Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bishop Richard Rust: Taming the Hill

When Bishop Scholes was released, Richard D. Rust was called in his place. Both men were entirely different and Bishop Rust had a huge task ahead of him.

In our stake, the Chapel Hill ward had a reputation of being a maverick. Our ward was the anchor of the stake and we staffed many of its positions. But the Stake President, Pete Bennett, was suspicious of our ward. I am not exactly sure why.


Well, I have a good idea why. President Bennett had a mold he wanted his stake to fit and we didn't fit that mold. 

One example was when we had a ward conference. After the meetings, we met as a ward council in the Relief Society room to hear a summary of the stake’s visit. Almost none of the Priesthood holder was wearing a suit; most were not wearing white shirts. We all called each other by our first names. Except for Bishop Scholes, we did all call him bishop, all expect Brad Kramer, but he is another story.

President Bennett showed little patience for the more relaxed atmosphere we had in our ward and we could tell he was uncomfortable. He went on to list all the things our ward was doing that was falling short if his ideals. That didn't go over very well with us. We knew we were different, but not to the degree where we deserved a stern lecture.

Towards the end of his rant he asked a question. He said: “Why is the Chapel Hill ward, which has the highest percentage of Stake officers has the lowest percentage of attendance at stake meetings?" Without a missing a beat someone said, and I think it was Chris Harlos: “Because the meetings are boring.”

We all laughed. Well, not all. President Bennett was not amused. That experience did very little to mend the fences between Chapel Hill and President Bennett. But, as luck, fate, or inspiration would have it, when President Bennett was released, Bishop Rust was called to replace him. After Bishop Rust was Kerry Lee followed by Gary Hatch. Three Chapel Hill ward members in a row.

We were already gone from the ward but I wonder how President Bennett felt having the stake presidency dominated by Chapel HIllians for so long?

President Bennett was an administrator at the Duke Medical Center so was entrenched in the world of academics. The Chapel Hill ward was quite scholarly. We likely had the most PHD.’s per capita than any other ward in the world. So I don’t think President Bennett’s animosity towards us as due to academics.

Besides, Bishop Rust as a PhD. in English and a professor at UNC Chapel Hill. If President Bennett had a prejudice against scholars, then there would have been no way he would have called Bishop Rust to be bishop. (Yes, I understand inspiration and revelation, but I also understand how things work.)

So poor Bishop Rust was likely charged with the responsibility to bring our ward into compliance. I feel he did that for the most part. Over time a lot of the fringe elements seemed to settle down. But that may be attributed to the core of the ward getting older and focusing their energy on being parents instead of rabble-rousers.

Bishop Rust called me to my favorite position in the church –Young Men’s President. This was a risk for him because Bishop Rust and I were on different sides of the political spectrum and on the humor spectrum as well. I struggled being serious and he struggled being less serious. But we established a great friendship which we both treasure to this day.

A few months ago, Karen and I were at the Conference Center in Salt Lake and we happened upon Bishop and Sister Rust. They are serving as missionaries at the Church Office Building. He is working on the Joseph Smith papers and I am not sure at Sister Rust was doing. But even after all these years, we still had a great, short reunion.

That is simply the nature of the Chapel Hill ward community.

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