[photopress:little_girl_raise_hand__1108.jpg,thumb,pp_style]By Nettie H. Francis
Everything I need to know I learned in family council.
Wait. You mean, Kindergarten, right? Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten. Isn’t that how it goes?
Nope. Everything I need to know I learned in Family Council. Let me explain.
In October 1976 a special edition of the Ensign admonished church members to hold regular family councils. Church pamphlets and stake conference messages in 1977 furthered the direction to organize families and keep records. My parents, who live the gospel to the letter, held their first family council in August of 1977, and they’ve held family council on every Fast Sunday since then.
Not only did my parents hold family council regularly, they also organized our family into four focus areas: Family History, Missionary Work, Personal and Family Preparedness, and Home Education and Activities. Kind of like the three missions of the church, only they were the four missions of our family.
And, they went even further and gave us all assignments as committee chairmen of these areas. It was 1977, and I was four years old. My Dad called me in for a Personal Priesthood Interview and asked me to serve as our Family Missionary Chairman. In true four-year-old fashion I immediately responded, “No. I don’t want to be the Missionary Chairman.” I’m sure my Dad was surprised, but he remained calm and explained what exciting things a Family Missionary Chairman would do. I accepted the call. So, there you have it. One of the first things I learned through family council was to accept callings and responsibility. And I’ve been accepting them ever since.
The next thing I learned at family council was how to write and present a report. Because I was the Family Missionary Chairman, I (along with my advisor, Mama) made out a four-year-old style report for our monthly family councils. In preschool handwriting I recorded things such as, “We took fresh bread to our neighbors,” or, “Daddy gave away a Book of Mormon at work.” My reports were always accompanied by a crayon drawing. On Fast Sunday, when it was my turn, I stood on the fireplace hearth and told the other members of the family (most of them younger than I) what our family had accomplished during the past month in Missionary Work.
As my family council talents grew, I also helped to set goals in our missionary efforts. Sometimes we would decide to invite another family over for family night, or give a gift subscription to the Ensign. It was always exciting to see our family council goals come to fruition during the month.
Reporting and goal setting weren’t the only skills I learned, however. Each family council had a “training” time taught by my parents. Because we were all younger than 6 when we started our family councils, these trainings were very basic. They included everything from “How to squeeze a tube of toothpaste properly,” to “Sharing toys with a younger sibling.” Trainings were a pleasant time, never full of lecture or criticism, yet they instilled in us the desire to live correctly. Since my parents conducted family council formally, I also learned other protocol, such as standing when praying for a group, sustaining by raising your right hand, and proper flag and national anthem etiquette.
Family council wasn’t just a solemn meeting, it was also fun. One of my favorite months for family council was in October, when my parents placed a huge bowl of candy in the middle of the room where we sat. Each time my Dad spontaneously shouted, “Boo!” we could run to the bowl and take a treat.
Our game kept the meeting lively, and even the littlest ears listened intently through the hour.
Another part of family council was decision making. Once, I remember planning a family outing for an
upcoming holiday. Although opinions differed, we discussed all angles and options and came to an agreement without being disagreeable.
Family councils always included music. It was in family council that I learned to sing my first hymn, “How Firm a Foundation” all the way through, first with all three verses and then with all seven verses.
We also took turns leading the music, in family night style, but with more time to enjoy the songs and learn from them. One month my Dad taught us how to lead music in 3/4 and 4/4 time—a skill I’ve been grateful for my whole life.
As our family expanded, I was soon no longer the four-year-old sister, but rather the fourteen-year-old teenager. Our family focus areas stayed the same, but we had more children who needed “callings.” I was called as the Family Secretary, and was responsible to record the minutes of our family council meetings. I learned to follow an outlined agenda and fill in announcements, highlights of the meeting, and reports from each committee. Later, when I went to college, taking notes was natural for me. And, when I served for four years as a primary president, I instinctively made an agenda each week for our meetings.
Family council included a time when we could share our testimonies with each other. In our living room, with only our family members present, testimony bearing seemed simple. It prepared us for sharing our testimonies at the chapel podium in Sacrament meeting, and on the street corners of our missions.
Testimony bearing, like goal setting, agendas, note-taking and accepting callings, was second nature by the time I left home, and has served me well my whole life. As a college student, missionary, wife, mother, Primary President, and Relief Society President, the things I learned in family council are invaluable to me. I can conduct, teach, speak, and testify with ease. All these skills were learned in our living room, near the fireplace hearth. Yes, everything I needed to know I learned in Family Council.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.