In October, my oldest son turned 12 and was ordained to the office of deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood. Ordaining him was a sacred experience that invited memories from all categories of my mental card catalog.
Some were so old, I had to use the Dewey Decimal System.
It was the winter of 1983 and my family was living in the colorful countryside south of downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. I was finally 12 years old and after watching my older brothers pass, bless and prepare the sacrament each Sunday in our congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was finally my turn.
But the first month was a disaster.
I never quite knew where to go, how to hold the tray or whether or not I was allowed to smile back at Mom when I handed her the sacrament.
One Sunday, I’d smuggled in a pocketful of SweeTarts in my super hip Members Only jacket. Before the meeting began, I took it off and carefully placed it behind me on the green-padded pew.
When it was time to stand with the other deacons and approach the sacrament table, a black comb in my back pants pocket caught the edge of the jacket and picked it up behind me.
With everyone in the congregation watching me grow a tail, the candy began dropping to the floor and bouncing in every direction. By the time I finally had the SweeTarts back in my pocket, it was time for the closing hymn.
At least it felt that way.
Did I mention the first month was a disaster?
One week that winter, just as the chapel cleared and members navigated their way to Sunday School, a man approached me in the church foyer. His name was Barry McLerran and he was a leader in the Young Men’s organization. I still remember his crisp white shirt and red beard.
With serious eyes and a slight smile, he rested his hands on both my bony shoulders.
I steadied and readied myself. Though it’s been a few years, and the exact words could be out of order, the spiritual impressions of the event help me to recall them as if spoken not hundreds of Sundays ago, but just one.
“Jason,” he began, “I want you to know that I noticed you today. I observed the reverent and dignified way you passed the sacrament. It meant a lot to me.”
There was no scent of sarcasm and no whiff of obligation. I could sense, even then, that this good brother hadn’t approached me by assignment, out of pity or because I was a puzzle piece in some pet project.
I believe that he was acting on impressions from the Spirit which created a moment that would stay with me forever.
And, because he was listening, it has.
The weeks passed, things settled down and gradually I felt more comfortable. As I began focusing less on my own concerns and more on the significance of the sacrament for my mother, Brother McLerran and the rest of my church family, my nerves calmed and I began to cherish the weekly experience.
McLerran now lives in Salt Lake City, and when he reads this, I’m certain he won’t remember that moment 30 years and nearly 3,000 miles away. Why would he? I probably wasn’t the first or last nervous knobby-kneed deacon to have such an encounter.
As my own deacon begins not a lifetime, but an eternity of priesthood service, I hope he learns to appreciate the significance of the sacrament for himself and the saints he serves.
I also hope he has a hallway moment like mine, when someone other than Mom and Dad sees him and help him realize the impact he and the other young men have on their day, their week and their lives.
But I don’t just want that for him. I want that for every young deacon, teacher or priest who helps administer the single most important thing most of us do each week.
Imagine it: An army of Saints spiritually engaged like never before and taking private, sacred moments — when the Spirit directs — to call out and compliment young men for their approach to the holy sacrament.
These are moments that help them internalize that we really come to church for the sacrament, and we stay for the meetings.
These are moments that because of the presence of the Holy Ghost will stay with them throughout this life and into the next.
Talk about a delicious, Sabbath delight!
I commit to making my own such moments. I can’t wait to look one of them in the eye and thank him for helping me renew my covenants. I want that young man to know that because of his worthy, reverent approach, he’s helping all of us better appreciate the sacred act of partaking of the emblems of the blood and body of Christ.
I think I’ll also mention that it’s just fine to smile back at Mom. But leave the SweeTarts at home.
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