Serving as bishop has been an exhilarating, inspirational, educational, and life-changing experience for which I am deeply grateful. One of the most important lessons came when our ward’s boundaries were realigned and a number of new families became part of our ward family.
Not long after the realignment, I arrived home after a long and difficult day at work and a long and challenging evening with my Church responsibilities. Exhausted, I settled in with a good book to unwind from the stress of the day’s events. Almost on cue, the telephone rang. It was nearly 10:00 p.m. When my wife called out, “It’s for the bishop,” I reluctantly set my book aside and picked up the telephone.
The caller said with some urgency, “This is Brother Hammond [name has been changed], and I have an emergency. I need you to come over right away.”
“Now? Perhaps we could get together tomorrow night, or later in the week?”
“No, this is an emergency, and we need to see you right away. It can’t wait!”
“What is the problem?”
“We can explain when you get here.”
After a pause I responded, “I will be there as soon as I can.”
So off went the robe, the slippers, and the pajamas. On came the white shirt and the tie. With some degree of apprehension I went out the front door and into the night.
The Hammond family lived in a small apartment several miles from my home. I had met Brother Hammond a few times at church, but I didn’t know him well. He and his wife had one young daughter, and they were just out of high school themselves. I wondered what the problem could be. Was someone ill? Had there been a death in the family? Had there been an accident? The possibilities were sobering, and I prepared myself for the worst.
I approached their apartment and knocked on the door. After only a few seconds, the door flew open, and Brother Hammond ushered me hastily into the front room of the apartment.
“Bishop, thanks so much for coming.”
“What’s the problem? How can I help?”
“Don’t you hear that?”
“The stereo downstairs! It has been blasting that way all day. We have asked and asked them to turn it down, and they just ignore us. We called the apartment manager, and he won’t help at all. We just can’t stand it anymore. Please go down there and tell them to turn it down. They won’t listen to anyone else. You must help us!”
I was stunned—so stunned that I stepped backwards and fell, more than sat, on the couch behind me. The room buzzed as both Brother and Sister Hammond took their turns complaining about the stereo, the noise, the rudeness of people who were so thoughtless as to not even consider that other people were tired and wanted some rest. I stared at them in disbelief. They were apparently unaware of the irony of it all.
Then, as I thought about my limited time for myself and my family, I began to fume. Line by line I constructed a lecture that they most assuredly needed and deserved. They had to learn that it was just not right to treat a priesthood leader, or anyone else for that matter, in such a way. What were they thinking? This was not a problem for a priesthood leader. Some problems in life we have to address ourselves.
Fortunately, a thought entered my mind just as I was about to unload my frustrations. “Why would they call me over this late at night? The situation doesn’t really seem to make any sense, does it? What are their real concerns? It can’t be just the stereo.”
I looked around. I could see that the apartment was clean but sparsely furnished, and what furniture there was in the room was threadbare. I ignored their complaints and interrupted them with a single question that came as clearly into my mind as a ray of light into a darkened room: “Do you have any food in the house?”
Brother Hammond looked at me with a stunned expression and lowered his head. “No, Bishop, we don’t.”
In an instant, everything became clear to me. I understood why they had called and why they needed me there. We all forgot the noise, sat down together, discussed their situation, and made plans to address their immediate and long-term needs. I helped them learn about the roles of home teachers, visiting teachers, and priesthood and Relief Society leaders in helping handle problems like these. My self-absorbed lecture was set aside and forgotten. I left for home some time later with a humble and contrite heart.
Speaking directly to bishops, President Gordon B. Hinckley has taught: “You are to see that none goes hungry or without clothing or shelter. You must know the circumstances of all over whom you preside. You must be a comforter and a guide to your people. Your door must be ever open to any cries of distress. Your back must be strong in sharing their burdens.” 1 President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has also explained that “inherent in the ordination to be bishop is both the right and the obligation to be directed by inspiration.” 2
Those lessons bore down upon my soul that night. My selfishness had very nearly overshadowed the Spirit, just as the Spirit was about to help me meet my task. But the promise had been fulfilled. The Spirit had come. And my life and the lives of those to whom I had been able to minister had been blessed.