Boys, Safety Patrol and the Priesthood

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A couple weeks ago, four out of five of us slept through our alarms.  I rushed into Stuart’s room to see how he wanted to proceed.  Because Stuart gets super anxious when our routine is disrupted or altered, I was going to let him dictate how much hurrying he wanted to do.  He woke up, saw what time it was, and said, “Whoa, I guess I’m just gonna be late today.”  I said fine and closed his door, quietly happy that he seems to be relaxing a bit

Two seconds later, he was a blur of motion, running around like a wild thing, rushing to get ready.  I went back into the hallway and asked him what was up.  He shouted, “It’s Friday!  I have Safety Patrol!  I can’t be late!”

We kicked it into high gear.  I made his lunch (which he usually takes care of himself) and some quick toast to eat on the way.  He threw on his Safety Patrol belt.  We jumped in the car.  He arrived by 7:31.  All was right with his world.

After dropping him off, I hung back to watch him for a few minutes and to snap these pictures.  I thought about Safety Patrol and what it means to Stuart, to the school as a whole, and to me as his parent.

At Stuart’s school, Safety Patrol is a privilege that only 5th graders get.  You have to have good behavior leading up to 5th grade to get to be on Safety Patrol.  You have to sign a contract.  You have to commit to upholding your responsibilities.  You have to go to a training before school starts to learn what your responsibilities are.  I don’t know what the PE coach (who’s in charge of Safety Patrol) tells the kids, but it must be something special because Safety Patrol is serious business for these kids.

2013-11-01 07.40.56So what do the kids on Safety Patrol do?  They help with morning drop-off—raising and lowering the flags so that kids can cross the street safely.  They stand at the door and greet students, which is Stuart’s favorite part.  He says he likes to smile at everyone and tell them things like, “Welcome to Raguet!” and “We’re glad you’re here today!” and “I hope you have a good day today!”  They also help get all the kids to the right places at dismissal time. 

When Marin was in 5th grade, it was her responsibility to get the pre-K bus-riders out to their bus.  She loved that job.  She really got to know those little kids and love them.  She learned their names and held their hands on the way out to their bus.  Now, in 8th grade, when she looks back on her elementary school years, that’s one of the things she remembers most fondly—her responsibility, as part of Safety Patrol, to shepherd her pre-K kids out to their bus. 

Safety Patrol makes my kids feel like they are important members of the school community.  They have official tasks for which they are responsible.  They are part of the public face of the school.  They help set the tone for the school day.  They belong.  They matter.  The school needs them.

If you know anything about me, you know where this is going . . .

When I contrast my kids’ experiences with Safety Patrol with my kids’ experiences at church, I alternate between shaking my head and shaking my fist. 

Stuart’s only 10, but he knows how it works.  He’s being prepped for when he turns 12 and is officially ordained with the priesthood in our church.  He knows what that means.  He’s been seeing it ever since he could remember.  He’s been watching the deacons who show up the Sunday closest to their 12th birthdays with a new white shirt and a new tie—maybe even a blazer or a suit coat.  They’re ready to officially participate in our church services.  They (sometimes) look like they’re standing a little taller—especially those first few Sundays before the newness wears off.  Their hair looks like it was combed and gelled or licked into place where maybe it hadn’t been before.  He’s been watching them pass the sacrament—holding the trays and waiting for everyone in the congregation to partake.  It’s a sacred duty with great significance.  He has seen the entire congregation raise our right hands to sustain each boy as he gets ordained to the priesthood; he’s seen that public affirmation from his fellow congregants that means:  “We support you.” 

He’s seen the 14 year old boys prepare the sacrament—an official duty that is also critical to our weekly church services.  We take the sacrament every Sunday.  We need those boys to fulfill their duties.  He has watched the 16 year old boys bless the sacrament.  He hears them say the sacrament prayers—out loud—in behalf of the whole congregation.  He hears them have to repeat the prayer if they miss a word.  The wording is important.  It matters, to all of us.  We need these boys so that we can renew our baptismal covenants to follow our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We can’t get by without them.

While Stuart has watched and learned what his sacred duties will be, upon turning 12, his two older sisters have also watched and learned, from their seats on the pews. Inactive.  Passive.  Silent.  Not agents or actors in their own spiritual lives. 

There is no official duty for them.  No milestones, no public or official participation in sacred ordinances.  No opportunity for them to see the congregation sustain them as officiants in our worship services.  No audible participation in sacred rituals.  No official responsibilities for which the congregation relies upon them.  Nothing that the congregation can’t do without them.

2013-11-01 15.35.22Imagine what would happen if my kids’ school were to set up a program like Safety Patrol and announce that all the boys would get to participate; the girls would not, because they will be mothers some day.  Some parents would be outraged.  Some (like me) would be incredulous.  Some, I imagine, might be baffled by the explanation that boys would get to be on Safety Patrol and the girls—in the distant future—would be mothers. 

Yet my fellow Mormon congregants accept this explanation—priesthood equals motherhood (a complete non sequitur)—as just the-way-it-is.  Worse, they accept it as the-way-God-wants-it-to-be-until-He-changes-his-mind, at which point we’ll change it.  Until then, we trudge forward.

The gender inequality in the church is one of those things that used to seem okay to me.  I’m a patriarchy-breather just like the rest of you, after all.  I used to not notice it.  It used to seem “natural” for men at church to have all these official responsibilities and duties.  As a teenage girl, it seemed “right” for my male peers to be bestowed with opportunities to officiate in sacred church rituals and ordinances while I watched, silent and still, from the pew.  Even sadder, and baffling to me now, I believed that’s the way God wanted it to be. 

But no more. 

That morning, while I watched Stuart and his male and female peers raise and lower their flags and welcome kids to the school as part of Safety Patrol—and I reflected on how important his Safety Patrol responsibilities are to him—I was deeply grateful for his school leaders and for our more enlightened society that now recognizes that boys and girls, men and women, all need opportunities like these to help us grow and to help us feel like we belong in groups, organizations, and institutions that are important to us. 

I’m running out of space in my brain and room in my heart for my church, which doesn’t yet recognize this fundamental (and obvious) truth.  I’m mourning what we could be but choose not to.