My mission call came on a routine autumn weekday in 1981. I wasn't expecting it. It was only six days since the final interview with my stake president, and it was time for midterm exams at BYU.
My mom pulled the letter from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints out from under the microwave oven after a friend left.
"I thought he'd never leave," she said.
I grabbed the letter, signed by then-LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, went halfway down the hall and ripped it open. I skimmed the text looking for any geographical reference until I found the words "England London mission."
After telling my mom, I called family and friends to tell them.
That was about it.
Things have changed. For many, the arrival of a mission call has turned into a big gathering, party and celebration. I tried counting the number of YouTube videos capturing mission-call openings. I lost track, but I guess somewhere between 750 and 1,000.
One of the videos has youths from Olympus High School opening their calls.
Recently, my sister was on pins and needles for most of a day when her son said he wasn't going to open his call until his friends came for the opening party at 9:30 that night. The celebration was complete with an abundance of refreshments.
The emphasis has changed. In 1981, the missionary farewell was where the family took over the week's sacrament meeting program -- the talks, the prayers, the music, the time.
Some farewells would drag on as grandparents, parents, siblings and other family members would go on and on about the missionary, even in the prayers. I know you shouldn't time public prayers at a farewell, but I clocked one at more than 15 minutes.
That changed when then-LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley said in 2002, "No one else in the church has a farewell when entering a particular service. We never have a special farewell-type meeting for a newly called bishop, for a stake president, for a Relief Society president, for a general authority or anyone else of whom I can think. Why should we have missionary farewells?
"The First Presidency and the Twelve, after most prayerful and careful consideration, have reached the decision that the present program of missionary farewells should be modified.
"The departing missionary will be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. But parents and siblings will not be invited to do so. ... The meeting will be entirely in the hands of the bishop and will not be arranged by the family. There will not be special music or anything of that kind."
Hinckley also asked for the end of public gatherings after the farewell, saying they should be for family only.
It seems that Hinckley's changes have been adhered to, but maybe not as he envisioned. The missionary celebration has basically shifted to the mission call.
The motivation? Normal.
Families that are actively involved in religion love to celebrate milestones: baptisms, christenings, bar and bat mitzvahs, blessings and marriages, to name a few. Bar and bat mitzvahs have also become quite elaborate for many Jewish families, though the celebration is not required.
I believe that, for many spiritual leaders, the concern is when the pressure to spend money outweighs the spiritual significance of these milestones.
Leaders don't want you to worry about competing with neighbors or relatives on a celebration's extravagance.
I'm also glad YouTube wasn't around when I opened my call.