H. David Burton
Need another friend, someone you can really look up to? Consider your bishop.

Your Bishop and You

While I was growing up, our family lived across the street from the ninth green of a public golf course. We spent hours sitting on the slope of our front lawn watching golfers complete their rounds. Once in a while a golfer would hit a poorly directed shot, and the ball would find its way into our yard. I would immediately try to find the errant ball and, if successful, carefully cross the busy street and stand at the golf course fence ready to return it for a small fee, usually a nickel and on occasion a whole dime. With my newfound wealth, I was then off to the corner grocery store to invest in the confectionery rage of the day, Double Bubble bubble gum. The comics, which were part of the gum’s wrapping, were the best.

By the time of my baptism I wanted to hit and putt golf balls rather than find them for others. The Scottish-born golf professional at the course was kind enough to allow some of us to play a few holes late in the evening after the paying customers stopped coming. In exchange for the privilege, we were expected to perform some chore like picking up papers around the clubhouse, bagging tees, or pulling a few weeds from the flower garden. Many times we played until it was so dark we could not see where we had hit our balls.

Over the next few years, golf became one of the great passions of my young life. I well remember the day my uncle gave me my first matched set of clubs. It didn’t matter that the shafts of each club bore the inscription “Property of the United States Government.” My uncle had purchased the clubs while he was in the military during World War II. I endured a lot of good-natured kidding about my military clubs, but I really appreciated the wonderful gift.

Just before my ordination to the office of a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood, an important event transpired in our family. Early one evening Dad received a telephone call. At the conclusion of the call, he privately visited with my mother. She immediately began to tidy up the house, a sure sign we were going to have visitors. In a short while three well-dressed gentlemen knocked at our front door. Before we could tell who the callers were, mother whisked us to the rear of the house and shut the doors to the living room. After a few minutes of discussion with the men, Dad came and asked Mother to join them in the living room. Mom’s departure allowed me the opportunity to go into the kitchen and sit on the floor with my ear next to the living room door to hear what was being said in the next room. It was soon apparent that my dad was receiving a call to serve as the bishop of our ward. What a shock to a prospective deacon!

Why do I recount these seemingly simple, unimportant stories of everyday life? Because each serves as the foundation for what was the beginning of important, life-changing relationships. Relationships with my heroes, my bishops.

Mother often reminded me that I was fortunate to have my father as my bishop. Each time she suggested this, I wondered what she knew that I didn’t, because the blessings weren’t readily apparent to me. It often seemed that I was picked on because of Dad’s calling. I must have set up a million chairs and then taken them down. When it was time for my periodic visit with the bishop, I never knew if he was interviewing me as my father or as my bishop. The distinction really didn’t matter because my hero, my father, and my bishop were one and the same.

At first I was a little jealous when I heard many of the young men and young women refer to my father, their bishop, as their best friend outside their immediate family. It didn’t take long for me to forget that pettiness. Some young people needing a little course correction in their lives expressed fear about visiting with the bishop. Most, after the interview, wondered why they were afraid. They felt so good when they experienced, first hand, the love of their bishop. Their fear vanished when they realized the bishop was not judgmental and did not hold out perfection as a standard. Bishops endeavor to kindle meaningful friendships with young people as they try to help them understand the importance of living worthily and preparing for the great blessings promised by the Lord. Interviews with bishops give us a wonderful opportunity to discuss our challenges, disappointments, and triumphs with one the Lord has endowed with a special capacity to listen, rejoice, and to help.

On the way to priesthood meeting on Sunday mornings, Dad would make several stops. He would leave the car, disappear to the rear of the home, and then, in a minute or two, reappear. I inquired about why we were making the stops. “Oh, just a little missionary work” was his usual response. It wasn’t until I was a priest that I realized the missionary work being done was the quorum president knocking on bedroom windows reminding his sleepy quorum members of the need to attend their meetings. As the president of the Aaronic Priesthood, the bishop has the responsibility to see that all youth receive instruction concerning the doctrines of the kingdom as well as in the principles of honesty and charity. When the bishop encourages your attendance at meetings, he is not attempting to plan your life or adjust your schedules. He is attempting to show interest and concern because he knows the importance of partaking of the sacrament and the strength we gain by associating with each other.

Through the years, I noticed Dad was in attendance at most Young Men and Young Women activities. At first I felt his presence cramped my style as parental purview was always present. It soon became very apparent that a bishop, absent his tie and coat, having fun, was far less intimidating than he appeared behind the pulpit on Sunday. Many become better acquainted with the bishop at social events and feel more inclined to share concerns and feelings. You can turn to your bishops when you are in need of help and can have great confidence in following his counsel. Is it any mystery that bishops who serve and sacrifice for youth are filled with great love for those who are the recipients of their service? The Lord, best of all, knows the dangers and pitfalls that find their way into lives of youth who do not have a spiritual anchor. Along with parents He has provided each of us with a spiritual guardian in the form of our bishop.

During my high school years I worked summers in the golf pro shop. It was obvious to me that with just a little more tournament experience and more hard work that I would be ready to make application to attend the Professional Golf Association tour qualifying school in Florida. Fame and fortune loomed just around the corner. At this time my good friends were all talking about preparing for their missions.

By the time I finished my Aaronic Priesthood ministry, my dad had completed his distinguished service as bishop. My goals included golf and college. My life was destined to be professional golf, or so I thought.

Our new bishop invited me to his office one Sunday. After the usual pleasantries, he recounted several incidents where bishops felt inspired to visit with individuals to help them correct the course of their lives. I wondered where the interview was going. My mind raced over the many practical jokes and a few of the dumb things I had done. Although I wasn’t an example of perfection, neither was I a rogue of immense proportions. With great humility the bishop explained that he felt inspired to tell me what the Lord wanted me to do with my life. At first I didn’t want to know what he felt the Lord wanted me to do, but the bishop’s sincerity made me feel he was really speaking for the Lord.

“David,” the bishop began, “it is far more important for you to serve the Lord in the mission field than it is for you to seek a career in golf.” He further said that he had prayed for direction in the matter and that he was certain that missionary service was what I needed to be about. In a very direct way, the Spirit readily confirmed to me that the bishop was, indeed, conveying to me the will of the Lord. How could I respond except in a positive fashion.

After two years of missionary service, I was surprised to find that golf was really not very important. It took an inspired bishop to help me understand the eternal implications of following the Lord’s plan, the great plan of happiness.

I’ll be eternally grateful to this great bishop. His courage and wisdom undoubtedly changed the course of my life. You can readily see why my bishops have always been my friends and heroes. They can always be yours as well.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann

[photos] Photography by John Luke