also an elders quorum president, senior missionary companion, Cubmaster, building coordinator and, right now, the ward librarian. That’s as far as I want things to go.
The worst task was being an elders prez, which generally involved organizing donkey-level work parties. Today, I feel every 5-gallon bucket of wheat I loaded onto a U-Haul or into the back of a pickup.
Second worst was on my mission. I still remember the letter I got informing me that I was finally a senior companion. As such, it was up to me to be a mentor to a less-experienced missionary. I was instantly depressed.
At first, I refused. Considering what dorks other missionaries of my same tenure turned out to be as district and zone leaders, I was perfectly happy to end my mission as a troubled junior companion.
The two assistants to the president paid me a visit and said that if I wouldn’t accept senior-companion status because the mission president told me to, or because they wanted me to, then I should seek confirmation from the Holy Spirit.
I told them to give me 24 hours. They wanted to know why. I said it was because it was so rare that I felt like the smartest one in such conversations, I wanted time to enjoy it.
Them • “That’s not the prop ... look, you’re the senior companion and that’s it.”
Me • “We’ll see.”
Confirmation of the spirit came when the junior companions I got were so horribly traumatized by former senior companions that they regarded my indifference as an answer to prayer.
Today, I’m content to maintain a mindless functionary’s role in my church.
It doesn’t work this way in other faiths, where pastors and reverends attend classes or seminaries because they want to be spiritual shepherds.
Whenever such ladder-climbing inclinations become manifest among Latter-day Saints, it’s seen as vain. That’s why no one ever acknowledges that they want to become a bishop or a stake president.
As it does in politics, such aspirations make me suspicious. I want my ecclesiastical leader to be the person who grudgingly accepted the job. Then I know we’ll relate well to each other.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.