Turf Wars, Talents and Spiritual Gifts

Photo by Royce Bair

In the last 30 years, I have been a member of about a dozen different wards.  With each move, I must establish new friendships and create a niche among my fellow saints. Church is a place for shared faith, but it is also a place where many perform a skill that may or may not be related to one’s professional training.  If it’s a skill that a sister does not use at work, this often makes church a particularly important venue for expressing that skill.

In each ward I’ve attended, I see sisters who are known for one of these skills: the sister who arranges the flowers at ward events, the sister who can cook for a crowd, the sister who sings solos, the sister who grows vegetables, and so on.  I admit that I often strive to establish the following identities: the sister who creates flyers, the sister who reads the most, and the sister who keeps good records.   If I move into a ward and another set of sisters occupy all three of these positions, I find myself in a panic. I don’t sing, I can’t decorate anything, and I don’t know how to cook for more than six people.  Yes, I want to be useful, but I also want to be unique.

After moving to Wichita and struggling to find my niche, I briefly considered buying a high-end wheat grinder and doing a ton of recipe testing so that I could be “the sister who can make any dinner course based on whole wheat.”  Each ward has one of these sisters, and if they don’t, they need one. But then I discovered that someone else in the ward already had that territory covered.   I finally found my place by sharing some contested turf with others. We had to find subtle differences in our shared skill sets as a way to peacefully co-exist.  I also chose to just exit a couple of arenas, such as baking cakes for ward functions, because a couple of sisters have a far greater investment, and I didn’t want to step on their toes.

In trying to gain some insight on the subject, I recall the parable of the talents.  Each servant received an allotment of coins, and each was judged by his ability to increase his portion:  “Thou has been faithful over a few things” (Matt. 25:21).  This parable is not about displaying a skill but tending to a stewardship.  So if I am teaching a class of six year olds, they are my stewardship.  Have I accepted these children as little coins from my Master and fostered their spiritual growth?  Or did I totally miss the point by spending too much time making a handout intended to dazzle their parents?

If I’m typing up a flyer for a Relief Society activity, do I get off track, making my flyer ornate to the point of distraction?  Or do I think more about how the flyer can edify the saints. Justine has an eloquent post that considers Sis. Beck’s request that Relief Society get out of the entertainment business. And if I have a position of leadership, do I misuse my position as a way to make myself even more visible?  Or do I delegate?  I might ask someone else to make flyers so that she can contribute and experience personal growth.  And even though I am loathe to admit it, she could very well do a better job than I.

I probably need to completely extinguish my ego when performing church service and focus more on shared values and shared goals.  After all, there is no “I” in “Zion.” Well, technically there is, but you get my point. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that the same spirit is given to each for the edification of all the saints. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:7).   Hence, the strength comes from a divine source (and not from self-generated talent) and should be used for divine purposes (and not for individual glory).  Instead of using my skills and resources to build up the kingdom of Karen, I need to collaborate with others so that we can build up the kingdom of God.

Do you struggle to find ways to express your skills, talents or spiritual gifts at church?  Do you know others who have quiet talents?  How do you benefit from the spiritual gifts of others, especially those less public gifts?

About Karen

(Blog Team) After living in UT, HI, CA, DC, VA, WI, & WV, Karen now lives in KS with her family. During the week, she blogs about aging, teaches as an adjunct for WSU's Aging Studies program, and socializes with older adults. On the weekend, she enjoys connecting with the sisters in her ward because they possess divine gifts and are full of good works.

32 thoughts on “Turf Wars, Talents and Spiritual Gifts

  1. A wonderful essay, Karen. I think all of us–brothers as well as sisters–would do well to keep in mind variety of gifts out there, and learn how to deal with the fact that God didn’t give us gifts (whether visible or invisible) for ourselves, but for the whole. I know I forget about this point often enough on my own.

  2. I play piano and organ, so I always have a pretty good idea of what my calling in a new ward will be: organist, piano for primary, or choir accompanist.

