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Help understanding the Bishop Interviews


Wants2know

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I was reading another thread which veered into a discussion of the Bishop/Counselor interviews. Essentially, the topic was debated in regards to whether or not it is "safe" or even wise for parents to allow these interviews of their children, where there is no one else present to assure their safety. I was shocked (I'm not LDS, my fiance is) that one poster stated that in his conversation with a Bishop the Bishop stated he would ask very frank sexual questions of young women, the poster had added that he specifically asked the Bishop to not do this and he felt his wish was honored. I have several questions regarding these "interviews" both in regards to children and adults....

What is the purpose of the interview for both adults? My understanding is they occur twice a year, is that correct?

At what age are children expected to participate.

Are the interviewers always men?

Can one choose to not participate... is it an option?

If there is a "confession" that is contradictory to church teachings, what happens?

Is it church policy that if a child discloses sexual activity that a parent is informed?

Likewise, if a child discloses abuse, are parents/authorities informed?

Are these interviews "confidential", is there some kind of documentation kept?

How frank are the questions? Do those of you that have participated in them felt comfortable with the interviewer? Is there a rapport built between you and the interviewer or is it like going in for a job interview with someone you don't know and who doesn't know you?

Thank you.

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"Bishops" are the ecclesiastical leader of the congregation...our minister or pastor so to speak. In our theology, they are a "judge in Israel" and serve the purpose of being a spiritual shepard for the congregation. We believe that they are called of God, inspired, and have a role in providing counsel. As authorized by the Church, they decide on matter related to the privilage of participating in the sacraments and ordinances of the Church.What is the purpose of the interview for both adults? My understanding is they occur twice a year, is that correct?

For our youths, we consider this a time of spiritual transition. Like most religions, we lose many of our youths to temptations and worldly interests. As such, we have very organized focused youth programs that involve the parents, volunteers, and the Bishop.

Your questions:

At what age are children expected to participate.

Our youth programs start at the age of 12.

Are the interviewers always men?

Yes. In our faith, ecclesiastical leaders are male.

Can one choose to not participate... is it an option?

Absolutely, yes. Nobody is forced to do anything in the LDS Church. Invitations are made. You and your parents decide if you want to participate. Some opt out.

If there is a "confession" that is contradictory to church teachings, what happens?

It is handled with love and in confidence. Some youths are more comfortable speaking with a Bishop regarding spiritual and behavior than they are with their parents.

Is it church policy that if a child discloses sexual activity that a parent is informed?

I don't know what the specific policy states...but I do believe that what is communicated in a confessional situation is in complete confidence.

Likewise, if a child discloses abuse, are parents/authorities informed?

The Church has an absolute policy that abuse is to be reported. Because there are all sorts of legal issues associated with reporting, the Church has a counselling service for Bishops. This service helps a Bishop determine the level of abuse, appropriate reporting requirements, and how reporting should be handled. The counsel given to Bishops is that if there is even the smallest whiff of abuse...call the hotline and work with them to make the proper steps. We take the issue of abuse VERY seriously.

Are these interviews "confidential", is there some kind of documentation kept?

These 'interviews' are more like heart-to-heart conversations. There are no records kept that I am aware of.

How frank are the questions? Do those of you that have participated in them felt comfortable with the interviewer? Is there a rapport built between you and the interviewer or is it like going in for a job interview with someone you don't know and who doesn't know you?

I was not raised in the Church...so I cannot speak from experience. If the interview is anything like the adult meetings and interview with a Bishop, the questions are pretty high level. There may be some generic...almost boiler-plate counselling against drinking, drugs, and chastity.

It is also important to remember that meetings with Bishops are not Star Chambers. Rather, they are intended to be caring, spiritual matters intended to help and support our youths in growing their spirituality and to help guide and protect them in a troubled and temptation-filled world. Genreally, the meetings are very positive and affirmative. They are not a cold interrogation of a child. The objective is to encourage and uplift the youth and motivatet them to live the Gospel. I would also say that the interviews are age-appropriate. How an meeting with the Bishop is conducted with a 12-year old is going to be different for a 17-year old.

