Why Latter-day Saints Must Be Versatile
by Davis Bitton
Meridian Magazine

When early missionaries in our day went without purse or scrip to preach the gospel, they of course preached, but they also prayed and led congregations in singing. In addition, they organized branches, calling people to positions and instructing them in their duties. And they did a good deal of individual counseling as well as presiding over disciplinary councils.

"I can preach sermons, but don't ask me to do anything else" - such a rigid, narrow self- definition was unthinkable. In the pioneer period people, both men and women, were more versatile than people today. At least so it seems to me.

Maybe it was simply farming that required a whole range of skills, whereas people in towns could be simply sales clerks or plumbers or telegraph operators. The need for versatility was especially keen when new settlements were being established.

Take Patty Sessions, for example. Usually identified as a midwife who delivered some four thousand babies, she was much more than that. Without itemizing all her activities, we discover in her remarkable diaries that she did every conceivable kind of cooking and house work. A skilled hat- and clothes-maker, she made and sold artificial flowers, planted fruit and vegetables, hoed the weeds, harvested, quilted, provided many kinds of health care. She was, according to Donna Smart, who edited the diaries, "harder working, more productive, and more successful than many of her male counterparts." Patty was "a formidable business woman."

Unquestionably she had a spiritual side, addressing prayers to God in her diary. There wasn't much that Patty Sessions couldn't do.

Another good example is Arizona pioneer John McLaws. Among those sent to colonize the Little Colorado in Arizona, McLaws settled in Joseph City. A skilled carpenter, he was also a wheelwright, blacksmith, painter, teacher, hunter, butcher, sheepherder, shoemaker, and watchmaker. He played the violin, learned to play the clarinet, and wrote songs. He was in demand as an entertainer and was the caller at square dances. I forgot to mention that he was also a barber.

In the Church we are often called upon to develop abilities we may not think we have. In branches where numbers are few, even in wards, people are called on to do things they might not have listed on their resume.

Over a period of time, individual members serve as home and visiting teachers, teachers of different classes, activities leaders. They sing in choirs, direct choirs, provide accompaniment. They give talks. They participate in different forms of recreation and a host of service projects.

Opportunities for experience abound everywhere in the church. The adults are stretched, and the children and young people accumulate a multitude of experiences and develop different talents.

Why Be so Many-sided?

What, we may ask, is the purpose of these different kinds of development? It may be sufficient just to say that we believe in eternal progression. Instead of stagnating, we continue to learn, continue to expand our awareness, develop different skills and talents. But it is important, I think, not to think in selfish terms.

It scarcely seems a lofty goal to be able to strut around and say "I can do this, and I can do that," preening ourselves on the ability to excel and outshine others. That cannot be the point. In the eternal perspective, many of our skills must seem so trivial as to be unworthy of mention.

But the fact remains that if we are informed and articulate, if we have acquired counseling and administrative skills, if we can do a variety of things when called upon, we are simply of greater use in the kingdom. We can serve better and more effectively if we have filled many callings, each of them requiring us to develop a side of ourselves that may previously have been dormant.

In the process, of course, we should become more patient, better able to cope, and more in tune with the Spirit. Just as God's work and glory is not to puff himself up but to serve his children (Moses 1:39), so the work and glory of a disciple, however experienced and able, is to love and serve.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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