piece about Bountiful HS grads who “announced” their mission calls as part of their graduation ceremony got me thinking about the mission call madness presently underway in Mormon culture.
Don’t get me wrong: a mission call is a big deal. And it’s awesome that so many young men and women are willing and able to serve.
But can I say I’m troubled by the increasing attention being paid to the opening of the call?
A thousand years ago when I received my mission call, it didn’t occur to me to wait to open it until my family and friends and neighbors could all be assembled to share in “my missionary moment.” I opened it at the mailbox (my girlfriend was there and she watched me open it; no, she didn’t “wait,” and yes, we did get married). And then I went inside and shared it with my mom. I don’t know if I called my dad at work or we waited until he got home to tell him. And then I probably called my brother and sisters. Others I informed by letter. (This was long before emails and Facebook.)
I remember a young man who was in my priest’s quorum when I was a bishop. He had matriculated to BYU, and received his call there. For the opening of his call, he’d arranged to Skype with his folks at home and had a room full of friends in Utah. He opened his call with the roomful of friends, only to realize he’d forgotten to link in to his home, so they agreed to re-stage the opening once the Skype connection was established for the benefit of the young man’s mother. (This story makes me think of that scene in Broadcast News when William Hurt re-films a news story in order to produce a tear in his news coverage.)
One doesn’t have to go far to find cinematic records of the opening of mission calls. Will these become the wedding videos of the latest generation?
Let’s think about the letter itself: a call to serve, a call issued by prophets, signed by a prophet, to serve the Lord in preaching his gospel. Most callings are extended privately, quietly, preceded by prayer in the best circumstances. But the mission call has become another rite of passage ripe for video post-production with music, subtitles and graphics, just like a wedding reception.
But shouldn’t we celebrate these callings? Shouldn’t we fete these young men and women who are so willing to serve? Shouldn’t we remember these great moments in their lives?
Sure. Celebrate them at home however you like. Open the call together. Congratulate the missionary and his or her parents. Share in the excitement at an exotic location or the relief at not having to learn a foreign language (or soothe the disappointment at a call to a different place than hoped). Share the results with family and friends.
But let’s remember: the significance of missionary service is not the call. It’s the work that follows the call. What’s impressive about a young person’s serving is not the call itself. It’s what that young person does before and after the call comes, the preparation and then the mission itself.
I’m all for celebrating missionary service. I’m all for hearing young missionaries speak before and after their missions (as long as those sacrament talks are appropriate for worship services). But just as we received counsel some time ago to curtail what was becoming sacrament meetings hijacked to fete the departing missionary, it seems we ought to lighten up in our over-the-top celebrations to open an envelope.