…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

My New Old Calling

And Other Idiosyncracies of the Mormon Dialect

By Rex Goode



Sometimes it seems like Mormons speak their own brand of English and indeed we do. Sometimes, the things we say can really confuse people who aren’t familiar with our practices. Something from my recent life is a good example. If you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and never have been, let’s see if you can decipher this.

Tonight I was set apart for my new calling, which is the same calling as the one I was just released from. I was sustained a few weeks ago during stake conference, but because of illness, they didn’t get around to setting me apart until tonight. My new old calling is as the first counselor to the Stake Sunday School President. The reason I got released and called again is because the former president was called to be on the High Council and the new president asked for me to be his first counselor. He used to be the second counselor. The new second counselor has been serving as the Sunday School President in his ward.

If you’re confused, I’m going to try to explain it to you. Ready?

Wards and Stakes

Think of a ward as a congregation, but not quite like the volunteer congregations in other churches. What I mean by “volunteer congregations” is that in most Christian denomination, you look for a local church where you feel comfortable. You like the pastor or priest. You know some of the other members of the church. You choose to go there rather than the congregation closer to your home, even though it’s the same denomination. You volunteer to be there.

Mormons don’t generally do that. We find out where we are supposed to go by our address. Wards have boundaries and you belong to the ward where your address places you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re not keen on the personality of the bishop or whether you like the other members of the ward. That’s where you’re supposed to go, so you go. It doesn’t really matter that much. The ward where you are expected to go will be teaching the same things as the ward you might want to attend.

A ward is more than a congregation with a pastor and maybe a junior pastor or two. It is a full organization with many organizations within it, all fully staffed by members of the ward who have been appointed to fill the positions in the organizations. These positions we refer to as “callings” because we sincerely believe that God calls us to serve in those positions.

Each ward is led by a bishop who has to men who assist him known as his “counselors.” We number these people as first and second counselors. Among the organizations overseen by this “bishopric” are the Primary (for teaching small children), the Relief Society (for women), priesthood quorums (for men and male youth), Young Women’s (for female youth), and Sunday School. There are more.

These organizations all have an appointed head who has two counselors or assistants, also number as first and second. Most organizations also have secretaries, who assist the presidents and their counselors. There are also teachers in these organizations.

The Church is a church of involvement we try to give everyone some kind of responsibility. Ask any practicing Mormon about his or her calling. Most of us have one. Some of us have more than one.

Now that you’ve got an idea of what a ward is and does, think about this. A group of wards, again, geographically determined, forms a stake. It is headed by a stake president who has counselors, secretaries, and clerks. The stake also has organizations that mirror the ward organizations. There is a Stake Relief Society complete with a president, counselors, and secretaries. There is a Stake Sunday School organization, a stake Young Women’s organization, and so forth. These stake-level organizations exist to serve their counterpart organizations in the wards.

So, my calling is as the First Counselor to the Stake Sunday School President. It is my responsibility, along with the president I serve under and his other (second counselor) to be of service the ward-level Sunday School organizations within the stake.


So, I’ve already told you that a calling is the position you hold in an organization in the Church. Now I’ll describe for you how you get a calling.

The bishop and his counselors, at the ward level, and the stake president and his counselors at the stake level, ponder and consider who they might “call” to a position in their organization. They pray over the decision and when they feel the Lord has answered their prayer, they arrange a meeting with that person and tell the person that the Lord calls them to serve in that position. In the case of the stake positions, the person who issues that calling is on the stake’s high council.

When everyone has been asked and they are ready, a meeting of the church membership is asked to do something akin to voting on the person. We call this practice, Comment Consent. People are asked to “sustain” the person in their new calling. It’s a way for each member of the Church to say, “Yes, I agree to having you serve in that position and promise to sustain you in your efforts and support you in any way I can.”

After you are sustained, you are then set apart. Being set apart means that hands are placed on your head by someone with authority from God to do so. A prayer is said where you are told that you are entitled to act in the calling you are being given. Some inspired and inspiring things are promised you to help you fulfill your responsibility. This is what happened to me tonight.

Almost all of us have a calling. We are all involved in service in the Church, each of us working to further what we sincerely believe to be the work of God. Whether we are mobilizing to help in a natural disaster, doing humanitarian work in far off lands, teaching our children, or visiting each other to strengthen each other, we are all part of a vast juggernaut of good works in this world.

The Idiosyncracies

To say that “I was sustained a few weeks ago” sounds like a very odd English phrase. When something is sustained, it is an ongoing thing. It doesn’t make a lot of English sense to say that “I was sustained” when it is more of a natural thing to think of being sustained over some period of time, i.e., “I sustained that note until I ran out of breath.” You wouldn’t claim that you sustained the note, in the past tense, as if it was an event that began and ended at the beginning of singing it.

Yet, when you hear a Mormon say something like, “I was sustained last week,” we know exactly what that means. It means that your name was read before the congregation as being appointed to a position and each member raising a hand in agreement.

Even stranger, despite everything I just said about “sustaining”, you could correctly be asked, “Do you sustain so-and-so?” You are being asked whether or not the person still has your support and confidence.  It would be more like regular English to ask, “Are you still sustaining so-and-so?”

So, why do I refer to being the First Counselor in the Stake Sunday School presidency as my new old calling? Well, as a counselor in an organization, I am called to serve as that counselor to that person who is the president. When the president is changed, the old president’s counselors are released with him and the new president prays about and asks for new counselors. Sometimes, the new counselors are the old counselors. In my case, the president I serve with was released and the new president asked for me to be his counselor. So, it’s really a new calling for me, but my responsibilities are pretty much the same as they were before. The title is the same too.

I don’t know if you find any of this interesting, but I had fun explaining it.

One final idiosyncrasy.

We refer to people who are not Mormons who are interested in finding out more about us as “investigators” or people who are “investigating the Church”.  We know what we mean, but it is a terminology that is fraught with potential for fun.

For example, I was sitting up front in a church meeting. My calling at the time was to conduct the hymn singing for the congregation. I saw at the back of the room some faces I didn’t recognize.  When the bishop stood to begin the meeting, he said, “I’d like to welcome those who are investigating the Church.”

Now, my Mormon ears heard it and understood it. Those people with the new faces were interested in knowing more about the Church, with the possible goal of maybe joining.

I watched their faces and I was pretty sure to their non-Mormon ears, they weren’t sure what they had just heard. They were wondering what went on in the church that warranted us being investigated. Must have sounded very ominous.

I hear that being an investigator is an interesting job. So, if you’re reading this and you’re not a Mormon, but you’ve always wanted to be an investigator, let me know and I’ll hook you up with some missionaries. The moment you start talking to them, you’ll be an investigator. And here you thought you’d have to go to college or something.

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