I want to start this post by sharing this image of the moment when the new president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was sustained by its membership in general conference. President Russell M. Nelson is a wonderful man who has given his life to serving others! I wish him well.
As many are saying, this was a truly historic conference — a new first presidency was sustained, two new apostles were called of diverse backgrounds (including Elder Soares who is from São Paulo, Brazil where I served my mission), seven new temples were announced (including one in Russia and one in India) and some major changes to the structure of priesthood quorums and the home teaching and visiting teaching programs were announced. It is on these last two items that I would like to share some thoughts.
First, I think combining the elders quorum and the high priests into a single Melchizedek priesthood quorum is a wonderful, inspired decision. I have long wished that we were combined. I was called as a counselor in a bishopric in Riverton when I was 31 years old and ordained a high priest. Ever since then, I have been unable to meet with the elders quorum. And while I have loved meeting with and learning from the older men, I have missed spending time with men my own age. In addition, I know several men who were older when they were ordained high priests and it felt somewhat awkward for them to still be in elders quorum having not yet “advanced” in the priesthood.
By having all men meet together, there will be less of a distinction between which priesthood office one holds. I believe this will help curb the pridefulness that could accompany one’s attainment of a certain priesthood office (i.e. “I’m more worthy and the Lord loves/trusts me more.”)
From a practical standpoint, this reduces the number of men who are serving in a Melchizedek priesthood presidency in any given ward from 8 to 4 (including secretaries). This frees up men who can now serve in other places, such as primary, Sunday school and the young men programs. There will be less duplication of effort, more of a joint focus and better coordination with the Relief Society.
Some have suggested this change is a sign of weakness, that the church is struggling to fill positions needed and therefore has eliminated some positions to help with staffing. Others have said that combining the two groups is being done so that older, more conservative men will keep in check the younger, more progressive men. I worry that the older, more experienced men might receive a disproportionate number of leadership callings, thereby depriving the younger men the opportunity to develop their priesthood leadership skills. However, as Elder Chistofferson taught: “This is not a ‘takeover’ of elders quorums by high priests. We expect elders and high priests to work together in any combination in the quorum presidency and in quorum service.”
My hope is that we can all learn from each other and serve each other in our new combined quorums. I think the elders and high priests need each other. I look forward to the opportunity to develop multigenerational friendships and for chances to serve alongside men from different backgrounds and age groups. I think sometimes high priest groups have been viewed as men being “put out to pasture.” This potentially increases their confined active involvement in the Lord’s work in their wards.
As for the “retirement” of home teaching and visiting teaching, I believe this is essentially just a modification of the program — adding more flexibility and customization in the way we interact with those to whom we “minister.”
By ending the language around home teaching and visiting teaching, many of the old traditions (which were often ineffective) will end. No more stressing about trying to get an appointment before the end of the month. No more checking the boxes and going through the motions.
I think this will be a total reboot for the church. We will have all new priesthood presidencies who will work together with the Relief Society presidencies in their wards/branches to overhaul the entire system. We will have new companionships, including some father/son, mother/daughter and husband/wife combinations, along with traditional companionships. Instead of high priests only home teaching the families of other high priests, families will be assigned by inspiration based on needs regardless of quorum affiliation. There will be a nice mix of older and younger companionships and families assigned.
We will also add young women into the teaching pool which will be a blessing to them and those they visit. I’m excited for my two daughters to have this opportunity to serve as “ministering sisters.” They’ll be able to learn from the older sisters, become comfortable with ministering “two by two” (which can prepare them better for missionary service) and will improve the eventual transition to Relief Society.
I have heard concerns that this will result in less contact not more. If people aren’t accountable to report their visits each month, they might put in the minimal effort such as a quick text every so often. A regular “in person” visit with a lesson may now feel like going against the new direction. Without a set protocol, perhaps many people will do little more than say hello at church or send a text with a scripture.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. I just hope our “ministering” efforts are more heartfelt, earnest and sincere as we strive to follow the Savior’s example of selfless service.