(January 31, 2011)

Contact: Rick DelaHaya, Centenary News Services, 318.869.5073

Unpaid but not Unrewarded
Centenary professor pulls double duty

By Sherry P. Shephard

SHREVEPORT, La. (Shreveport Times) — Ross Smith has two full-time jobs.

Ross Smith
Dr. Ross Smith, an associate professor of music at Centenary College, teaches during a music theory class recently. Smith is also a bishop with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Jim Hudelson/The Times)

Although each job consumes a significant amount of his time, he only gets paid for one of them.

In addition to his professional job as music instructor at Centenary College, Smith also is a bishop over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Second Ward, which includes congregations in Shreveport and Bossier City. Smith is among the many lay leaders who make up the Mormon church's unpaid, or volunteer, ministry, which includes stake president, bishops, counselors and apostles.

Kay Loftin, director of public affairs for Shreveport Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said everybody in a leadership position has a full-time job somewhere else.

"And it's always a man who holds the priesthood and leads the congregation," she said.

Smith said the position of bishop is similar to that of a pastor or minister.

"The bishop is the shepherd of the congregation," he said. "I spend a lot of time counseling one-on-one with individuals or families or couples and I also administer welfare needs."

Katie Ulrich, 27, said before becoming a member of the Brownlee Ward in Bossier City, she didn't know there were churches with unpaid ministries. But that was one of the things that attracted her and her husband, Kenneth, to the church.

"I really liked that because these people are bishops and teachers and they don't get paid to do this," she said. "They truly believe and truly know how blessed they will be, working under heavenly father and commandments."

Physician H.J. Platt, of Texarkana, Texas, has held his position as stake president for three years.

Within the Church of Latter-day Saints, each congregation is referred to as a ward and a group of wards make up a stake. There are eight wards in the Shreveport, Bossier City, Ark-La-Tex area and Platt presides over all of them.

He said although some might look at having unpaid clergy from a financial standpoint, that's not the reason it's done.

"If somebody is doing this out of a sense of responsibility or desire to help others, then they don't have to be paid to do it," Platt said. "It's like being paid to be a parent. You don't have to be paid to be a parent because you're paid in other forms other than monetary. I still get a lot of benefits and gratification."

"From the very beginning, they didn't pay," Smith said. "An unpaid ministry keeps it more volunteer and people serve because they want to."

Platt said juggling two jobs can be challenging.

"It's a matter of being very careful with your time," he said. "I have to be careful I don't allow church issues to take all of my extra time so I don't have family time."

Smith said with both of his jobs taking up so much time, he has to find a way to balance the two.

"I've really been lucky because as a professor you don't clock in and clock out," he said. "So I'm able to balance the time probably easier than if I had a straight eight- or 12-hour shift job."

Jason Knox, a podiatrist and counselor in the stake presidency, said having an unpaid ministry is about service.

"We believe a church responsibility ... makes a difference to those of us who are active and involved in the church," he said. "I really love these people because they are doing it voluntarily. I think it becomes more important when someone is invested like that."

As for training for these positions, Smith said there is no formal training. However, he said there is a four-year program where high school students go before school each morning and study Scriptures.

And Smith said he took some religion courses when he was at Brigham Young University.

"But that's not formal training," he said. "Other than that you learn to do the job as you go and if you find yourself in trouble, the first person to call would probably be your stake president."

This is Smith's first time in this type of leadership role.

"I've never been a bishop before and it's really shifted my perspective of people and the world a tremendous amount," he said. "I used to be much quicker to rush to judgment, but when you're in this capacity you're right there in the trenches with them going through their personal disasters."

Smith, 43, said when it comes to selecting someone for leadership positions they're looking at more than age.

"They're looking at stability and maturity in the Gospel," he said.

In choosing the bishop, Smith said the stake president interviews several men in the congregation who then submit a name they have received through prayer and revelation.

"They'll send that name to Salt Lake and the leaders of the church will review and pray and send back a yes or no," he said. "Once that's done the stake president calls the person in and interviews him again and issues the call to serve as a bishop."

Platt said, "When individuals are active in church it's not just to go to church on Sunday. Everybody anticipates the opportunity to help out doing other things."

Smith said, "There were a lot of things the early church did that distinguished them from other churches and one of those things would probably have been to keep their leadership unpaid."

About Centenary College of Louisiana

Centenary College is a private, four-year arts and sciences college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Founded in 1825, it is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Centenary is one of 16 colleges and universities constituting the Associated Colleges of the South and has been recognized as "One of the Best 373 Colleges" by the Princeton Review and one of "America's Best Colleges" and one of "America's Best Private Colleges" by Forbes.com. In 2008 Centenary College celebrated 100 years in Shreveport and Bossier City.