  3. I guess I have been completely unaware of turf wars as far as ward callings go. But as someone who doesn’t have any outstanding audio or visual talents, I understand what you mean about quiet talents.

    I do remember moving into my current neighborhood years ago and discovering there was a well established “pie lady.” It worked to my advantage, however, as I asked her to teach me one of her recipes and I was able to incorporate some of her methods into my own and my pies are all the better for it.

    Remembering that my talents are truly not my own and trying to consecrate them to serve the Lord who gave them to me helps me keep perspective and also be prepared to say “Yes” when I am needed, especially when it is for something that takes me out of my comfort zone.

  4. dalene: I usually wait until the end of the day to respond, but I wanted to clarify: I don’t see it in callings as much as in unofficial things: kids’ birthday parties, potlucks, asking people to help with ward socials or with the meeting-formally-known-as-Enrichment on a one time basis, etc. It’s more about who volunteers to do something or who gets asked to do something on a one time basis. I’m extremely social, and I am very plugged into group dynamics–probably to a fault. You seem to have more balance between the individual and community, which is good!

  5. As my talent is sarcasm I struggle not to use it in church.

    Honestly, though, I do sometimes feel like my particular talents don’t always fit well in the church setting. Mine are definitely more on the quiet side (except for the sarcasm which must be kept quiet). But I also think that a lot of talents can be bent to use in almost any calling.

    Really, though, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your post this morning! Thank you for writing and sharing it.

  6. I haven’t moved to a new ward in many many years, but if I did, I wouldn’t want anybody to notice me. I’d want to be known as the “who is that?”—“beats me” girl.

  7. We have an amusing turf war going on in our ward right now. There is one sister in the ward who does photography and does family pictures for quite a large number of families in the ward as well as weddings, senior pictures, etc. Recently, another sister moved into the ward who does photography too! Suddenly, she’s stealing customers from the first sister. As far as I can tell from the sidelines, there hasn’t been a lot of acrimony, but there has been some hand-wringing among the populace of the ward as to who should take their Christmas photos.

    As for me, my niche is the anti-niche. I don’t craft, scrapbook, cook for a crowd, make meals from wheat, have any particular music talent, or construct awesome flyers. I’m a scientist, and they really can’t figure out what to do with me, which probably explains why I don’t currently have a calling.

  8. Crazy how this happens among women. Talents become bargaining chips almost. (I’m thinking Johnny Lingo and the eight cow wife-syndrome.) There’s a lady in our ward who is the self-declared “cupcake lady” and I swear the cake part, although well-adorned with frosting and packaging, is super-dry. At least she’s willing to share her “talent.” My talent is bossing other people’s kids around apparently. That’s my way of NOT declaring my talent. Just kidding, but it sure would be nice to sit in a R.S. meeting where I could find out who our ward’s wheat grinder is!

  9. Fancy flyers for RS meetings = better attendance, in my experience. And when you’ve worked and prayed to put together an edifying, educational dinner/class, you want people there!

    Perhaps I’m feeling particularly strongly about this because I’m planning to buy a bunch of (cheap) cans later tonight and re-label them for a dinner based on food storage. My husband will think I’m crazy. But it will fill seats!

    I have noticed that with some of the more artsy things I’ve done, the women who identify themselves as artists kind of look at me funny, because I’m a writer, not a painter, I guess. One of these days I’ll remember to ask them to do the work, and I won’t be so busy.

  10. Nice little thoughtful essay. Never really thought about that “need to fit in” aspect of women’s lives. We men are prone to just accept that we don’t fit – not that we like not being part of the “insiders” but often it feels like it is more effort than its worth. For men, it also seems to be positional – ie are you the EQ president or a primary teacher. The dividing of the men into age groups (quorums?) also has an impact on finding a place. I guess we all do find our place to fit, just that most of us probably do it without thinking about it (like you do) or realizing that we do it.

