A while ago I told you about the letter I sent my Stake President, so here’s my report on the meeting that resulted from it!
First, I’ll tell you that my SP is a really neat, humble, friendly guy who I know for myself has been called by God to be MY Stake President. I had that impression after bumping into him in a crowded hallway at church several years ago, long before my faith crisis even began, where he greeted me by name and asked me some very detailed questions about my business, my husband’s education, and our family. This seems normal for a good church leader, but I had never once met this guy face to face. I’d heard him speak publicly a few times and laughed from a distance once when he danced the Locomotion with his wife at an adult Stake dance. What’s more, I was virtually unrecognizable in my glasses with my wet hair slicked back into a sloppy bun, having nearly overslept the beginning of my own choir’s rehearsal. Flabbergasted, I stopped him and said “How do you know all this about me??” I thought for sure I must be the source of gossip for some reason (at the time I couldn’t even imagine why) or that maybe my name had come up for a calling and he’d looked me up in some secret stake membership file. But he just paused, searching his own memory, then simply shrugged with a twinkle in his eye and said “I dunno!” We both laughed and I headed off to choir practice with the warm feeling that I mattered to this man and that he knew who I was because God wanted him to. I had no idea at the time why I was having the experience, but it strengthened my testimony at the time.
So that’s why I didn’t hesitate to contact him or to accept the invitation to come meet with him. My husband teased me that that’s how they root out all the divergents
1. He listened to me talk for a full 90 minutes before venturing a single bit of counsel. 90 minutes, guys. That’s an hour and a half of my Stake President just listening to the story of my faith journey. He commented here and there, asking for clarification, interjecting sympathetically once in a while, but mostly he just let me talk. Have you ever met a man that could do that? I haven’t. I was impressed. And I had such a strong sense that he wanted to make sure he understood me and where I was coming from, and that I felt valued and heard. And I did. I knew I wasn’t being manipulated or mollified, he really was there to understand me. I wish everyone could have leaders like him.
2. He was impressed/intrigued/caught off-guard by a lot of my feminist ideas, in a good/productive way. Especially my egalitarian marriage and the way we divide labor in our home without regard to gender roles – he seemed to really get how life without gender roles might be kind of awesome for everyone. He also agrees that there is much amiss in church culture, which is always a relief to hear from those who would actually know. He also seemed very intrigued by my description of people like me who don’t get the support that I did, that most of them just quietly leave the church without ever reaching out for help because they know there just isn’t any. He admitted that he’d never thought of it that way, that maybe they wouldn’t leave at all if they just felt safe in their ward.
3. When he did finally venture some advice, it was concise, respectful, and just what I needed. First, he said that I should approach my life mission the same way the Savior did – He had a life-changing message to share with the world, but he didn’t bring it to the rich, powerful, or religiously conservative. He spent all of his time and energy with the sick, afflicted, and outcast. He didn’t elaborate much on that, but the message was clear: don’t waste your time on the TBMs. They’re not ready yet. Even the hypocrites are in the Lord’s hand just like I am and they’ll come around in their own time just like I did, but the outcasts in our culture are ready NOW. They need what I have to offer and my energy will be better spent on them than fighting with the stiff-necked. Second, he advised me to work hard to stay close to Heavenly Father, which I’ll admit has been very, very difficult lately. I can feel the Spirit and I feel guided in my actions, but I still have a lot of residual anger as I redefine my relationship with God within these post-crisis parameters. But coming from him, it was further proof that his advice was inspired.
4. He committed to work at finding ways to reach out to fringe members like me and helping us feel safe at church, and said that he felt prepared to do so after hearing my perspective.
All in all, I call it a success. My greatest fear was that I’d get over-emotional and communicate badly or make a bad impression that would make him feel less inclined to make changes in our stake, but I was amazed that I actually communicated better than I ever have before, despite my emotions, and actually received quite a bit of personal revelation even as I talked about my experiences, making connections and discovering tender mercies within the story even as I told it.
It was a really positive experience from beginning to end. If only all fringe members could have an experience like this with their leaders!