“Brother Wolsey, the Lord has a calling for you,” the stake president said. “I’m going to give you two months to clean up your life. Can you get rid of the bad habits that you have?”
Morgan Wolsey was stunned. He hadn’t been fully active in the Church for almost forty years, and the stake president, a long-time friend, knew very well what Morgan Wolsey’s “bad habits” were—he smoked.
“This is a major calling in the Church, I want you to know that,” the stake president continued. “The Lord has inspired me to bring you in here and talk to you.”
How could Morgan Wolsey show less faith in himself than the Lord and the stake president were showing? He replied that he had never known a Wolsey who could not do what he set his mind to do. When the two men parted that night, Brother Wolsey had pledged to reorder his life within the allotted two months.
There was another interview at the end of that time, and Brother Wolsey reported that he had kept his pledge. He was stunned a few weeks later in another interview to hear the stake president say, “The Lord would like you to be bishop of the Third Ward.” Ward members would soon find that the lessons Bishop Wolsey had learned during his long period of inactivity would help him love less-active members and nonmembers alike into the fold.
Morgan Wolsey was born into an active LDS family, but by the time he was fifteen, friends with different standards had drawn him away from the Church. In 1947 he married Alma Deibert, who was not then a member. For a decade he and his growing family traveled the oil fields of Canada while he worked in construction and drilling. Living in a trailer, they moved fifty-six times in ten years.
Alma always tried to attend the services of one church or another. But more and more, she found what she heard incompatible with her own beliefs: it just didn’t “ring true.” In the meantime, wherever the Wolseys went, the missionaries somehow found them. So Alma began investigating the LDS Church. In 1954, she was baptized, along with two of their children.
In 1957, the Wolseys finally decided, for their children’s sake, to settle down. The family moved to Edmonton and bought the house where they live today.
Brother Wolsey didn’t attend church regularly with his family, but he supported them in their attendance. This support was put to the test when the Wolseys’ first son was called on a mission in the 1960s. “We didn’t know if we could afford it,” Brother Wolsey said. But, in an act of faith, the son went anyway. Unexpectedly, both spiritual and temporal blessings poured down on the family.
The blessings continued as Sister Wolsey and the children served faithfully in the Church. Brother Wolsey continued to support them—and even paid tithes and offerings—but still he did not come into full activity.
Then came the day of that interview with the stake president.
As Brother Wolsey drove home, having committed to reshape his life, he received a reassuring witness that he could prepare for the responsibility to come. “A very special spirit sat with me in our car,” he recalls. He sensed it was his mother, who had passed away years earlier. She had always longed for her son to be active in the Church; when he was born, she had received a promise in a priesthood blessing that he would bring many people into the Church. “This spirit impressed me that I could do the things I needed to do. The feeling of her presence was so strong, and I seemed to hear a voice say, ‘Morgan, you can do it.’ I knew it was her voice.”
When he returned home, Brother Wolsey didn’t tell his wife what he intended to do because he didn’t think Alma would believe him. Sister Wolsey sensed something unusual was happening, but she was still “shocked,” he recalls, when he told her about his visit with the stake president.
Weeks later, when her husband was called as bishop, Alma Wolsey gave him all her support—even though she was already very busy as ward Relief Society president.
Bishop Wolsey was told to release his wife as Relief Society president—but not to get in too big a hurry. So for the next nine months they operated in tandem. If problems arose in the ward, both the bishop and the Relief Society president could arrive at the same time. Sister Wolsey played a crucial role in helping her husband become acquainted with ward members.
That first year the ward got on its feet financially and paid off a three-thousand-dollar debt to the stake. Through projects such as holding garage sales and filling sandbags to be used as traction weights for oil company vehicles, the ward was able to raise enough money for its needs. But the projects also brought the greater blessing of ward unity as members learned to work and pull together.
Bishop Wolsey learned early on the importance of working closely with the missionaries. At a young missionary’s suggestion, the bishop would meet with investigators as soon as possible after they heard the first discussion. That way, investigators came to know him even before they came to church and would see a familiar face at the door when they began attending meetings. The year following Morgan Wolsey’s calling as bishop, the Third Ward had the highest number of convert baptisms in the mission—thirty-nine.
Much of the missionary work was with part-member families. Once, for example, Bishop Wolsey and his counselors were at a loss to find a chairman for the ward’s gardening committee, which had an assignment at the stake farm. One morning as they knelt in prayer, the name of the husband of a ward member came to Bishop Wolsey. He thought to himself, “This man’s not even a member!” Mr. Hudkins was seventy-nine years old. He drove his wife to church, but wouldn’t attend with her. Bishop Wolsey respected him—but give him a calling?
The bishop asked his counselors for their support, and they gave it. So he went to the Hudkins’ home and extended the call. After thinking it over, the man accepted. When Mr. Hudkins’s name was presented to the congregation, Bishop Wolsey called his attention to the more than two hundred upraised hands of members sustaining him. “These people have raised their hands to support you. That tells me you’ll have success.”
The ward’s garden at the stake farm yielded so much produce that there was a large surplus. Mr. Hudkins worked very well with the members. Then one day he phoned Bishop Wolsey to say, “Bishop, I’m quitting my job at the Church farm.”
Bishop Wolsey immediately asked, “What’s the matter? Did somebody hurt your feelings?”
“No, no, no,” came the reply. “Unless I can be baptized on Saturday, I’m not doing it anymore.”
So Mr. Hudkins became Brother Hudkins, and he remained faithful until his death.
On more than one occasion nonmembers sought out Bishop Wolsey for counsel. Early one Sunday morning, for example, a young woman who was not LDS knocked on his door. She had some problems and was seeking advice. He listened and then lovingly advised her to repent and overcome the behaviors that were causing her problems. She began to change her life, and a year later, she joined the Church.
Another who sought his counsel was a non-LDS woman whose less-active LDS husband had put her out of the house. Bishop Wolsey agreed to try to help with a reconciliation. He confronted the man one evening in a business office littered with cigarettes and whiskey bottles.
“Now what kind of Latter-day Saint are you?” Bishop Wolsey asked, after verifying that the man had indeed turned his wife out. He admonished the brother to clean up his life and take his wife back, urging him to go home and pray until the Lord told him what to do to remedy the situation. “And when you hear from the Lord—phone me,” Bishop Wolsey said.
At 4:00 A.M. the phone rang, and Bishop Wolsey went to help the couple begin working out their problems. The wife joined the Church, but the man has since become less active again. And though Morgan Wolsey was released as bishop several years ago, he still visits the man each month. “I know he’ll come back,” Brother Wolsey says. “I just know he will. He’s a good man.”
Morgan Wolsey still maintains contact with many other less-active members of the Church. He empathizes with their problems, understands how alone they feel, and suffers pain when they have setbacks. He knows from experience how badly they need the Church. And he knows how important it is never to give up on them.
Some people, after all, take a while to come back—perhaps as much as forty years.