Sustain w logo

Ubiquitous. Now there is a great word. It means “being everywhere, especially at once.” If you have lived in Hawaii (and don’t we all?) the ants are ubiquitous. There are so many of them, and you see them so often that you start to gloss over them and don’t see them any longer, until they have walked away with your sandwich – the one you just put down 10 seconds ago.

Some things in the church are ubiquitous (pronounced – you bic wittus). The sustainings that take place at the beginning of a sacrament meeting is like that. Almost every time we go to church someone is being released from a calling or being sustained to a new calling. The process is so common we no longer think about what we are doing. We just go through the motions, like flipping a light switch. You just know that if you want light, you flip the switch. If you want someone to start a new job in the church you sustain them. Done and done.

We have a lay ministry. At the grassroots level there are no paid clergy. We all do the work. As a result, we all have to learn to support each other, since we are regularly being asked to do various things in the church. When we are asked to take on a new responsibility it is referred to as a calling. In a perfect world, the Bishop talks to you privately, and officially asks you to fulfill a particular responsibility or calling in the ward (congregation).

Once you have received your calling it is necessary to have your name brought before all the members of the ward so everyone knows that you are about to receive authority from the Bishop to perform the responsibilities of this new job or calling. It may be teaching a class of youth, serving on a committee, becoming a leader (president) of an organization in the ward, like becoming the Young Women’s President. Whatever it is, the order of the Church or way of doing things, is that everyone knows that this is what the Bishop is doing. Nothing is done in secret, all callings are brought before the membership of the ward.

Here is where we have to define some words. We sometimes refer to this process as voting, because we are told whom the Bishop has called to a particular position, and all of us are asked to basically say yea or nay by lifting our right hand in “sustaining” or “opposition.” So what does that mean, exactly? It doesn’t mean that if I don’t like someone, and I “vote” in opposition to them that they will not get the job. The bishop has already called them to the position. I am only being asked if I am willing to sustain my leader in the action he has taken.

One of two things happen at this point. If I raise my hand in opposition to someone receiving a particular calling or assignment in the ward, I will be invited into the Bishop’s office to explain why I feel that person is not worthy of that position. It has nothing to do with whether or not the person is capable or incapable, but is only a matter of worthiness. If I know something about a person’s worthiness that the Bishop may not be aware of, then I am obligated to bring it to his attention. It is still his call as to whether or not that person gets set apart to that new position.

The second thing that can happen in the sustaining vote is for me to raise my right hand, and it is always done with the right hand, and indicate publicly that I will sustain the action of the Bishop in the calling of this individual to their new position. More than 99% of the time the sustaining vote is unanimous, and the meeting moves on. It is a real rarity that anyone ever publicly raises their hand in opposition to something the Bishop has done, but it is not unheard of.

Sustaining is more than just giving your stamp of approval or even of your acknowledgment of what the Bishop has just done. We consider the raising of the right hand in sustaining to be a covenant with God that I will support the action of the Bishop, AND I will do everything in my power to help, assist, and support this person in this calling. That means that if the person I said I would sustain comes to me and asks for my help or asks me to fulfill an assignment while in the capacity of their calling, I will say yes, and then do my best to carry out my assignment well.

Mormons (LDS) are like those ubiquitous ants. We don’t have a paid clergy to do all the specialized or unpleasant tasks for us. We each have to shoulder part of the responsibility of running the congregation or ward. Since we never know what position we will have from one year to the next, it is in the interests of the whole to help each other out and support each other. Christ referred to each member of the church being a member of the body of Christ. We really do, literally, treat our callings like we are all part of one big body. Each of us has his/her own special responsibility that adds to the functioning of the whole. Some wards run better than others, just as some bodies run better than others.

Each member of the ward needs to remember that their every attitude and act of support or act of lack-of-support effects the overall performance of the ward. To sustain, according to the dictionary, is to hold up, bear up from below, to support from below the weight of a structure. When Alma in the Book of Mormon taught the people at the Waters of Mormon, he outlined the basic covenants we take upon ourselves at baptism. Mosiah 18:8–10 spells out these covenants. 

8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

To sustain someone in their calling is to help them bear their burden. When we have to shoulder a new responsibility that we are unfamiliar with, afraid of, and timid to accept, it is heartwarming to watch fellow members of the ward offer words of support, counsel, and prayers of faith for the success of their sister or brother in their new calling. This is what is expected of us when we raise our hand to sustain one another. This willingness to sustain each other in our individual callings is how we sustain our Bishop in his calling to run the ward. It becomes a communal effort, like the ants, one that requires that we knit our hearts as one to honor and sustain those who are on the Lord’s errand, be it with the little children or with the adults.