I have raised four children. I have always had the confidence and trust of the Bishops that have served us. I believe them to be honest, sincere, trustworthy spiritual leaders. I have not had a moment's hesitation trusting them to interview my children. I have always accepted that what is said in the Bishop's office stays in the Bishop's office. I have never asked or have been told of what is spoken between our Bishop and our children. We have never had a negative experience with the Bishop/youth relationship.

I have one child...a great kid...who has chosen not to follow the Gospel path. We love him with all our hearts. We encouraged him as a youth to make Gospel choices and to meet with our Bishops. By the time he was around 16-17 years old, he opted not to meet with the Bishop. We respected that as his choice. We raised our kids to be independent and follow their own spiritual choices.

Regards,

Six

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I think you're getting the wrong impressions here. I've been a member my whole life, and never been asked "explicit sexual questions."

I have been asked, do you live the law of chastity (i.e. no sex before marriage, complete fidelity afterwards, etc.)

I suppose it's possible under particular circumstances that a Bishop might ask about pr0nography, or other such things. As a teen, like many others, I confessed some light sins of this nature to my Bishop, and though I was uncomfortable simply by nature of confession (who enjoys that, or finds it comfortable?), I never felt condemned or unloved or martyred, never wore a scarlet letter, and the Bishop never followed up with detailed prying questions of a sexual nature. It's not an interrogation.

But the Bishop does not have a list of detailed sexual questions that he interrogates everyone with twice a year. (Edit: I'm also not sure where the twice yearly thing comes from. Temple recommend interviews are once every two years. Teenagers don't routinely have interviews, as far as I'm aware.)

And my understanding is that no documentation is kept, unless it's something quite serious (i.e. an affair, visiting a prostitute, child abuse, etc.) which potentially requires formal Church discipline or could affect others negatively.

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I'm really not even sure how to respond to your post - I am kind of shocked by what you are describing. I have grown up in the church and NEVER had been asked specific sexual questions by a church leader other than the standard "Are you living the law of chastity?" I have NEVER been interviewed twice a year. Once every two years (used to be annually) for a temple recommend as an adult and as a youth, starting at age 12, I was interviewed when I wanted to go the the temple (young people get recommends limited to a specific visit not for a time frame) or about once a year just to see how I was doing. Most of the time, my bishops were too busy to even keep up with the annual interviews.

All interviews were very benign.

The bishop should not disclose confidential information to parents. That is the responsibility of the young person. If abuse is involved, I think the procedure is different.

Records aren't kept of the interviews and they are completely confidential. Records are only kept if the church takes action regarding the person's membership. i.e. excommunication.

I think that if you are uncomfortable with the bishop, you should feel completely free to sit in on the interview but keep in mind that your child may not want to dosclose things in front of you (no matter how wonderful your relationship is).

The only time I can imagine a bishop speaking very frankly about sex is if he is asking the young person if they understand what exactly constitutes a violation of the law of chastity. With the current trends, many kids think that only intercourse is wrong and he may refer to other things for clarification, though he should do so in the most delicate but clear manner possible. It wouldn't shock me to hear a bishop explain the dangers of myspace and sexting as part of the discussion given the increasing degradation of our society, though again, a discussion of this sort should use clear but clean language focusing on the ideal that our bodies are temples.

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(Edit: I'm also not sure where the twice yearly thing comes from. Temple recommend interviews are once every two years. Teenagers don't routinely have interviews, as far as I'm aware.)

Youth 12-17 are usually interviewed twice a year-on their birthday and at the 6 month mark. These are generally just Personal Priesthood Interviews and not usually done to gauge worthiness but just to see how the youth is doing. Extra interviews for baptisms for the deat at the temple usually work their way in there some where as well.

