After worshipping during sacrament meeting each Sunday in her LDS ward, Danielle Spangler heads for her classroom.
There, she finds 20 or more toddlers running around, playing with toys, begging for food and/or crying for Mom. Spangler and three other adults begin to play dolls, choo-choo train and other games with the kids to keep them calm until it’s time for the singing, lesson and snacks.
They are nursery leaders who are serving in the North Lake 1st Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a newly developed area on the north end of Utah Lake in Lehi, Utah. And there are two other nurseries just like this in the same ward.
The North Lake 1st Ward currently has 72 nursery-age children and is expected to increase to 82 by December. Ranging in age from 18 months up to 3 years old, the toddlers are divided into three separate nurseries with four to five nursery workers who voluntarily serve in that capacity. A nursery coordinator, an assistant coordinator and two nursery music leaders also help oversee the kids.
“I go all out,” Spangler said of her calling. “This is a challenging calling for me, and I was previously in the Stake Young Women Presidency. I think our nursery is hard, honestly. I go 150 percent in any calling I’m given, but I feel that the blessings from serving are — I can’t even count them. I’ve truly grown to love the little kids I’ve grown to be with.”
While serving in the nursery of a Mormon ward may feel overwhelming at times, nursery leaders like Spangler say they receive many rewards from accepting the call to serve — whether they are blessings seen in the classroom, at home or simply over time.
Courtney Wolfe said nursery can at times feel like a roller coaster.
Wolfe serves as a nursery leader in the Cedar Pass 3rd Ward in Eagle Mountain, which has about 40 nursery-age children. Some days start out great and other days start out with “half of the children crying, grasping to their parents' legs looking at me like I’m the evil witch trying to lure Hansel and Gretel into a sugar-coated classroom filled with toys, puzzles and snacks that are simply no fun at all,” Wolfe said.
But despite the challenge, Wolfe experiences fulfillment from watching the kids grow in the gospel and from the lessons they teach her in return.
“Each week I get 10 or more eager hands pleading for me to pick them to learn to pray," Wolfe said. "These wonderful children recognize pictures of the Savior, the prophets and the scriptures. They know that Jesus loves them and that choosing the right will make them happy. The Spirit shines through the eyes of our little ones. They continue to teach me and strengthen my testimony of our Savior’s love. I love (the) children and am blessed to be taught by them each week.”
Eydie Abel, from the Baton Rouge 3rd Ward in Louisiana, has served multiple times in nursery in various wards as her family has moved around. She agreed that it is a blessing to teach the children gospel principles and see how their learning develops.
“It was not until (my niece) started attending nursery at church that she finally understood to fold her arms and be reverent during our prayers,” Abel said. “Without nursery, this might not be happening. (The nursery children’s) minds are sponges just waiting to be taught. They love everyone unconditionally.”
Doug Carpenter of the Centreville 2nd Ward, Centreville Virginia Stake, teaches about seven children in nursery. He said that while it can be challenging for young children to leave their parents, their innocence and excitement brings joy to his calling. Like Abel, Carpenter strives to teach the children gospel fundamentals.
“A lot of them hardly talk and only know a few words when they first come in, so it’s kind of hard to teach a lesson,” said Carpenter, who has been in nursery for six months. “We have snacks, but we say a prayer before the snacks. We try and get them into the habit of things they will do later in life. It’s fun. It’s just a fun place to be. They are cute kids. Everything is new to them. The greatest thing about it is just that they’re innocent, fun (and) enjoyable.”
Primary President Jennie Lund from the North Lake 1st Ward said a blessing the children receive from nursery is being able to interact with others their age.
“There are so many kids, and they all become the best of friends,” Lund said. “They grow up together in their church, community and school, and they just feed off each other. They all know each other so they are excited to go to nursery. Here they run into all their friends and have a ton of playmates. When you walk into the nursery, you can just tell they have a lot of fun.”
Some wards, like the Blodgett Canyon Ward in Hamilton, Montana, have smaller nurseries, but still see blessings abound. Cathy Majors, 61, serves as a leader in a nursery that has just six children.
“You can just feel the Spirit because the nursery is small and we’re able to pick (the kids) up and cuddle them and rock them, and get down on the floor with them and play with them)," Majors said. "It’s really a precious calling, and I really feel close to the Savior when I’m there because of these little children.”
Majors said serving in nursery can be exhausting, but the biggest blessing is the happiness that stays with her throughout the week.
“I’m so tired and exhausted when I leave (nursery), but when I leave I have the biggest smile on my face and my heart feels full of love, and it’s the most wonderful tired I’ve ever felt in my whole life, other than caring for my children,” Majors said. “It’s the way it makes me feel when I leave and the feeling I have the rest of the day and then I think about it during the week.”
Nursery coordinator Rachel Stanley from the North Lake 1st Ward said a blessing she gets from substituting in nursery is developing a relationship with the toddlers that has the potential to last past nursery and into their teen years.
“For me, it’s interesting to come in and sub. That’s been fun because I can see the kids grow as they go through nursery,” Stanley said. “It’s fun to see that (the kids) remember you as they get older.”
Nursery leader Sarah Warcup from the North Lake 1st Ward, who has served in that calling for a year and a half, said working in the nursery helps her form new relationships with the teachers her age.
“I’ve been blessed because I’ve formed relationships with people I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Warcup said. “I just can feel that we as a family are so blessed, and I think it’s because we put the Lord first and are doing our best to fulfill our calling.”
Lund said an important part of serving in nursery is making sure all the children are kept track of and feel welcome.
“The only thing we leaders worry about is the kids not getting recognized as much as others — getting lost in the crowd,” Lund said. “We get to them and make sure they feel loved and welcomed individually and not just corralled into a group.”
Spangler said she makes sure to address each toddler as they arrive and leave nursery.
“Every single kid gets that personalized 'hello' and 'welcome' and 'we’re glad you’re here today,’ ” Spangler said. “And leaving is equally important. I want their parents to know they’ve had a great time.”
The calling of nursery leader can be intimidating, especially for those unaccustomed to working with young children. But Bishop Matt Killpack of the North Lake 1st Ward said the ward hardly has problems with members refusing to accept the call.
“It’s interesting because there are times when people accept the calling, and I can tell in the conversation that it’s not something that they are excited about,” Bishop Killpack said. “But over time, they catch the spirit and understand how wonderful it is to serve with children.”
Bishop Killpack has seen nursery bless the lives of the children, parents and teachers throughout the ward.
“Our ward is full of noise, and it’s the music that children bring,” he said. “It’s crying, laughing, chattering, and I love it. It helps us look to the future and understand that God is sending down amazing spirits into our ward right now, and it is amazing to see that happening.”