As a Mormon leader, Romney grew, learned from broadened experiences

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

One of Marsh's primary roles is to oversee his ward's welfare system, using money collected from ward members to help families work through un- or underemployment, and offering short-term aid to those in need.

"There is a lot to be said for the confidence you have when you can provide for your family and provide for yourself, and no one likes to get a handout," Marsh said, "It is difficult for people to ask. Some come in at the 11th hour in tears. It's not a fun thing to do, but to help them get them back on their feet is always rewarding for them and for me."

Marital counseling is one of his toughest jobs, Marsh said. "I tell them I am not a family therapist but I try to remind them of the promises they have made to each other and commitments they have made to each other and to the gospel." When necessary, he refers couples to LDS Social Services, a church-sponsored organization that offers expert counselors with shared Christian values.

Two counselors assist bishops in their work. "Counselors do everything the bishop cannot delegate: Scheduling events, arranging class instructors, tracking statistics," said Ian Puente, who served as a bishop's counselor in two Los Angeles wards in recent years.

"The bishop is then allowed to focus on personal counseling, whether temporal or spiritual — and to focus on the young men and women," Puente said.

Ward council

Romney, Marsh and other LDS bishops rely on a larger network of support known as a ward council, a group of other ward members called to their volunteer positions by the bishop. The ward council includes leaders of two priesthood groups, or "quorums," and the Relief Society president, a female leader who is charged with the welfare of the women, or "sisters" in the ward. There is also a ward employment specialist, who helps members find jobs, and leaders of the Young Men's, Young Women's and Sunday School organizations, as well as the Primary president, who oversees instruction and activities for the ward's children. This council meets twice a month to discuss the needs of ward members and to coordinate efforts to help those in need.

"I found ward council one of the most inspiring parts of being a Latter-day Saint," Barlow said. "We would sit in a circle at Romney's house on Saturday mornings and go around to each organization head asking if there are any needs (of any ward member) that need to be addressed."

The ward council is assisted by the home teaching and visiting teaching program, in which men and women in the ward visit assigned families and individuals each month.

"Because of home and visiting teaching," Barlow said, "the ward council collectively has its finger on the pulse of the ward."

Human flaws

"Dealing with people's emotional, mental, physical and economic needs is incredibly grueling," said Puente, who served for four years as a counselor to two different bishops.

"There are resources available to help offset this, but these men are not trained counselors or professionals," said Puente, who works as general counsel for Samuel Goldwyn Films in Los Angeles. "But they do very generous service. It's impressive to see these different men handle it with such a degree of seriousness, thoughtfulness and love."

Now 38, Puente, a husband and the father of four children, is also the new bishop of a ward made up entirely of single college students and young married families at UCLA.

"These bishops are grappling with difficult issues while maintaining family life and professional life," Puente said. "I served as a counselor to two bishops, very different in age, education, background. Both wore the (responsibility) very seriously and it weighed on them very heavily."

In Puente's first L.A. ward, he said, there was "substantial and crushing, grinding poverty-related issues to deal with." The bishop there was a special education coordinator with the Los Angeles Unified School District who had "a crusty exterior" that Puente said eroded during his service as bishop.

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