“More Than a Machine,” Ensign, Aug. 1980, 50–51
The Speaker’s hand automatically found the “on” switch for the microphone while he scanned the bills on the day’s calendar. He glanced up from his papers to find me. I nodded an okay. The gavel came down three times.
“The House will come to order. The Clerk will call the roll.”
“Adams, Amen, Anderson, Backstrom, Bagnariol. …” The members of the state House formed automatically on my tongue. My pencil ticked behind the names of those who responded and left untouched those who did not.
Five legislative sessions had etched the names and faces into my mind. Only election years and emergencies brought changes. I was beginning to feel like one of the omnipresent machines that helped oil the legislative process. I scanned the chambers and picked up four legislators who had come on the floor late. I quickly tabulated, then announced the roll. “Mr. Speaker, ninety-four present, five absent or excused.”
The Speaker rose, announced the flag bearers’ names, and rapped the gavel. Ninety-four chairs sighed as ninety-four legislators stood to honor the flags of country and state. All heads turned as the flags were carried with slow strides down the broad center aisle that separated the political parties. The bearers ascended the stairs and crossed to the back of the large Speaker’s podium. The flag poles chinked into the standards and the guest minister arose in a rustle of black robes to offer the invocation. My mind wandered as the prayer began. “And why shouldn’t it?” I rationalized. “I’ve heard all of the carefully polished phrases and clever sayings I can stand in prayers.”
Suddenly something caught my ear; a ring of sincerity, a touch of spontaneity. I listened.
“Except the people repent, this land will be cursed with a sore curse! I pray that the people of this state and you, their legislators, will repent of their sins that this state may overcome its grave and serious problems. I exhort these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
A jolt of excitement ran through me. Then I did something I hadn’t done in five legislative sessions; I turned from the rostrum and strode to the minister, who was just starting to sit down. He straightened when he saw me approach. I shook his hand firmly.
“That’s the best prayer I’ve heard offered in these chambers. It’s nice to meet someone with the honesty and fortitude to say what really needs to be said.”
“Well, I appreciate your thanking me. I’m not too sure that my prayer was received with the same enthusiasm by the assembled body.”
One glance proved him to be right; several unveiled stares iced the spot where we were standing.
“Well, you really didn’t expect to tickle their ears, did you? Anyway, I’d like you to know that I appreciate your honesty.”
I started to turn back to the rostrum, but I could see he wanted to talk.
“You know,” he continued, “a few months ago I wouldn’t have given that prayer, but I have been so fired up by some of the lay members in my own church that it has made me come alive. Frankly,” he confided, “the church has become a dead horse. Even though we have many millions of members, the church has become lifeless. The only hope is the lay movement in the church.” The minister went on to say how enthusiastic he was about some of the laity in his church and how they were trying to breathe life back into it.
I excused myself to read in a senate bill. It was controversial so I knew the debate would be long. That would give me the time I needed.
When I returned, he continued in hopeful terms about the lay movement in his church. When he paused, I interjected, “You know, I have a feeling you would really be interested in the Mormon Church.”
“What makes you think that?” A hint of a frown came over his face.
“Well, the things you’re missing in your church—you can find them in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
While the floor debate droned on, I told him of my conversion to the Church, gave him a capsule version of the First Vision, and a brief outline of some of the Church programs. I sensed that the floor debate was nearing completion and that my time was limited. Our eyes met. His gaze did not waver and I told him that I knew that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, that the gospel in its fulness was now on the earth. As I bore my testimony, a warm glow kindled within me, and I knew it was emanating from me, for the minister’s eyes were still locked on mine. Without hesitation he reached out and shook my hand firmly.
“I believe what you have told me. I can sense the truth of it. Please send me all the material you can on your church.”
When the Speaker looked over to see if I was ready for the final vote, I quickly returned to the roll call machine to set up the bill and its number through a switching procedure. The gong signaling the start of the vote brought a scurry of movement as legislators who were not on the House floor for the final debate rushed back to flip their voting tab to yes or no. All eyes were on the big board as the lighted numbers rolled out to seal the fate of the bill.
“Has everyone voted? Does anyone want to change his or her vote? The Speaker will lock the roll call machine; the clerk will take the roll.” I pressed hard on the tabulator button. A triplicate sheet of the results slowly emerged from a thin slot in the machine.
The phrase “just a part of the machinery” came into my mind again as I went through the routine of setting up for the next vote. Just then someone touched my shoulder. The minister was standing beside me.
“I appreciate what you have shared with me. Be sure to send that information,” he said softly.
He turned and left the rostrum as the session continued. The warm feeling returned to my bosom and expanded to fill my whole body. I had been reminded of the joy of sharing testimony—and hoped I would remember that joy, for some time to come.