SALT LAKE CITY — President Russell M. Nelson announced significant changes to the structure of LDS Church priesthood quorums Saturday evening — capping a day already defined by historic callings to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
High priests and elders will now be combined into one elders quorum in each ward, announced President Nelson during his introductory remarks at the evening priesthood session of the 188th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Tonight, we announce a significant restructuring of our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively," he said. "In each ward, the high priests and the elders will now be combined into one elders quorum. This adjustment will greatly enhance the capacity and ability of men who bear the priesthood to serve others."
Prospective elders will be welcome in and fellowshipped by that quorum.
In each stake, he added, the stake presidency will continue to preside over the stake high priests quorum — "but the composition of that quorum will be based on current priesthood callings," including high priests serving in the stake presidency, in bishoprics, on the high council or as functioning patriarchs.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, called the modification "a revelatory announcement from President Russell M. Nelson."
President Nelson's second counselor in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring, said the announcement is an inspired step forward in the Lord's organized plan for his church.
"That plan includes a new structure for priesthood quorums in wards and stakes so that we may better fulfill our priesthood responsibilities. Those responsibilities all have to do with our priesthood care of our father's children," he said.
The modifications to the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums have been under study for "many months," said President Nelson.
"We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them," he said. "To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for his saints."
The adjustments, he declared, are inspired of the Lord. "As we implement them, we will be even more effective than we have ever been previously."
In his talk following President Nelson's introductory remarks, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered additional details on the quorum changes.
After briefly discussing historical patterns of "significant refinements" to the priesthood organization dating back to Joseph Smith, Elder Christofferson detailed the adjustments for ward high priest groups and elder quorums.
Elders and high priests quorums: "Members of elders quorums and high priests groups will now be combined into one Melchizedek Priesthood quorum with one quorum presidency. This quorum, increased in numbers and unity, will be designated the 'elders quorum.'
"High priests groups are discontinued. The elders quorum includes all elders and prospective elders in the ward as well as high priests who are not currently serving in the bishopric, in the stake presidency, on the high council, or as functioning patriarchs.
"The high priests quorum in the stake will be composed of those high priests who are serving in the stake presidency, in bishoprics, on the high council, and as functioning patriarchs."
The elders quorum presidency: So how is the presidency of the elders quorum to be organized?
The stake presidency will release current high priests group leaderships and elders quorum presidencies and will call a new elders quorum president and counselors in each ward, he said.
The new elders quorum presidency may include elders and high priests — and either an elder or a high priest may serve as the quorum president or a counselor in the presidency.
"We expect elders and high priests to work together in any combination in the quorum presidency and in quorum service," he said. "These quorum adjustments should be implemented as soon as conveniently possible."
Priesthood offices in the elders quorum: Does the adjustment in quorum structure change the priesthood office held by quorum members?
No, the action does not rescind any priesthood offices to which any quorum member may have been ordained in the past, Elder Christofferson said.
"Elders will continue to be ordained high priests when they are called to a stake presidency, high council, or bishopric — or at other times as determined by the stake president through prayerful consideration and inspiration," he added. "When their terms of service in a stake presidency, high council, or bishopric are completed, high priests will rejoin the elders quorum in their ward."
Direction for the elders quorum president: So, who directs the work of the elders quorum president?
"The stake president presides over the Melchizedek Priesthood in his stake," he said. "Therefore, the elders quorum president is directly responsible to the stake president, who provides training and guidance from the stake presidency and through the high council."
The bishop, as the presiding high priest in the ward, also meets regularly with the elders quorum president, offering counsel and direction on how to best serve ward members.
The purpose of these changes: Having one Melchizedek Priesthood quorum in the ward unifies priesthood holders to accomplish all aspects of the work of salvation, including the temple and family history work previously coordinated by the high priests groups, explained Elder Christofferson.
"It also allow quorum members of all ages and backgrounds to benefit from the perspective and experience of one another and of those in different stages of life."
The adjustments were considered by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presidency of the Seventy over an extended period of time.
"With much prayer, careful study of the scriptural foundations of priesthood quorums, and confirmation that this is the Lord's will, we are moving forward with unanimity in what is in reality one more step in the unfolding of the Restoration."