Maybe things have changed but when i was young i was NEVER asked about sexual sins at ALL unless if was specifically for a temple recommend and then it was the standard general question about whether or not i was morally clean.

:P

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In my experience, the only time a bishop has asked other than the "are you morally clean", is in following up on the question of whether the child knows what "morally clean" means. As a parent, I think it is my job to teach my children what that means so that when a bishop asks if they know what it means, the young person can say "yes, I've discussed it in detail and at length with my parents. I know what being morally clean means, and I am". That is far bigger protection to a child, than having another person in the room (which absolutely would violated the seal of confidentiality ---- which even having parents in the room would equally do.

I also teach young people that the moment they feel uncomfortable in any meeting where they are alone with a person (including a leader), they should leave the room and go to their parents. I tell them that it is normal to feel uncomfortable when confessing sins, and when thinking about confessing sins, so the uncomfortableness I'm talking about involves something different than that. Teaching our youth to listen to spiritual promptings and that they will not be in trouble with parents for leaving a meeting with leaders are both far more likely to protect young people than having another person in the confessional. (After all having a wall between the penitent and the priest AND the confessional in a sort of public place, hasn't prevented child abuse in the Catholic Church).

To the OP, the allegations of inappropriate questions in worthiness interviews are pretty difficult for most faithful members who grew up in the church and whose family spans generations that have never had any personal experiences like the circumstances you have identified, to believe. It isn't that we don't believe that a priesthood leader could mess up: we know from this board that there are even priesthood leaders who do not believe in the gospel who retain their church positions for reasons of their own, and we know that leaders have made evil choices from time to time. It is just that we do not believe that it is more than an occasional rare exception.

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Every bishop's interview I had as a teenager involved questions about my sexual activity, whether I masturbated, and whether I looked at pornography. I don't doubt that the bishop that asked those questions of me had good intentions. However, I'll be instructing the bishops of my non-adult children that I will be the one that's concerned with my child's sexual behavior and that insofar as they must determine my child's worthiness for participation in various things they are to do so only by asking whether my child understands what it means to be chaste and whether they believe they are chaste. If, for some reason, my child claims to not understand the meaning of chastity the bishop ought to stop the interview and talk to me and I'll be the one that clears up any confusion on their part. There are several reasons I want to work this way. First, teaching my children correct principles is my responsibility and I intend to take that seriously. Second, it helps protect my child. Third, it helps protect the bishop.

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Same experience here. The general "do you live the law of chastity?" question is all I was ever asked.

All I recall is the annual interview during my teens near the time of my birthday - and for a male in the LDS church every other birthday (12,14,16,18) interview is about advancement in Aaronic priesthood office for which an interview would be required anyways. So if you want to nit pick, there was only three "check-up" interviews during my entire teens.

The only other interviews were for callings such as quorum president or counselor, and these all mainly consisted of "will you accept the calling?" and a description of what my responsibilities were and if I had any questions about the calling.

The only extensive interview I ever received was for my mission - where one would expect a stringent interview to determine worthiness.

As an adult my only worthiness interviews have been for temple recommends. Almost all of my adult calling interviews have never asked about worthiness except for those callings for leadership positions, and in all cases those interviews have been a single question, namely, "Do you have a current recommend and are you worthy to use it?" with no follow up questions required.

The church is not draconian and most leaders prefer to treat the interview as an opportunity for self judgement, not church judgement.

I have heard that rarely some leaders may be more probing than others, but if that is the case it is certainly the minority - its not how they are supposed to interview and a member can always decline to answer any question they deem to be inappropirate without affecting his/her status in the church. I lived briefly in one BYU ward where the bishop who was rumored to have asked pointed questions, but I was never interviewed by him for anything so I can't say one way or the other - just that I have never been personally asked explicit questions by a Bishop whether as a youth or as an adult.

