For my non-Mormon friends, I’ll begin with a translation guide.
Primary – the organization of junior Sunday School classes, which include singing time and group instruction for children under 12. It is divided up into “Junior” and “Senior” primary at about the 7 year old level, in theory so that activities can be geared to age appropriate levels.
Sharing Time – the group instruction time held during Primary class time. Often teachers and Primary leaders trade turns presenting this lesson each week.
The Friend Magazine – official church publication for Primary children ages 3 – 12
Calling – members serve in volunteer positions within the Church. The Bishop and his counselors direct who should serve in what positions, and issue callings to these positions. When calling assignments are changed, the members of the congregation are asked to thank the person for their service or approve them for a new calling by a show of hands.
Ward – another name for congregation, divided in a geographical area.
Sunbeams – class name of the three year-old group. Their class song explains the name with the lyrics “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, to shine for Him each day….” Since they are the youngest group in Primary, I’ll pick on them a little in the story.
As newlyweds, my wife and I were given our first church assignment, which was to teach the 5-6 year-old class in Primary.
We were soon introduced to the concept of “Sister Friendly.” In this ward, they called a sister to teach a Sharing Time lesson to the kids once per month, presumably taking her material from The Friend magazine (thus the person and position was called “Sister Friendly”). We were later told that this idea had once been widespread throughout the Church, but apparently been discontinued years ago in every ward except for ours.
Sister Friendly had a tough job. Teaching Sharing Time was a difficult thing for me to do once a year, and so I didn’t envy her. But sometimes the lessons she choose didn’t seem “age appropriate.” For instance, her crossword puzzles were probably a big hit in the Senior Primary, where the kids knew how to read. But in Junior Primary, the Sunbeams just colored the boxes, not understanding what she was talking about. The teachers each talked their class through the answers, about the words and the concepts, and helped with the spelling.
Then came the unforgettable lesson of October 2001.
A new Primary President had been called only two weeks earlier and was conducting today. She wore a smile plastered on her face to hide the confusion of her new calling. Apparently she had not been impressed with the reverence that the youngsters exhibited the previous week, because she made a special emphasis this day on being reverent and listening very well. She introduced a new concept to the Primary children – if they were becoming noisy or inattentive, the pianist would start playing a song. If they heard the particular song, they would know that they needed to pay more attention.
Very soon thereafter, it came time to invite Sister Friendly to come up and present Sharing Time.
Click. The lights went out. The room had plenty of outside windows, so it was still well lit. Thinking a child had flipped the switch, everyone turned to the back to see who it was. To our surprise, we saw that Sister Friendly had done so.
She began walking up the isle to the front of the room. In her hands were some objects – a flashlight? something wrapped in a tissue? As she walked, she asked the kids what special event was coming this month? Several voices responded with “Halloween.” She said that was so, and this is why she had turned out the lights. Because at Halloween, sometimes we talk about ghosts. Often, those ghosts are scary. But today I want to talk to you about a good, friendly ghost (no, it wasn’t Casper). This ghost is called the Holy Ghost.
She held up the object in her hands. It was a lollipop, with a tissue over top, and a smiley face drawn in felt tip marker. I mentally reviewed the pages of every October edition of The Friend magazine that I had ever read, but I could not recall ever seeing any illustration like this.
She proceeded with her lesson, telling us that she had three stories to share with us today about the friendly Holy Ghost. The first story involved her cat Fluffy.
Fluffy was a great cat! But Fluffy didn’t like people very much. Whenever anyone would come to the house, Fluffy would run away. She never went very far away; she would always come back soon after the guest had left.
One day, Sister Friendly was serving in her calling as Ward Food Storage Specialist. She was having a super activity at her house, and many members of the ward were coming and going to her house to do canning and food storage.
As you might predict, with the large number of people at the house, Fluffy was not comfortable and so she ran away somewhere.
Sister Friendly was too busy to really notice that Fluffy was gone, until the end of the day when all of her guests had left. As she was cleaning up from the ward food storage activity, she noticed that Fluffy was missing.
She kept an eye out for Fluffy, but the cat never returned. It was now getting very late and very dark, and she was worried where Fluffy could be. Had Fluffy got lost? Was Fluffy hurt somewhere? So Sister Friendly went off in search of her cat Fluffy.
She thought that Fluffy might have gone to an open field nearby. (She paused, and decided she better clarify with the next statement) Because at that time they lived in the country. (Oh, well that explains everything. Thanks for clearing that up!)
She drove to the field, and got out of the car. She tried to scan the field (she demonstrated, placing her hand over her forehead, palm facing down, as she scanned the room), but it was getting too dark out to see anything. She offered a quick prayer, and remembered that she had a flashlight in her car.
She dug around the glove box and found the flashlight. She then began shining it around in the field. After a short time, she saw a pair of eyes staring back at her. You know how, when a flashlight hits the eyes of a cat in the dark, the eyes glow right back at you? That was what it was like!
