In chapter 2 I mentioned some differences between the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood. To recap and give some additional context: the Aaronic Priesthood is given to young men at the age of 12 and the Melchizedek Priesthood is given to men at the age of 18. When you receive the priesthood you are assigned to your respective office. As previously stated, Deacon, Teacher, and Priest are the most common offices in the Aaronic Priesthood and are dictated by your age. The offices of Elder and High Priest are the most common offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood. When you enter the Melchizedek Priesthood, you are assigned to the office of Elder and remain so until you are called to be a High Priest. Each person holding these offices is to attend their respective class every Sunday. These groups of men in their respective priesthood offices are most commonly referred to as a quorum (yes, fellow fans, the creator of Battlestar Galactica was Mormon).
Now, each quorum has what is referred to as a presidency. This presidency consists of a president, two assistants — more commonly referred to as counselors —, and a secretary. Their duties are to oversee that lessons and activities get planned and executed as well as keep an eye out for their fellow quorum members. As small teenagers, we were encouraged to respect, honor, and look up to the members of the presidency. I remember wanting to be called as president. I have always been ambitious and, as a little 12 year old, I felt this was a great way to fulfill those ambitions. I was disappointed the first time a new presidency was called when I was a Deacon and I was not chosen. The president is chosen by the bishop and then assigned to go a pray about who the two counselors and secretary should be. I even approached the other kid who had been called as president and expressed my desire to serve to no avail. But eventually my time came and I was called to be president of the Deacon’s quorum.
I remember the member of the bishopric on the other side of the phone telling me that, as president, I was entitled to the “ministering of angels” and would be inspired as to who to pick to be my two counselors.1 I am fairly positive that there were only four boys, including myself, in the quorum at the time. Thus, it was quite obvious who the rest of the presidency was going to be, but the question was who was going to serve in what position. Of course, I channeled my inner holier than thou and examined who was the most worthy of the other three to be my first counselor. Naturally, I picked my best friend. I later told him that I got a particularly strong feeling when praying to know if he should be my first counselor. I now have little doubt that it was just my confirmation bias that was particularly strong. For future reference in the storyline, I will refer to this friend as Darrell. I called the next oldest kid to be the second counselor and the youngest of us four to be the secretary. I honestly can’t remember much that I did as Deacon’s quorum president other than stress out when one of the other Deacons didn’t show up to church, and making sure we had enough boys to pass the sacrament.
When I became a Teacher, I was called into the presidency fairly early on. I was called to be first counselor to another very close friend. I often referred to this friend as my best friend as well. I’ll call him Shawn. To this day, if you ask me who my best friends were in junior high, I’ll say Shawn and Darrell. Although, when high school came around, Shawn slowly disappeared from my social life while Darrell did not. I was a groomsman at Darrell’s wedding and still refer to him as one of my best friends. But that is getting off topic. Some time after Shawn became a Priest, I was called as Teacher’s quorum president. I am not positive if it was immediately after Shawn left the quorum or not, but I know that I was president again at some point and my 15 year old self was giddy as hell. As teacher’s quorum president my duties shifted from providing sufficient hands to pass the sacrament to ensuring enough boys would arrive on time to prepare it. Oh and getting the bread there on time, a problem I touch on in chapter 6.
Like I said, the other boys were encouraged to admire and follow the example of their quorum presidents. If you were picked as president, it was a sign that Heavenly Father was pleased with you and a signal to the other boys that you must be doing something right. It encouraged the Mormon mold. Before doing something that I thought questionable, I would often ask myself if I could see my quorum president doing it. It was normally something really benign such as listening to a song with a cuss word. Like many things in my life, this feeling only amplified in my mission when I was supposed to be a spiritual giant 24/7 and would constantly compare myself to the best and highest ranking missionaries. As a teenager though, the best and ultimate example was the first assistant to the bishop. This was essentially the equivalent of the Teacher’s and Deacon’s quorum president to the Priest’s quorum, but technically the bishop was the president of the Priest quorum. That is just Mormon semantics that I’m not going to get into. The point is, I revered whoever that boy was. His assignment to me communicated that he was the most spiritually sound adolescent person I could associate myself.
Darrell’s birthday is just a matter of weeks before mine and he was called as first assistant. I want to say that I was disappointed because this meant that I likely would never get the official title of first assistant and that I would only serve de facto in the position for a few weeks before leaving the quorum. However, I can’t honestly say that I remember being disappointed. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Darrell turned 18, became an Elder, and I became the fall back first assistant to the bishop for a bit.
I’m not sure how much I can argue that this desire to be in a leadership position was instilled in me culturally by the Church and how much of it was just innate to my personality. However the fact that I became disaffected with this desire while still faithful, felt completely liberated from it upon leaving, and no longer struggle with it — at least not consciously — strongly suggests to me that it was more of a cultural influence. To be fair, many Mormons will report that they did not feel similar desires or much competition at all. But many others will admit to experiencing nearly the same thing and it having similar psychological effects on them as it did on me. Ultimately, it probably stemmed from both cultural and natural influences, but the cultural influence simply magnified the negative effects.