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I'm not sure how typical my experience was, but the Bishop I had when I was 12 was horrible. He asked very specific questions about thoughts and behaviors and if he thought that there was a problem, he would use a combination of guilt (reading from the Miracle of Forgiveness or other similar material) or threats (he threatened to disclose everything discussed to my violent father) if he wasn't satisfied with the answers to his questions. Even without a scheduled interview, he would track people down and pull them into his office during Sunday School or other meetings on a frequent basis. I think he managed to terrorize all of the youth at that time.

Ironically, he faced a church discipline court within a few years of that time for personal conduct problems.

His replacement was much more empathetic and was able to build a rapport with the youth that lasted for years into adulthood.

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The Church has an absolute policy that abuse is to be reported. Because there are all sorts of legal issues associated with reporting, the Church has a counselling service for Bishops. This service helps a Bishop determine the level of abuse, appropriate reporting requirements, and how reporting should be handled. The counsel given to Bishops is that if there is even the smallest whiff of abuse...call the hotline and work with them to make the proper steps. We take the issue of abuse VERY seriously.

Actually the church does not have such a policy.. The abuse hotline is for bishops and SPs that run into abuse issues. The advice often is centered around the laws where the people live. So yes abuse is reported to the church hotline but it may not always be reported to the authorities. I could give anecdotes about this but I would be breaking confidences.

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Actually the church does not have such a policy.. The abuse hotline is for bishops and SPs that run into abuse issues. The advice often is centered around the laws where the people live. So yes abuse is reported to the church hotline but it may not always be reported to the authorities. I could give anecdotes about this but I would be breaking confidences.

I think the question posed on this thread centers on a child reporting abuse to a Bishop and how are those confidences treated.

Perhaps I oversimplified because I responded to that narrow question. What constitutes abuse, what is considered abuse, what is considered reportable abuse, how reliable is the abuse claim, what are the abuse reporting laws in any given location, is the abuse being reported first-hand or hearsay, are other members of the church involved, etc. etc. What is a Bishop's role to investigate claims of abuse to determine truth? At what point does an ecclesiastical matter become a legal matter? It is a complex and difficult issue.

The instruction that LDS eccelsiastical leaders get is that they are to call the hotline to thrash out these issues. The advice these leaders gets relates to legal issues as well as suggestions on how to proceed in a manner that protects any victims. The training we have received in these matters is the most blunt, direct, and absolute that I have ever heard from the Church.

If a child reports abuse, a good bishop will do everything in his power to protect and help that child.

(Now...the broader issue of an adult confessing to abuse, or a third party notifying the Bishop of abuse requires a different set of legal, moral, and religious considerations. This issue may be the subject of another thread.)

Regards,

Six

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Perhaps I oversimplified. What constitutes abuse, what is considered abuse, what is considered reportable abuse, how reliable is the abuse claim, what are the abuse reporting laws in any given location, is the abuse being reported first-hand or hearsay, are other members of the church involved, etc. etc. What is a Bishop's role to investigate claims of abuse to determine truth? At what point does an ecclesiastical matter become a legal matter? It is a complex and difficult issue.

The instruction that LDS eccelsiastical leaders get is that they are to call the hotline to thrash out these issues. The advice these leaders gets relates to legal issues as well as suggestions on how to proceed in a manner that protects any victims. The training we have received in these matters is the most blunt, direct, and absolute that I have ever heard from the Church.

If a child reports abuse, a good bishop will do everything in his power to protect and help that child.

Regards,

Six

That is a much better summary.

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What I'm hearing, for the most part, is that these "interviews" encompass what could also be described as pastoral counseling, as well as an assessment for temple "worthiness" - and range in scope depending on the person's level of involvement... i.e. wanting to be baptized, going to the temple, youth ministries. I also hear that there is a range of experience... which I would expect in any denomination of any religion. I'm interested in noting that a poster stated that "The church is not draconian and most leaders prefer to treat the interview as an opportunity for self judgement, not church judgement". How is that reconciled with what I understand to be the Bishops job to either recommend or not recommend a person to the temple... isn't that a judgement call?