  11. I get what you are saying. They just released me as the primary chorister last month, and as much as I hate to admit it my pride was hurt a little. (Okay a lot) That was a calling I could actually do well since I like to sing, don’t mind being up in front of people, like working with children, etc…

    I went through a sort of identity crisis. If I am not the primary chorister than who am I?!? Then, of course, I felt guilty about feeling so insecure. I was worried I was one of those hypocrites who did works “to be seen of men”.

    When I think about it now I am less hard on myself. There is nothing wrong about wanting to feel valued by your community, and that calling made me feel valued and important–of course it was hard for me to lose that feeling!

    I have other talents I actually am a health food nut who makes everything from scratch (while utilizing my super duper wheat grinder, lol). Yet this isn’t widely known, and isn’t really unique in the group of sisters I belong to, so it doesn’t help me in my insecurity. I think what I am looking for is a feeling that I “fit in” and am needed. It isn’t necessarily a desire to be thought of as better–just a desire to be valuable. Does that make sense?

  12. I feel aware of this in wards and I don’t like it. It limits others from opportunities to share talents they enjoy because everyone defaults to the person who can do it best, but it also limits the person with the label. Maybe the wheat grinder person is tired of doing the same old activities on food storage and wants to teach Primary! But the part that really bothers me personally is the former. In my last ward there was a lady who was both the baby shower lady and the bread/pies lady. Which is great; she had a nice shower for me. But I can make great bread and pies too, and I could also put on a nice shower. But it felt like I shouldn’t do those nice things for people lest someone think I am trying to show her up (which I wouldn’t be, I’d just be trying to contribute.) I want to feel free to bring my visiting teachees or presidency members a nice loaf of bread when we meet, without judgment, and there is no way I could have gotten away with throwing a shower for a friend in that ward. Thankfully, my new ward is much better! But I’m still hesitant to try to offer up any talents yet for fear of stepping on toes that I don’t know about. And that’s the real loss -we should be creating environments that feel free and open and nurturing to/ supportive of everyone.

  13. Watch out for the ones whose special talent is knowing how to invest other people’s money in order to achieve rates of return that are a little too good to be true. Too many ponzi schemers out there.

  14. Sometimes I wonder if I have to move to get out of the “cooks for a crowd” label. Gag. Ready to let someone else have it.

  15. In my ward, I’ve gotten to have many different opportunities to contribute in various ways. But in our stake, I’m the one who is playing the piano for every stake choir and the organ for every stake conference. I would LOVE it if they would ask someone else! It is not a calling, and I know there are plenty of people who could do it just fine. I just don’t know how to turn down the stake president when he calls and asks me to do these things. So in a lot of these “turf wars”, maybe the person who is always doing their “thing” would love to turn it over to someone else for a change.

  16. These comments have been fun to read. We’re currently gearing up to move into a new ward again, and I wish there were a list of people’s talents in our new ward. We’ve lived in all our wards for such a short time that I’d like a little help knowing who can point me toward a reliable source of raw milk and a classical guitar teacher for my son. It also could help avoid some sticky situations, like other commenters have mentioned.

    I think I’ve been pegged as the homeschooler in most wards I’ve been in, although I don’t identify myself that way. I’m always surprised when people ask me about it because I hardly ever bring it up myself, but I guess other people know about it. My own favorite talent isn’t applicable in any ward I’ve ever lived in. It is useful where I currently live, but there are no wards or branches here, so that doesn’t work either. At least I don’t get involved in any turf wars. If I move into a ward with another homeschooler someday, I’ll gladly let her be the official representative.

  17. I’m “that woman who sings solos”, but I’ve stopped participating in the choir for a variety of reasons and it took me a while to stop resenting people who made it seem like I was obligated to do something that I disliked very much just because I could do it better than everyone else in the ward.

    How’s that for a run on sentence?

    I do need to get a couple of musical numbers together though…

  18. We had hail, high winds (60-70 mph) last night here in KS with power flickering, so I shut down the computer for the night. Sorry to be late in replying.

    RAF: I don’t plug into the men that much, so I’m not sure how that works. My husband likes to claim the snarky guy, but I don’t know if he’s stepping on any toes with that one.

