#hearLDSwomen: Lack of Autonomy in Callings Hurts Women and Children

I live in a ward that doesn’t have quite enough strong members to go around for all the callings. Serving in the Primary presidency, it became abundantly clear that women and children were at the bottom of the priorities heap.

We had a primary of 120 kids (including the nursery) and needed A LOT of teachers, yet we would be turned down for 80-90% of our calling requests. At one time, the president was desperate and submitted 10 names for one calling that we really needed to be filled and every one was rejected with no suggestions.

Meanwhile, the Young Women/Young Men programs were fully staffed with all the best people despite the fact that we only had four young women in that ward. There were seven leaders (full presidency + three advisers, not to mention the seasonal camp director) for four girls. There was a Mia Maid adviser who attended Young Women every week, even though there were zero Mia Maids and no one turning 14 for months! (No exaggeration.) We even asked for that adviser to fill a calling and were told “no.”

In addition to the continual rejection, the bishopric member over primary consistently took 1-2 months to extend approved callings. One Sunday, the Primary 2nd counselor was desperate to have some callings filled and told the bishopric member to go talk to people who were there in Sunday School that day. He did not like that and called her names.

After two years, we were all anxious to be released. When we were, the bishopric told the new Primary presidency that they couldn’t use any of us in any Primary callings.
– Anonymous


Pro Tip: Due to the way the church is structured, women who accept leadership callings are reliant on their priesthood leaders for staffing and approval. If it is logistically impossible to offer autonomy to women to fulfill their callings, please remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”.

Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)


  1. Sounds like a poorly handled situation. There was no call for the bishopric to be like that.

    I did see a bit of the situation from the other side while my husband was in the bishopric. They’d been working long hours trying to staff all the organizations since several presidencies needed to change. They spent an excessive amount of time taking suggestions from the primary and figuring out who was available and contacting people and setting up appointments and meeting with ward members and trying to get callings extended and accepted and communicating back and forth. Lots of people don’t say yes, so they had to start all over again. (Why do I know all this? Small house. Overheard bits of conversations. And I’d never repeat details to anyone, and have not included identifying information here.)

    Several weeks in and despite efforts to keep communications open, the primary president roasted the bishopric for not having the primary fully staffed. She was very harsh. Not having teachers was a huge problem on Sundays, but there was literally nothing else the bishopric could do to move things any faster. Despite all the time they put in, people still said no.

    It was an unfortunate situation all around, and I can’t think of ways anyone could improve it. If the primary presidency was able to extend callings they (a) wouldn’t be privy to personal information that would disqualify certain members from being asked, (b) still couldn’t pull people out of stake callings, and (c) would probably still have all the same people saying no.

  2. The largest organization in the church with the most members (the Primary), always has the lowest priority and their leaders have the least “voice” whenever I have served in primary presidencies. I have also witnessed other horrid such as bishops/branch presidents using primary callings as leverage (members on welfare have to “work” in nursery/primary in order to “earn” Bishop storehouse goods or welfare assistance monies) with diastrous results for our children because people in those situations resented their “jobs” and treated the children badly and didn’t try to do a good job—why should they? Their presence among us was humiliating and as someone who had faced unemployment before, I felt bad for them. My branch has also used primary callings as consolation callings for persons with mental illness, learning disabilities, or other issues that our branch presidency felt made them somehow ineligible for “adult callings,” but which begged the question, “if they aren’t qualified to serve adults, should we entrust them in rooms alone with our most precious little ones?” I only angered church leaders for questioning their authority in this vein. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I have seen the thing described in this post—and much, much more!

  3. My experience as primary president, and my husband’s experience in the bishopric as the counselor over primary is that primary is lowest priority. Callings were staffed in a ranking order, with the “most important” callings staffed first, then the ward was filled in with a clear order. First, the stake took those people it wanted for ward leadership and stake callings. So, this took care of bishop, bishopric, quorum presidencies, high council, and stake positions over the auxiliaries. On a ward level, filling the ward auxiliaries went, 1st, young men, both the leaders and teachers, then RS presidency, young women leaders, primary presidency. Then the rest of the teachers were filled in, with the young men getting the best for classes and scouting. Adult classes were next, with RS, priesthood quorums, SS, and then the teen SS. Somewhere in the ranking the odds and ends non teaching callings got filled, such as music, ward librarian, Ward employment specialist, but they sort of had their own ranking with some going unfilled if there were not enough warm bodies to fill them. Somewhere between the bulk of the teachers and those callings that might get left infilled, were the primary teachers. These people just seemed to need to be breathing as the only real requirement. Anybody could be pulled out of primary to be put in a “higher” calling, but primary could not pull anyone out of a “higher” calling and all the callings seemed to be higher.

    I would ask the bishop for the list of people who did not have callings, because those were the only people available to teach primary. I was always short one or two teachers and sometimes I was short 70% of the teachers. When I complained, I was told there just were not enough people to fill all the callings and I just had to make do, like the rest of the ward did. But funny, I never noticed the bishopric trying to function when it was missing people for 70% of the positions. The essential callings all got filled, but primary teachers were not essential. And of course, after having classes of 20 combined with another class of 20, the teacher would resign and I would be that much shorter on being able to cover the classes.

