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Milk before meat

By Shelah Miner


Our family joined the Church the summer when I was fourteen, my brother was ten, and my sister was six. We grew up in Connecticut as a churchgoing family, but after church was over at 10:15 on Sunday morning, we were free to do what we wanted with the rest of the day. In the spring and fall, we usually spent the rest of the day at soccer games for my brother, Ethan. Spring soccer ended that year before we set our baptism date, before we understood the finer parts of becoming a Mormon, before we knew about how Mormons kept the sabbath day holy. At the end of the spring season, Ethan signed up to join the traveling team in the fall.

By the time August came to an end, my mom realized that she was facing a problem. We were fresh from the waters of baptism and still felt like we could do everything right in terms of living the gospel. Should she let Ethan honor his commitment to the team, or should she encourage him to keep the sabbath day holy as much as possible? Full of a convert’s zeal, she had her opinions, and she marched Ethan into the Bishop’s office to have him validate her opinion. 

“He’s thinking about playing soccer this fall, and there’s a conflict with church,” my mom said as she and Ethan took seats across the desk from the Bishop.

“Tell me about your soccer team, Ethan,” the Bishop said.

“We’ve been playing together since we were four, and we’ve all gotten really good.”

“What time are your games?”

“Every other Sunday at two or three.”

“What time does church end?”


“I see no conflicts then, Ethan.”

The Bishop excused my brother and faced my mom, who couldn’t hide her confusion.

“Why?” she finally asked.

“Milk before meat, Terry. He’s new in the gospel. We don’t want to turn him away before he has a chance to grow.”

“What about next year when we have afternoon church?”

“We’ll worry about that next year.”

Ethan played and fulfilled his commitment to the team. The next spring when it came time to sign up for fall soccer, Ethan decided not to join the league that would make him play on Sunday. By that time he was almost twelve, preparing to receive the priesthood, and had met people in the ward who were both good friends and good examples. More than twenty years later, he’s raising six kids in the gospel, and the impression our bishop’s counsel made on our whole family has influenced the way we all live as members of the church.

Are there times when you’ve received unconventional counsel? How has it blessed your life or caused problems for you? How do you discern between living the letter and the spirit of the law?


About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

14 thoughts on “Milk before meat”

  1. Interesting how I was just thinking about this last night. My ward has been blessed to have a family who was baptized about 8 months ago. How I love this family! The oldest daughter is 17 and she is 1st counselor in the Laurel class presidency. I was at YM/YW opening exercises last night and she was conducting. She did a fantastic job! I thought about how much her family has grown in the gospel over the past few months. I thought about how she quit her job a couple of months ago because she refused to work on Sunday. She just figured that out on her own. It would have been easy to say after her baptism, "Now that you are a member you have to quit your job." She was learning precept by precept. When you do that it creates no resentment but joy in living gospel principles.

    Your story was beautiful and touching. We need to treat converts with care. The bishop in your story was doing such a thing.

  2. What an inspired Bishop! The gospel is such a step by step process and we all progress differently. This was a great reminder of that very point. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love this story, Shelah. It reminds me that the church is not one-size, fits-all. The atonement is, of course, but the application of gospel principles is not.

    I've thought about this in my life. I haven't received unconventional advice from a church leader, but I have through the spirit. More than once, I have been asked to do things by the Lord that make little sense. I'm not always sure why, and sometimes my actions end up being counter to traditional Church wisdom, but I've felt comforted by the spirit to continue on a non-traditional path.

  4. While I enjoyed this post, I can't help but think of my bishop's wife, who missed church last Sunday to run a marathon. I guess it's okay, since she took first place for her age class.

  5. Just re-read my comment and I want to clarify that I absolutely believe in keeping commandments and following counsel. I think I sounded a little more laissez-faire about basic gospel principles than I really am. I think we are taught to obey for our own protection, and when we live the gospel preached to us by our prophet and through the scriptures, we are blessed for our obedience. It's just that I've had experiences that have surprised me when the un-orthodox thing was the right thing to do. It's made me less likely to judge others for their choices.

  6. Last year, when the 4th of July fell on a Sunday, my neighbor, who's a very hospitable, sociable Protestant, threw her usual neighborhood 4th of July party. I warned her that she might have lower attendance than usual in our very Mormon neighborhood.

    It was a topic of discussion in just about every home in the neighborhood. Some chose to stay home, to honor the Sabbath. Some chose to come, because they wanted our neighbor to feel accepted and loved.

  7. Great story. I'm surprised and pleased at your bishop's response. I wish I had read this piece 20 years ago when I faced a similar concern with my 11-year old son and Sunday basketball… 🙂

  8. Loved this. I feel like members of the church get locked inside the box of black or white thinking far too often. "Leadership and Self Deception" is an excellent book that everyone, especially those in leadership positions, should read.

    As far as the concern raised by CS Eric, who are you to judge? Take care of yourself and stop worrying about what everyone else is, or isn't doing right.

  9. Great post, Shelah. I smile at the love and understanding your bishop had for your family. I wish all members of the church would use more opportunities to love, encourage and follow the Savior's example of teaching instead of consciously or unconsciously judging others. It's a hard thing to do.

  10. Loved this. What a real and honest Bishop.

    I loved going to stake conference and hearing the first counselor say that he recently took up running for his health and stress reduction in his life. He then said that he had gone on a run that Sunday morning to think about his topic and also clear his head of other things. Again, real, realistic, and he's a good leader in my opinion.


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