    CSEric – My mom plays the piano as does my friend here. Yes, people with music abilities often get locked in and rotate with each other among pianist / ward, RS, primary chorister / ward music specialist. I’ve even seen a ward boundary drawn in order to bring in a ward organist.

    dalene – Hmm. Some are talking about this happening with callings, especially for those who have musical abilities.

    AmySo – I love quiet people. I see them as treasure chests of hidden jewels. I also think it’s important to have some skeptics, those who can employ well-placed irony as a way to correct community extremes. A community without irony can do dangerous things with unexamined zeal. Shakespeare’s fool in Lear serves as a good corrective voice (except that he wasn’t headed). The trick is to pick your battles. (I know. I can err on the side of being pretty mouthy, and then I get reduced to mere noise.)

    annegb – I love those mystery women! I am trying to befriend a woman in my yoga class who is quite self-contained. I find her totally fascinating. She’s always smirking at me when I try to chat her up. Rock on with being mysterious.

    Andrea R. Oh, those poor photogs and the sisters trying to be fair and considerate. That’s tough. I served in a RS presidency with a biochemist. Scientists have great powers of observation, they can handle complex data sets, and they usually can stay quite objective. (I worked in a uni setting for decades and served on committees with scientists.) Great skill set! I hope someone can move that barrel off your light soon.

    bth – Oh, poor cupcake lady. And who could gently suggest a moister cake as the foundation. I have a sister who worked in Montesorri professionally, and she’s been in Primary for decades. But bless you! People who can direct kid energy are such a God send. But I hope that you get to rotate out every once and a while.

    Steph – Oh, that flyer on a can does sound eye-catching. Of course, I exaggerated to make a point. I’m not advocating for Puritan plainess in all church related labor. It’s possible to do something creative without being boastful about it. (Well, maybe not for me; I’m prone to vanity.)

    Gordo. Hmm. I guess there may be a pecking order, but I perceive that it’s more about what men do outside of church. But what do I know?

    DeniMarie. Oh, have you had a chance to make some whole grain things for potlucks or for those you visit teach? I’m hypoglycemic, so I would love to benefit from your skill set as I’m trying to eat fewer processed foods now.

    Michelle. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Maybe I’m causing contention for pointing this out. Dangit. All my years of reading literature probably make me too attracted to conflict. Please, please stay oblivious to this. (Or maybe you have a very kind-hearted set of sisters in your ward. Good news!)

    Kaylene. Oh, I wish you lived closer. I would love a loaf of bread / a pie. Just do it, especially for those you visit teach.

    Bill. Yes, Ponzi schemes and other shady business deals are a problem. I just had someone from church call me about investing in securities through him. I told him, “I don’t do business with people at church.” And he gasped audibly. On the other side of that coin, one of my sisters goes to church with a guy just out of jail for white collar crime. I have great compassion for him and his family who comes to church each week. That’s gotta be a hard thing to come back from. Now if he were actively scamming still, I’d be less compassionate.

    Christine. Oh, maybe get rid of your oversized bowls and such? Or burn something next time? In WV, I was asked to do something too many times in one year (feeling like I was overexposed), so I actually started saying no.

    eljee. Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe be “out of town” for the next stake thing so they have to ask someone else? That may get the leaders to think outside the box.

    Amira. Good luck on your next move. I just had a homeschool mom over here Tuesday night, and she was giving my son some math word problems. It was great! She’s got fabulous energy, and she knows a lot of cool facts / methods. It’s interesting that word travels without your having to set it in motion.

    ErinAnn. When I was younger, I believed I could do anything with practice. Now that I’m older, I sit and cry out of awe and wonder over those who have talents (such as singing) and skills (such as diplomacy) and spiritual gifts (such as healing) that I don’t possess. Thank you for sharing your talent!

  19. wow, we will be returning from serving for 2 years and I am starting to wonder if it will be harder than I thought. May be some else will be doing all the things I thought I could do???