  4. Hopefully the new shorter church format will make it easier to staff all the organizations, including primary. And if sacrament goes way over, like it probably will in a number of wards, that will only leave 30 or 40 minutes for primary. But even if the shorter format does help, there are still issues having to do with the requirements for double-staffing and issues of building layout.

  5. “Meanwhile, the Young Women/Young Men programs were fully staffed with all the best people despite the fact that we only had four young women in that ward.”

    Sister, you are singing my song! I was activity days leader in a group of combined boys and girls (our branch doesn’t have scouts) with a group of TWELVE kids that met the same night as YM/YW, and as I tried to shepherd my TWELVE super-rowdy, super-hyper kids ALONE each Wednesday night, I’d pass by the young men, who had four adults in their room (and only 4-6 young men) and then pas by the YW room, which had 7-8 YW, but they are so well behaved that no way did they need their huge passel of women! I was having meltdowns trying to keep all those kids entertained, and I rarely got use of the gym because the YM always got it, first. But pointing out this “staffing discrepancy” to branch leadership only earned me a reputation for being difficult, whiney, hysterical, etc rather than the men being inefficient, incapable leaders when it came to properly allocating human resources. I went up and down the branch/stake chain looking for help/solutions/authority to fix this and got nowhere.

  6. While I was working in nursery, the bishopric in my ward made a regular habit of releasing primary workers to fill other callings without warning or informing the primary president. Frequently, she only found out the following Sunday that she was shorthanded. Once the bishopric released almost everyone in the primary and nursery at once, without making any replacements for several weeks. The poor president, a woman with a full time job, had to make dozens of calls every week begging people to substitute or take on combined classes. As a nursery leader in a very shorthanded nursery, I had to contend with the bishopric calling multiple people who were obviously mentally or physically incapable of managing small children (or else downright creepy) as nursery workers, as if warm bodies were all that was needed. I know it’s not universal, but it was sad to me that in a church so focused on families and children, leaders making callings sometimes view primary and nursery as little more than babysitting (and as a result, that’s often what it becomes and many people hate being called to primary). I do have hope that the shorter church will help this a lot.

  7. Based on personal experience, I am betting this is a problem in many, many wards. Boy did this all sound super familiar, sisters! My husband once complained that the brethren in a small-ish ward we attended (in the mission field) were not as strong as a previous ward we had attended, because they rarely came to church, slacked off in their callings, and wouldn’t show up to service projects, to which I answered him: “If you want strong adults, you don’t call better leaders to adult organizations. You call better leaders to the primary! Strong primaries have a trickle-up effect, and the primary here gets last priority, calling-wise, and it shows in the way the children are treated and the kind of teaching and treatment they are receiving! These children are then growing up to become the unhappy, unmotivated, unfulfilled adults that you struggle to lead. If you want strong adults, they must be properly nurtured as children, but church leaders refuse to give me quality, nurturing leaders in primary!”
    And this works on the general level, to– Hey, Salt Lake: if you want a stronger church, you need to empower the women who lead the primary. Keep sidelining the sisters who run the children’s auxiliary (and why are we calling them auxiliaries, BTW?) the way you have been, and those children won’t sustain you as they grow older, I promise.

  8. It’s obvious to me that while the church values children an awful lot in theory, the practice is hugely lacking. There are a lot of other churches in my area, and I’m not aware of any other denominations that expect children as young as three to four still on hard plastic chairs, in a beige windowless cinder-block room, being led by adults who are often there against their will. You wouldn’t join a church like that!

  9. During my time in a Bishopric, our inspired Bishop decided that children and youth would always be the priority with callings, because every other organization is staffed by and for adults, and they can figure things out on their own if they’re short a position. In a Ward with a large primary, if the Primary President is happy, everyone else is too. Follows the Saviour’s counsel and put the children first, and literally everything else will work itself out. When I hear about ward leaders not listening to the revelation auxialliary leaders receive about who should serve, it makes me sad, because it’s not operating according to the direction in the handbook, or the principles of gospel leadership in the scriptures.

  10. This is where the church would really benefit from having Nursery/Primary callings be paid positions with benefits that would come with background checks, enhanced and improved facilities, and proper training.

    Nursery and Primary callings in particular are breeding grounds for resentment. Moms who are at home with their children all day Monday through Saturday become frustrated when Sunday – the one day of the week they have to be with and interact with adults – is taken away from them.

    Meanwhile, it’s a great source of irritation for single adults to be put in Nursery or Primary because it carries the attitude of the bishopric/those in leadership positions not seeing them as real adults: “You’re single, therefore you can’t be in leadership positions or grown-up callings.” It’s also saying, “We’re going to hide you away where no one can see you because you’re single and therefore don’t fit the mold of what a family in this church should really be like.”

    I know single women who went to family ward after transitioning from the single adult scene. They were left to languish in Nursery or Primary for YEARS, and when they were finally released, everyone was all, “WHO are you, again!?” Now those single women no longer go to church.

    The lack of autonomy really hurts children and women alike. Children get the short end of the stick when their leaders and teachers are doing their callings grudgingly and filled with resentment. Women are the ones with greater understanding regarding how hard Nursery/Primary callings are on mothers, single adults, and other marginalized groups and understand better how to accommodate those people and those specific circumstances. It really should not be left to the men at all.

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