She could tell that it was Fluffy, but Fluffy did not come to her. The animal was tense. It simply stared back at her and seemed ready to bolt away at any second. This would not be good – Sister Friendly did not want to lose Fluffy now!
Then, the Holy Ghost inspired her with an idea. The reason Fluffy was not coming to her is that Fluffy could not see her face, and did not know who she was. Have any of you kids seen the movie “Ghost Dad”?
Um, the kids didn’t really respond to that question from left field. Sadly, I had once wasted a couple hours of my life watching that classic Bill Cosby movie, but I was too ashamed to admit it, so I also sat silently and enjoyed the blank stares that were being shared around the room.
She explained the basic premise of the movie “Ghost Dad” for everyone. You see, Bill Cosby plays the dad who dies, but he wants to be there to help his kids as they grew up. So he comes back to earth as a ghost. And that is why they call it Ghost Dad. Well, his teenage daughter has a boyfriend that the dad doesn’t like. So he does things, as a ghost, to scare the boyfriend away. One of the things he does is travels through the telephone to come out the receiver at the boyfriend’s house, and he held a flashlight at about the level of his chin, and shined it up and onto his face (she demonstrated this for us). As we would now see demonstrated, it makes the shadows on your face and was kind of scary, and it made the boyfriend not want to date the girl anymore (For you three-year-old sunbeams, the name of that highly recommended movie once more was “Ghost Dad”).
So she did that with the flashlight in her hand, but not to try to scare Fluffy. She knew that if she did that, shinning the flashlight on her own face, Fluffy would be able to tell that it was her and would come to her. Which, fortunately, Fluffy did just that, or else we wouldn’t have much of a faith promoting story here, now would we?
It was somewhere about this point in the story that the piano player decided the kids were not being reverent and attentive to the important gospel-centered lesson going on, and started playing the reverence song. Sister Friendly apparently didn’t know about the new “play a song to promote reverence” program, and gave the piano player a crusty look. My wife and I exchanged glances that said “of all the things we want the kids paying attention to, this is not it!”
Well, when Sister Friendly regained her composure, she concluded story number one and said how grateful she was that the Holy Ghost had reminded her of a scary PG movie moment to allow her to rescue Fluffy, the cat who was dumber than rocks and would never have found her own way home (unlike the past, when she always managed to return home just fine).
Then she moved on to story number 2, which was apparently brought to you by McDonald’s™.
The story was about a birthday party that they were going to hold at McDonald’s™. But Sister Friendly was worried that they might have invited too many guests to the McDonald’s™ birthday party, and that McDonald’s ™ might not have enough cake for all the guests. So she prepared some extra cakes to take with her to McDonald’s™ so that they could supplement the McDonald’s™ birthday party package that they had purchased (did somebody say McDonald’s™?).
She was busy making the cakes to take to McDonald’s™ when something else came up (laundry or something, I don’t remember anymore) and so she had to put the cakes into the window sill to cool anyway before she could put icing on them and get them ready to take to McDonald’s™. (I have only one thing to say about this story so far… I’m love’in it™).
She was away attending to the laundry or whatever other distraction, when a knock came at her door. She answered the door and there was a woman who was in tears, and she asked, “Do you own a cat?”
“Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” replied Sister Friendly, sensing that the news might be bad.
“Your cat just ran in front of my car, and I hit it and killed it,” the driver affirmed.
Sister Friendly and the woman went out to the street, where Sister Friendly determined that it was indeed dumb old Fluffy who now lay as road kill. I’m a little fuzzy remembering the details here (admittedly, I probably needed the piano to play the reverent song again), but there was much crying and shedding of tears there at the roadside of Sister Friendly’s house out there in the country.
Sister Friendly regained her composure, and decided to check on those cakes. After all, they still needed to be frosted and taken to McDonald’s™.
She returned to the cakes, but found something interesting. There were little paw prints on them, as if Fluffy had walked across the top of the cakes. Sister Friendly offered her interpretation that she knew that the Holy Ghost had allowed this sign as a way for Fluffy to say good bye to her.
Unfortunately, we never heard the rest of Sister Friendly’s second story, though I presume she frosted over the paw prints and served the cake as planned. Nor did we hear any of the third story. The lights were turned back on. We all turned to see that the Primary President had flipped the switch, and she walked quickly to the front of the room, thanking Sister Friendly for her lesson but apologizing that we were out of time.
There is one post-script to this experience. It turned out that we had witnessed Sister Friendly’s very last Sharing Time lesson. The very next Sunday, she was asked to stand before the congregation, and was released from the calling of “Sister Friendly” with a vote of thanks and appreciation. She was then immediately called to the position of “Ward Food Storage Chairwoman” and was approved in this calling by a show of hands of the congregation.
The scariest part of this Halloween story is that it was true!