Jerry Earl Johnston: Personal ministries have made Pres. Monson 'pastoral' leader

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2008 12:06 a.m. MST

FOR MANY PEOPLE, President Thomas S. Monson is the LDS leader they can almost imagine addressing by first name.

Perhaps that has to do with his stories — stories about real people with real names, people battling real problems in real places.

Or maybe it has to do with his facial expressions — the ones where he looks like a playful grandfather telling jokes about himself.

I suspect, however, the connection runs deeper. I think it goes to the heart of the man himself. No matter how many heads of state he will meet in his new calling as president, no matter how many national interviews he gives or how international his reputation becomes, LDS believers know part of him will forever be the young bishop from 50 years ago — the "ward healer" determined to elevate humanity one good deed at a time.

For decades, President Monson was our "pastoral apostle."

Now, he's our "pastoral president."

And the thought brings feelings of warmth and well-being, peace and security.

When Albino Luciani of Italy became Pope John Paul I, he — too — was known for his large "personal ministry." He was democratic by nature. And in Catholic circles, where there's a distinct split between "high" and "low" church, the more brainy fretters feared his "personal touch" would hamper his ability to govern on a global scale.

It was hogwash, of course — the hand-wringing of skeptics with too much time on their hands. Luciani was a breath of fresh air. And I felt sad the world never got to fully appreciate the sweetness a shepherd can bring to mighty tasks.

Now, in the LDS Church, the world will see.

As I listened to President Monson speak at his press conference on Monday, I remembered how he memorized the LDS bishop's handbook, how he once gave his shoes away to a needy member. I thought of the pleasant notes he sends out by the dozens.

And, in a moment of whimsy, I remembered reading Superman comic books as a boy. I could never understand why the Man of Steel spent so much time chasing down cat burglars and tugging babies from the path of speeding cars. He could have cured cancer, fed Africa, found oil on Mars. Now, at age 59, I get the picture. In those early comics, Superman wasn't about pushing life as we know it to new heights. He was about teaching us how to lift others — how to elevate humanity "one good deed at a time."

It was, of course, the approach pioneered by the Greatest Teacher of them all. It's also an approach President Thomas S. Monson has modeled over a lifetime.

I know, in his new calling, President Monson will have less time to visit immigrants, single moms and others. But I also know he would if he could. And that, somehow, is enough.

Kind and generous Albino Luciani spent time in Rome visiting those same lost souls. Then, from nowhere, he was thrust into "The Shoes of the Fisherman." He was suddenly hailed as "Your Holiness" and billed as the hope of all mankind.

It must have given him whiplash. Sadly the world never got a chance to watch him in action, to see what a true "pastor" could do in The Shoes of the Fisherman

I do know, I think, what President Monson would have done.

He'd do what he always does.

He'd simply give the shoes away.


Jerry Johnston is a Deseret Morning News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com

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