  20. I am grateful for niches and skillsets in the ward members around me. I am NOT a fun mom, so I am eternally grateful for the mom who has the super cool boys book club each month and invites my son, for the mom who invites my children over to make homemade gingerbread houses at Christmas. I am not gifted with visual arts, so I am very grateful to be able to call on the graphic artist in the ward, the person who is skilled at Publisher and other software programs. We currently have an embarrassment of riches in the music department–several gifted musicians and two splendid organists/pianists (two actually just moved; we used to have a rotation of 4 for sacrament meeting), so my mediocre playing skills are rarely needed. I am happy to lean on the fabulous preschool teachers for ideas at how to engage my children in learning this summer. I am in awe of the people who jump at the opportunity to serve as Cub and Boy scout leaders (especially as my 3 boys begin to make their way through the world of neckerchiefs, slides and achievement badges)

    I am in perpetual awe of the men and women who always say yes. Who think nothing of being Nursery Leader to 20 kidlets on Sunday and Wolf Leader to 18 8yo boys on Tuesday (she really exists and is in my ward). Who fill their cars and vans each Sunday and activity day with neighbors and friends who are seeking truth, companionship, and friends and bring them to where we are hopefully gathered together in His name. Who say yes whenever they are asked to help, whether it be with funeral potatoes for the third funeral this month (yes that was also our ward a while back), with babysitting for the family whose Dad is in Congestive Heart Failure, or even with last minute Primary Teaching every single week for the teachers who just never seemed to grasp the idea of calling for a sub. I aspire to fill that niche. It is a big and gaping, never filled niche, so I figure if I can get a handle on my grumpy, selfishness, I will always be in demand.

  21. That’s a different way of looking at the “fitting in” dilemma. I must confess I’ve never noticed competition over niche talents, but that just may be that I’m not a people person and never noticed.

    I can see how ward leaders seem to assign semi permanent callings especially in regard to musically talented people, or scouting people, or Primary people. I guess if you don’t get to know the quieter ones in the ward, you don’t tap into possible talents that could really help out the ones that get rotated through similar callings all the time.

    Am I in a niche? Hm. Put me in one of the “falls asleep every week in Sunday School no matter who is teaching” group. Embarrassing but I just can’t help it the past few months. It’s not like I can sneak out for a caffeinated beverage right after Sacrament… :)

  22. I would LOVE a calling! People think that because I have a special needs child, I cannot have a calling. They patronize me and tell me they don’t see me as ‘calling material’.

    I am a camp director for 3 cub scout camps. I oversee 150 staff members between the 3 camps, I write camp policies, train all my staff, supervise program development. I deal with police, hospitals, firemen, guest speakers, 150 cub scouts and their parents. I make sure our special needs campers are taken care and I will be traveling next summer, inspecting other Cub Scout and Boy Scout Camps up and down California. Plus I take care of my family and volunteer at school. And they find I am not ‘calling material’ because of my son. Shame on them.

  23. pat: I am sure they’ll find something for you. Don’t despair.

    angie f: Oh, you are such a poetic / lyric writer. Thank you for taking the time to articulate your situation so beautifully.

    mormonhermitmom: we have a contigency who sneaks to the quickie-mart after sacrament in order to caffeinate. They are very cute about it.

    Shelly: Our current RS pres has identical twins who have special needs (angelman syndrome). She has a lot to offer the ward. I wish people would give you a chance, too. We have another sister who works full time, has six kids and has English as a second language. She has begged to be included. Too often people perceive her as overwhelmed and don’t ask because they have decided it’s too much. They need to let her (and you and others) decide for themselves what is too much. Hugs to you.

  24. I love this post. I love the idea of stewardship vs. skills, and for searching our hearts to see if we are using skills for the Lord’s kingdom, or to build up ourselves.

    That’s not to say that skills aren’t useful in the Lord’s kingdom. I just love the invitation to look at our hearts.

    I also think there’s an invitation in there somewhere to let God help us find our gifts, rather than defining them only by the ‘typical’ gift set we may see or think of. Spiritual gifts can come in many shapes and sizes, and most don’t require a calling to use.