I can appreciate as a therapist myself, that in all liklihood, children and youth are not likely to entrust some personal assessments of their "sin" to their parents. I particularly enjoyed the poster's comment that he could have a conversation with the Bishop asking him to refer his children back to him, if they did not understand the law of chastity in particular, feeling that it was his obligation as a parent to teach this himself. Perhaps I'm correct in understanding that this is a matter of choice... that a parent can make these delineations and have them respected. I can also see that there are times when parents may prefer to have this topic deferred to someone else (i.e. the Bishop) with whom they have some trust, if the subject is too uncomfortable for them.

I suppose, just as each congregation has variances, so do Wards - and thus experiences range. I think a few of you hit it on the head when you noted that the interview was not an interrogation, so to speak, which I suppose was an underlying thought and concern in my question. It sounds like overall, it is not, but there have been negative experiences by some.

Thank you for your explanations and experiences.

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How is that reconciled with what I understand to be the Bishops job to either recommend or not recommend a person to the temple... isn't that a judgement call?

There is a set list of questions for temple recommend interviews. The Bishop will in almost all cases take the person's word for it and will not probe deeper unless the individual requests him to. If the Bishop knows for some reason of a particular transgression (perhaps a wife has told him her husband abuses her) and the individual insists there was no transgression (in my example, he says his wife is lying or exaggerating), then it becomes a judgment call, but I suspect this is pretty rare.

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I grew up in the Church and had annual/semi-annual interviews with the bishop. Since we're talking about interviews that occurred 30+ years ago, they pretty much run together, and I can't remember the specifics of them. I do remember on one occasion my bishop asking if I masturbated. And I distinctly remember replying that I did not, even though at the time I wasn't sure what that really meant.

I never felt that anything about the interviews was inappropriate, and to the extent that I was uncomfortable with them, I think it was more a result of me being an insecure youth that was generally uncomfortable around authority figures coupled with bishops that didn't relate well with the youth in our ward. I was in an older ward that had few youth, and it often seemed to me (I was probably mistaken) that we were an afterthought.

I also remember another interview where, the night before the bishop's son and I had sneaked into an R-rated movie. (We were both underage.) He asked me in the interview how the movie was and what we had seen. I was a deer caught in the headlights. But to my surprise, before I could even fumble an answer, he answered for me, "Probably some comedy that I'll never understand." I just nodded, and he went on with the interview.

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"The church is not draconian and most leaders prefer to treat the interview as an opportunity for self judgement, not church judgement". How is that reconciled with what I understand to be the Bishops job to either recommend or not recommend a person to the temple... isn't that a judgement call?

A temple recommend interview is a series of questions that are generally self-evaluative in regards to the answers you choose to give. If you present yourself as worthy through your answers, you will get a recommend. Unless the Bishop has reason to suspect that you are lying. If you indicate through your answers that you are not living certain priniciples, the Bishop will counsel with you on the matter if you wish. At that point, he has the final say as to whether you are considered worthy of a Temple recommend.

Regards,

Six

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In re-reading all of these posts I had an insight, which is loosely associated with the current thread. Bear with me as I muddle through this (getting from my head to the keyboard can be a messy process!)

My thought is that in speaking with former, active and inactive LDS folks - some of them have spoken of the pressures; i.e. socially, culturally and intrafamilially that come with being a member of the LDS church, and I suppose I'm thinking that the interviews are possibly a conduit for that feeling of "pressure" - be it self imposed or otherwise. (When I speak of pressure I am speaking of the high standards expected of them, for which some of them have felt failure in achieving).

