“My Best Calling Ever,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 68–69
Circumstances moved my family to a town where we knew no one. At church on our first Sunday, my wife and I met the bishop. At least six foot five, he towered over us as he led us to his office.
“If the chance arises,” he asked, “where would you like to serve?”
My wife, an organist, mentioned music. The bishop nodded, then turned to me.
“Sometime I’d like to work with the priests,” I said.
Figuratively, the bishop nearly jumped out of his chair. Then he settled back. “We’ve been praying for an adviser. But you don’t want those guys. They are big and tough, sometimes a problem. Some of them are on the high school’s football, basketball, and wrestling teams. You are just too small to handle them.”
“Please, if the opportunity comes I’d like to give it a try.”
During the week I fasted and prayed. Everything I found out about the priests seemed to bear out the bishop’s appraisal. Yet I continued to feel all would be well.
Sunday morning the bishop guided me down a hallway and opened a door. The scene was grim: seven large young men huddled at the far end of the table. They stopped talking and looked at us.
The bishop spoke quickly. “Fellows, this is Brother Stowell, a new ward member. He’ll be your adviser.” The bishop turned to go, leaving the door ajar. In those days it was not always common for bishops to spend some time with the priests each Sunday. I closed the door and turned to face the class, praying inwardly for help.
One of the young men narrowed his eyes and asked, “How long do you think you will last?”
Pleasantly I replied, “A whole lot longer than you will unless you are tougher than I think you are.” Surprise covered his face. Quickly I pointed to the one sitting next to him and asked gently, “What is your name?”
“Why do you want to know? So you can report me?”
“I don’t report people.” He gave me his name, and I wrote it on the board. “Now, where are you from?”
He hung his head and moved his shoulders from side to side as he answered, “From a little jerkwater town in Utah.” He named the town.
“Stop right there,” I said. “I know that town and the people who live there. There are no finer people on this earth. You are fortunate to have been born there.”
He straightened up, humorously stuck his thumbs under his armpits, and said, “See, fellows, this guy knows what he’s talking about.”
Now, others were willing to give me their names and birthplaces. Fortunately, I could say something good about each name or birthplace. Then I said, “You are priests. With that goes responsibility. This is the Lord’s Church, and he’s put us together in this class. We will run it together, but much of the responsibility will be yours. I’m here to deliver—not read—a short lesson each week and respond to any questions about the lesson or whatever else.”
As the young men came to sense that I seemed truly interested in them, they quieted. One of the young men asked for a pen and paper. He wrote down the names of those absent that day on small pieces of paper, which he handed out. “Call these guys and tell them to come next Sunday,” he said.
About then the door opened. It was the bishop. “It was so quiet,” he said. “I just came to check …”
“Nah, this guy is OK. You don’t need to worry.” The bishop left and closed the door again.
Soon 18 boys were showing up for class. During those and subsequent weeks I conferred with the bishop often, and I began visiting the priests at home. At first my visits were met with some suspicion, but as the young men found out I really cared, they looked forward to the times I dropped in. In time we found more than 30 priests who should have been in class, and attendance at church continued to grow.
As the months turned into years, first one and then another class member began leaving on a mission or going to college. We received wedding announcements from many of them. Once we counted eight who were bishops, high councilors, or members of stake presidencies.
I was grateful for this opportunity to confirm that physical size wasn’t as important as fasting, praying, and exercising “persuasion, … gentleness, … and love unfeigned” (see D&C 121:41).