WHILE SERVING IN the presidency of their wards' Primary, my mother-in-law and my daughter-in-law both ran into the same problem.
They desperately needed more teachers for a crowded Primary. The presidency would submit to the bishop the names of older sisters who had no calling in the ward women who understood the gospel, who had wit and energy to spare, or so it seemed.
But the bishop would return with the message that sister after sister had declined the calling.
The reason was the same, every time: "I served my time in the Primary when I was a young mother. Now I want to attend Relief Society."
Believe me, I understand the feeling. There are times when you think, "Can't I take a vacation from church service?"
You can, of course. We generally call it "going inactive."
But these sisters are by no means "inactive." They would be insulted if anyone suggested that they were.
Yet they disqualify themselves from the opportunity to teach children the members of the church who are at their most impressionable age. The ones who would most benefit from the experience and wisdom and gospel knowledge of these older members of the church.
And by "older," we're not talking 95 years of age. We're talking about women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Before the hip replacement, before the arthritis, before the serious memory lapses.
(Men of the same ages might be just as reluctant, but apparently their names don't get submitted as often.)
When we first moved to Greensboro, N.C., it wasn't long before my wife, Kristine, was called to be education counselor in the Relief Society. The president was Sue Dowdy, and Kristine came to love and admire this good sister.
Later, after we moved from one ward to another in the city, leaving Sue behind, she served for many years as the seminary teacher.
In recent years, after working in the Raleigh Temple for a time, Sister Dowdy accepted a calling in her ward's Primary. She served as the accompanist for years, until inoperable cancer became so advanced that she simply didn't have the strength.
It was only in the last few weeks of her life that she couldn't continue serving in the Primary, and she told everyone how she really missed those children. When she passed away, it wasn't just the old people of the ward who knew who she was all the children knew her, and she is sorely missed.
Then there's Francis Griffin, who was one of the two original counselors when my wife was called as stake Relief Society president. Sister Griffin had already served for years as a ward Relief Society president.
When she retired as a teacher in the Greensboro school system, she moved to Danville, Va. which is in our stake to teach for a few years there. She hadn't lived in Danville long before the bishop raided the stake Relief Society presidency to take her to be ward Relief Society president.
Now she's retired again, and when she moved back to her home in Greensboro, they reluctantly released her in Danville.
Now, I ask you, is there anyone who would deny that Sister Griffin has earned the right to "retire" and simply attend Relief Society?
Yes, there is Sister Griffin herself. She doesn't have the stamina she once had hip and knee replacement surgeries can take some of the spunk out of you. But there she is, week after week, faithfully teaching the CTR 6 class.
What a blessing she is to those children, with her depth of knowledge, her love of the gospel, her spirituality.
Another example: Joseph Hamilton was our stake president when we first moved to Greensboro I served on the high council under him, and he ordained me a high priest.
When he was released as stake president, do you know what his next calling was? To be the 11-year-old Scout leader in Primary! He seemed to have such a great time with those boys that I swear he loved the calling more than being stake president.
How much poorer the lives of those children would have been if Sue and Francis and Joe had said, "I already raised my young children. I've already put in my church service. It's time for me to take a break! It's time for me to rest!"
Instead, they helped create a love for and knowledge of the gospel in the minds and hearts of children.
One of the reasons we hold onto our youth better than most churches (though not as well as we should!) is that we all help each other raise our children. We are their village.No one is too old to be part of teaching the gospel to our little ones.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.