Paging Dr. Bishop

Friday, April 21, 2017
Dr. David Keith and his wife, Julie, outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse in Spencer. Keith is a medical practitioner and recently became a bishop for the surrounding ward, which includes the city of Spencer. (Photo by Joseph Hopper)

Medical practitioner balances duties with church leadership

Being a doctor in any city is a full-time effort, requiring constant attention and seemingly never-ending work. Dr. David Keith, of Spencer, is a family doctor, and his duties cover the spectrum of health care's workload. From delivering babies to working in the emergency room, Keith has a full work schedule ahead of him each day. If being a doctor, husband, and a father of six wasn't enough responsibility, he also has another role. Keith is also a bishop, comparable to a pastor in other Christian denominations, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Keith became the bishop for the local ward (larger of two types of LDS congregations), which covers Spencer, Peterson, Estherville, Spirit Lake and many of the surrounding areas and townships, all of which meet in the local LDS meetinghouse in Spencer.

"My calling in particular has to be approved by the president of the LDS church. ... If they sent him a name he didn't feel right, (it wouldn't be approved). I had no idea, I wasn't seeking it. (Once) I was interviewed ... I knew it was right. This is the calling, this is what I need to do now. Very rarely have I felt like that," Keith said. "It was just like my heart was on fire. I felt that way for a week solid, just on cloud nine. It's what the Lord wants, it's gonna be tough, but you know, when the Lord calls you, you know. There was no doubt in my mind that that was the appropriate calling."

Keith's new position, which he assumed around a year ago, marks an exciting period of time for his congregation, which just recently became a ward and has seen steady growth in the past few years.

"Us becoming a ward was huge. It's kind of a surprise. It's based on how many active members, how many men or women or youth are here. None of us really knew that it was coming and it just happened. It made us say, 'Wow this church is growing,'" Keith said. "The numbers have grown for the past couple years, 100 to 120 (active members), when I first got here four years ago it was probably 70 or 80."

Keith described his role and duties as a bishop in the LDS church.

"The bishop's roles are ... to be the head of the local church, to make sure the church is run smoothly, that people's callings (religious roles) are being accomplished, that the church is being cared for, that the flock are being cared for, but also if people do fall astray, I need to help them heal. That's one of my favorite parts of the church, I get to help them. (I help them) understand the gospel, understand who their savior is, and how we can help them, and how we can heal them. It's just like medicine," Keith said.

Keith noted that his reasoning for becoming a doctor in the first place had to do with his religious background, and that his role as a physician and bishop have similarities.

"I found that becoming the bishop is the same techniques and tools to heal people physically or spiritually. I find my role as a physician is to care for the sick, and probably the main reason I chose to be a physician was because I felt that would be the job that would help me be more like Jesus Christ than anything else," Keith said. "I find that working with people is the most satisfying."

Many people familiar with Keith and his duties thought his new leadership role might be too much.

"People ask me 'Could you say no?' but you just can't. I couldn't," Keith said. "There's a reason I was brought to Iowa, there's no doubt in my mind, and this may be part of it. It's not just for me to serve my community but to grow and be a better man, husband, father and disciple of Jesus Christ. A lot of these callings happen because you grow in them."

Keith shared how his new position has affected him in his life.

"It's helped me become more patient with myself and with others. ... Particularly with my own shortcomings ... inside I feel this pull, how should I help these people, what should I do?" Keith said.

Aside from his roles as a medical leader and spiritual leader, Keith hopes that he will be able to dispel many misconceptions around his faith.

"We are Christian, I've seen a few people assume that we're not. In the last while it's been more prevalent that people don't understand the LDS church, we have the Book of Mormon ... but we still have the Bible. I hope people understand, that Christ is the center of my life. People have said (to me) that I don't believe in Jesus Christ, or that I'm going to hell or won't make it to heaven. There's this misconception even in this community, there was a young pastor that gave a speech calling us a 'mormon cult,'" Keith said. "In my own community when people don't know that, it really hits me hard. Christ is the center of what I do and for my family."

Despite negative comments and discrimination, Keith only wanted to help others understand.

"It's so important that we understand each other. In the end, if we have a mutual understanding and respect for our beliefs, that's what matters. If a major tornado came through town, what are we going to do? We're not going to separate by churches, we're going to all stand up and say 'Where do we show up? Let's get working.'" Keith said.

Overall Keith is happy to perform an important role in his community and his church. Keith's role as bishop generally runs from five to seven years, and Keith noted that he won't be leaving anytime soon.

"I love it here, practicing here, and I love my community and being part of it. I'm very busy as a doctor," Keith said.

Keith's wife, Julie, recalled how the family felt when they first came to Spencer.

"I love Spencer, I remember the first time we moved here just driving up and down Grand Avenue, just feeling like we were home," Julie said.

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