I'm not sure I can express my thoughts clearly enough on this topic, but I'll try. For example, I was speaking to someone who told me he didn't see himself being a part of the church again because (as an example of experience) he couldn't see putting himself in the situation of doing home teaching again (I think that's the correct term vs. home visitor?). He further explained to me that he felt like he was always given the people who were so completely inactive and anti-lds, that he felt so useless that it came to be a "job" of the church he came to despise. I asked him if he could have gone to the Bishop or whomever made these assignments and state his concerns, and ask for at least one more active LDS home he could do his home teaching in. His reply was "No, the experience was supposed to strengthen my testimony." My interpretation in relating this is that there is an inconsistency in teaching there is "agency" and free will, vs, continuing to do something without an outlet for expressing concerns. In other words, I understood his "agency" to want a more fulfilling home to teach in but he felt powerless to ask for or get that.

So how is this connected with the current thread on Bishop interviews? Good question. I suppose I'm connecting the idea (that apparently I've misconstrued for the most part) that the interviews have the potential to be interrogative (they seem to be more like spiritual counseling). I confess, I don't think I really understand the LDS idea of "agency", which is probably contributing to my confusion. But I'm also wondering how much opportunity is available to make the faith personal and therefore more internally viable for an individual. Ergo - how this thread got started in the first place with my meanderings regarding how "relational" the practice of Bishop interviews really were.

So what's the question? Is there opportunity (and his experience was out of the norm) to speak up and ask for changes to be made in order to make the experience more enjoyable, personal and useful? Or is the expectation of the church and those making assignments that a person will do as he's asked, until the obligation is fulfilled.

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I also remember another interview where, the night before the bishop's son and I had sneaked into an R-rated movie. (We were both underage.) He asked me in the interview how the movie was and what we had seen. I was a deer caught in the headlights. But to my surprise, before I could even fumble an answer, he answered for me, "Probably some comedy that I'll never understand." I just nodded, and he went on with the interview.

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From a parent's perspective, I'm darn grateful that we had the help of good bishops when raising our kids. Our bishop, no matter who he happened to be at the time, always seemed to be the right personality for each of my kids, during their teen years. When I knew the bishop was keeping close tabs on my sons or daughter, I knew they were in good hands. I knew, as long as my child was willing to talk to his/her bishop, all was well. And sometimes, they could talk to the bishop, when they couldn't talk to us.

My adult son recently talked to one of his childhood, non-LDS friends. He was asked, "Do you party?" My son said no, and told a bit about his lifestyle and his mission. The friend expressed his admiration for my son's choices.

THAT, is why I'm thankful for good bishops who gently and lovingly assist us, the parents, in teaching our youth to live Gospel standards.

Never be afraid of a bishop's interview. Be grateful.

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There may be some generic...almost boiler-plate counselling against drinking, drugs, and chastity.
Methinks thou hast misspoken here. There is no "counseling against chastity". If anything, it is quite the contrary, as chastity is highly endorsed.

Lehi

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the Bishop does not have a list of detailed sexual questions that he interrogates everyone with twice a year. (Edit: I'm also not sure where the twice yearly thing comes from. Temple recommend interviews are once every two years. Teenagers don't routinely have interviews, as far as I'm aware.)
The Bishop must interview every young man and young woman at least once a year that I know of for certain. He may be required to do such interviews twice a year (it's been a long time since we have had teenagers in our home, and our eldest grandsons have barely turned twelve).

This less-than-definitive response is the best information I have on the matter.

Lehi

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The Bishop must interview every young man and young woman at least once a year that I know of for certain.
No must about it. My daughter has refused to have interviews (she has severe anxiety) and our bishop has made no issue of this. They've been very accomodating.
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No must about it. My daughter has refused to have interviews (she has severe anxiety) and our bishop has made no issue of this. They've been very accomodating.
I overstated the case.

The Bishop must offer each young man and each young woman the opportunity to have an interview with him in the youth's birth month (and, as I recall, six months later/before).

Good enough?

Lehi

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Our Bishops have spent a lot of time working on building trust and a relationship with the youths. They come to almost all youth nights, temple activities, camps, fundraisers, classes, etc. etc. etc.

Our Bishops have tradtionally had a formal interview with our kids about every six months. However, between temple recommend interviews, giving callings, releasings, etc. they meet with the Bishop around four times a year.

Regards,

Six

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