Jonah and the Reluctant Stake President

Quite a few years ago, I had the opportunity of traveling over to Denver with Elder Marion D. Hanks (d. 2011), then an emeritus member of the Seventy, and lecturing as his “junior companion” in two multi-stake Book of Mormon firesides on successive nights.

He had been called as a General Authority in 1953, and had been a major presence in the Church since my earliest memories, so getting to know him pretty well over the course of three days or so of constant interaction was a lot of fun for me.

I really enjoyed one story he told me, concerning his own favorite experience of calling a stake president.

He had traveled to an area — I don’t know the location — where a stake of the Church was holding a conference and needed to be reorganized.

On Saturday, he interviewed a large number of men whose names had been recommended to him, but, in his judgment, the new stake president was not among them.  He was beginning to become worried, because a new presidency had to be announced the following morning.

So Elder Hanks asked for a list of all of the high priests in the stake.

When it was brought to him and he began to go through it, there was one name — a complete stranger to him — that stood out above all the rest.  It seemed, he said, almost to glow.

“Is this man active?” he asked one of the current stake leaders.

“Yes.  Very.”

“Is he here tonight?”

“No.  I haven’t seen him.”

“Does he usually come to the Saturday night sessions of stake conference?”

“Yes, he does.  I don’t know where he is tonight, though.”

“Does he live very far from here?”

“No, not far.”

So Elder Hanks asked if someone from the stake could drive him to the man’s house.

When they arrived, Elder Hanks rang the doorbell, and the man’s wife answered the door.

“Is your husband at home?” Elder Hanks asked.

“Yes.  He’s downstairs.  He wasn’t feeling well.”

“May I speak with him?”

She headed downstairs and soon returned with her husband, who seemed a bit ill at ease and was looking intently at the floor.

“You know why I’m here, don’t you?” Elder Hanks said.

“Yes,” the man replied, dejectedly.  “Around Tuesday of this past week, I knew that I would be called as the new stake president.  I thought, though, that if I just didn’t go to conference maybe you would call somebody else.”

Elder Hanks explained that it just doesn’t work that way, and called the man to serve as the new president of the stake.

And, Elder Hanks told me, the fellow turned out to be an exceptionally good and effective stake president.

I loved the story.  It seemed, in its way, a modern analogue to the Old Testament story of Jonah.

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