Some years ago, I traveled throughout Wyoming as a telephone switching equipment installer, living in apartments for a few weeks or months at a time. My wife and I, newly wed, attended church wherever we went.
A member of the Church for her whole life, my wife felt right at home and mixed with people quickly in every new area. On the other hand, I had been a member for only two years and had a more difficult time.
I began to perceive a pattern as we attended each new ward; local Church leaders who greeted us would shake our hands, introducing themselves, and ask if we were moving into the ward.
“We are here for a short time, until the job is complete,” I’d reply. We’d swap some small talk and comment on the weather.
I could sense a tiny letdown in the greeter each time I explained this. I was not familiar enough with the Church to fully understand. Later, it dawned on me that many times these people may have been searching for people to fill positions, and short-term visitors were not the answer to prayers.
This impression was reinforced when, on ensuing Sundays, the same person would greet us again, and we’d go through the same introduction and routine.
I began to extract a measure of humor as we continued to move around. I could understand their not remembering my name; I often didn’t recall theirs, either. But I did begin to watch for the encounters and to make remarks to my wife, threatening to give a different name to see if anyone would notice.
And then we moved to Lovell. On our first Sunday, we got the standard greeting in the foyer: an extended hand and the words “I’m the bishop; welcome to church.”
“Thanks. I’m Ed Lewis.”
A brief exchange of information followed, including the fact that I was a convert, we were from Idaho, and we’d only be in Lovell for a few weeks. Same play, same scene—I’d been there before.
Ah, but a Sunday later—same bishop, same couple. “Hello, Brother Lewis.”
He had my attention immediately. He had remembered my name.
“Brother Lewis, would you like to pass the sacrament today?”
“Well … uh … I’ve never done that, you know … uh … sure.”
So there I was, twenty-two years old, in a small town in Wyoming, passing the sacrament for the first time. It was new to me, but I felt good. There was a nervous but warm feeling of being a part of something great, even though a deacon was teaching me the ropes.
The next Sunday the bishop greeted me again. “Brother Lewis, would you like to bless the sacrament today?”
“Well, yes, I would do that.”
The priests did a little instructing, and I offered the sacrament prayer. I sensed that my wife felt as good about my doing something in the Church as I felt about doing it.
A few more Sundays—and then the bishop asked, “Brother Lewis, would you like to give a two and one-half minute talk in sacrament meeting?”
“Ummmm … uh … well … I’ve never talked in church before. But if you want me to, I’d do that.”
That Sunday is still vivid in my mind. I remember standing at the pulpit with tight jaws, beads of sweat coming down the sides of my neck.
I suspect my words left no mark on the congregation. For the listeners, it was just another talk. But it was an exhilarating accomplishment for me. I didn’t keep my notes, and I don’t recall my subject. The one thing I recall is closing by saying something about hoping we didn’t end up in the junkyard of life. Profound.
A few weeks later, we left Lovell. Our experience had included no flashes of lightning, no voices from the clouds—just a small occurrence in the path of a convert to the Church.
Yet I have often thought about that brief time. Years later, when I was called to serve as a bishop, I tried to follow that bishop’s example. I’m embarrassed to admit that after we moved, I forgot that bishop’s name and didn’t remember it until much later. But he had remembered mine, and he had welcomed even my temporary stay in his ward and my small services. From such events are lives changed.