  25. I always feel like the one who answers all the questions in RS. I wouldn’t but I just feel so bad when the teacher asks a question and no one raises their hand.

  26. After reading all your comments I wonder how many sore toes I have caused in our ward.

    I am like April, I answer questions because the lessons are not supposed to be lectures.

    I am a female low tenor who only stays somewhat in tune between two strong voices. I like listening to the rest of our choir.

    I am a “wannabe” in writing and art, working with “the wrong language” and with bad eyesight.

    I do know how to accept the Lord’s love, but there is no calling for that, so I just love the people around me -even when they don’t love me back.

    I feel I belong when I am at the temple, but a lot of the time I feel I am on the wrong planet. Now I wonder if it is because I have created too many sore toes. I guess I am too dense.

    Maj-Lén

  27. Like angie f, I think my niche is appreciating everyone else’s. When I was younger I was stressed about doing things, often doing EVERYONE’S job, probably a bit because I needed the feedback that I was useful, but mostly because I loved how it felt to be a part. As I’ve gotten older I notice more, and I see more people who greatest need is just to be appreciated. So I do (and it’s much less stressful.)

    I also think that “substitute” and “helper” are ever-open niches, as is “cleaning the building when someone’s family drops out” and “helping people move.” I’m comfortable there. My parents were “you can all us”, “never leave the activity ’til it’s clean up” kinds of people and my kids like being those people too. It’s a whole lot less stressful than singing solos in sacrament meeting.

  28. I’m with DeniMarie, when I’m released from a calling I need support. It doesn’t need to be public, but I need help transitioning out of something that I’ve poured myself into. When I was upset because I wasn’t released from a stake calling (other than over the pulpit) the member of the stake presidency was baffled by my desire for a ‘thank you’ or ‘well done!’ He thought it was my pride, in fact it was my desire to know that what I offered to the Lord was accepted. I don’t think it is pride that we want to be valued, to have a place that we fit.

    After my last move I was called as a Cub Scout leader, which I wasn’t thrilled about. Almost a year later I enjoy it but worry that if I tell someone that I like it I’ll never get out. Through this the Lord taught me that I can fill an empty niche when I trust Him and do my best with a good (sometimes sliding into bad) attitude. That means I can always find a place in his kingdom. I just need someone to tell me when I’m filling it well.

    There is a post at Nauvoo Times by Orson Scott Card that relates to our discussion, about how our specific calling or niche doesn’t matter as much as our dependability and respectability:
    http://www.nauvootimes.com/cgi-bin/nauvoo_column.pl?number=1049&author=orson-scott-card

  29. Oh I just saw that this thread was still going.

    Karen, that is interesting for you to mention because I actually started all of this grain grinding when my husband was diagnosed with hypoglycemia four and a half years ago.

    One of the sisters I visit teach is a celiac–she was diagnosed right after I was called to visit teach her–and I know that was the Lord’s plan because I have really been able to support her. We even have them over to dinners filled with foods she can eat. Nevertheless, this is not what I am known for. There is another sister with the “I cook with whole grains” role, and she teaches classes and everything.

    Jendoop: sometimes I think men don’t get it. I was released before they had called anyone else, so they told the presidency to get a substitute. How I would have like to bear my testimony and say goodbye to those kids! I needed some closure. Oh well, it is all over and there are other good things I can do. I guess I just need to go and look for them. :)

  30. Jendoop,
    I have been the Webelos leader for five years. Nope, you will never get out. I have another calling as well (we are in the famine stage of 10 year old boys in the pack) but I still love my Webelos. I love seeing how those that got their Arrow of Light have done so well in Boy Scouts. And I definitely understand the need to have someone say “thanks”.
    Because Cubs was a weekday calling, I got asked to sub (in Primary, in RS, in SS) a lot. Everyone knew I would be there, and I would take it. That was my niche. I’ll have to see how it goes with my new calling.

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