'A mighty army:' In his priesthood session talk, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he expects the adjustments to Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to unify the "mighty army" of brethren.
"As stated by President (Russell M.) Nelson, this is a matter that has been prayerfully discussed and considered by the senior brethren of the church for a long time," he said. "The desire was to seek the Lord's will and strengthen the quorums of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Inspiration was received and this evening our prophet made known the will of the Lord. 'Surely, the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants, the prophets!'
"How blessed we are to have a living prophet today."
Traveling the world affords Elder Rasband opportunities to witness elders and high priests working together. He said his interactions with priesthood holders remind him of the hymn "Behold! A Royal Army."
"These adjustments will help elders quorums and Relief Societies harmonize their work. They will also simplify the quorum's coordination with the bishopric and ward council. And they allow the bishop to delegate more responsibilities to the elders quorum and Relief Society presidents so the bishop and his counselors can focus on their primary duties — particularly presiding over the young women and the young men who bear the Aaronic Priesthood."
Speaking to the high priests, Elder Rasband said they will continue to play an essential role in the work. They may be presided over by an elder as their quorum president, which is already happening in branches in some regions of the world.
"What a joy it will be for all Melchizedek Priesthood holders to have the blessing of teaching, learning and serving shoulder-to-shoulder with all the members in their ward," he said. "Wherever you are and whatever your circumstances may be, we invite you prayerfully, faithfully, and joyfully to accept new opportunities to lead or be led and to serve unitedly as a body of priesthood brethren."
Stake high priests quorums will continue to function under the direction of stake presidencies, noted Elder Rasband. The quorum will now consist of high priests currently serving in the stake presidency, ward bishoprics, stake high councils and the functioning patriarch. Ward and stake clerks and executive secretaries are not members of the stake high priests quorum.
So what is the role of the stake high priests quorum?
"The stake presidency meets with members of the high priests quorum to counsel together, to testify, and to provide training. Stake meetings, as outlined in church Handbooks will continue with two adjustments:
"One, wards and stakes will no longer hold priesthood executive committee meetings." Elder Rasband said. Sensitive ward issues could be addressed in an expanded bishopric meeting. Less-sensitive matters can be addressed in the ward council. The stake priesthood executive committee meeting will now be called the "high council meeting."
"Two, the annual meeting of all ordained high priests will no longer be held. However, the stake presidency will continue to hold an annual meeting of the stake high priests as announced today."
Elder Rasband said a ward could have more than one elders quorum if there is an "unusually large number of active Melchizedek Priesthood bearers." Each quorum should have a "reasonable balance" in terms of age, experience, priesthood office and strength.
The restructuring will yield a "multitude of blessings," he testified. In each quorum there will be a greater diversity of gifts and capacities, increased flexibility and mentoring, and increased shepherding of those in need.
Unifying the brethren: Brad Albrecht, 22, from Tucson, Arizona, who has served in an elders quorum presidency, called the announcement "really interesting."
"I think it's going to be really good for the church with all the experienced mixed together."
Albrecht said when he was 13, his home teaching companion was the bishop. "We went out together and I just liked watching him and learning from him. Now I'm in a young married student ward and I still feel like I have a lot to learn."
Now, he said, he will be able to continue to intermingle with and learn from "older, more experienced members of the high priest group."
Metui Tukuafu, a 22-year-old returned missionary from Tonga who served in the England Birmingham Mission, called the announcement "mind-blowing."
"Wow!" he said. "It makes a lot of difference in my perspective. …There have been times (in my life) where there hasn't been a lot of elders or high priests so we combined, so it makes sense."
Jeffrey Whatcott, 28, an elder from Provo, came to priesthood with his 89-year-old grandfather, Ross Whatcott, a high priest from Bountiful.
"I thought it was very good," said Ross Whatcott. "I think it unifies groups of people."
"I think it will increase everybody's testimony, everybody's service and I'm excited for it," added Jeffrey Whatcott.
Edkin Saunders, 33, a high priest from Honduras, was part of the BYU-Idaho choir during the priesthood session. He was baptized at age 17 and has also lived in France.
"I could feel the spirit of the Lord in there," he said. "I know that it's something inspired by God. It's not something they just decided. It's something that will benefit the church and help us a lot."