“This Way Up”: An Outline for LDS Primary Temple and Priesthood Preparation Meeting

I’m excited about this new meeting. I’ve created a sample teaching outline for Primary presidencies below, so if that’s what you’re mainly here for, scroll down. For those who are interested, though, here’s how I’m thinking at this early stage about the deeper structure and future possibilities for this meeting.

The pairing of priesthood power with temple proxy ordinances has intriguing theological implications. It effectively shifts the locus of priesthood in the children’s minds from the chapel (where the deacons pass the sacrament, the focus of the old Priesthood Preview) to the temple. I find this quite significant. It has the potential to recenter our discourse of priesthood away from the male-only administrative hierarchy evident in sacrament meeting and toward the more collaborative, expansive and inclusive vision of priesthood we glimpse in the temple.

I’m thinking here of the interesting work done by scholars like J. Stapley, Sam Brown and Kathleen Flake on what they call the “cosmological priesthood”, a picture that is still coming into focus but seems to center on kinship structures (broadly conceived) that endow men and women with power and priestly authority. Granted, I won’t be doing a rigorous survey of cutting edge Mormon history with my 11 year olds! But this is the frame I’ll be working from as I try to devise an empowering, equitable, and age-appropriate experience for the children.

(True, the temple baptistry is not a place where that female priestly power and collaborative function is on display, which is unfortunate. Our young women need to see women acting with priestly authority. And yes, the temple, obviously, is complex and full of contradictions for women. Some of the most troubling language about gender is present there. Still, the temple baptistry is closer to those sites of female authority than is the chapel, and women exercise priestly authority in the temple more forthrightly than in any other Mormon context. I see this as an important if incremental shifting of the discourse.)

Pairing temple baptisms with priesthood ordinations also allows the former to become a kind of rite of passage for the girls comparable to ordination for the boys. The lack of both a sacred rite for girls and an avenue for them to serve in dignified and priestly ways is a major problem with our program for teen girls. Performing temple baptisms for the first time at age 12 and assuming family history and proxy temple responsibilities can be framed as girls’ priestly debut and duty. No, it is not equivalent in every way to boys’ ordination to the Aaronic priesthood. But I believe it could be framed in language that makes it meaningful for girls.

Thinking concretely about the event, there are lots of ways it could be executed badly. I can picture sessions where detailed emphasis on Aaronic priesthood responsibilities, for instance, inadvertently highlights girls’ non-participation. Dubious rationales for our gender segregated priesthood thrown around. Condescending head-patting or consolation-prize thinking directed toward the girls.

I take it that the word order of title of the meeting–“Temple and Priesthood Preparation”–suggests a strong emphasis on gender-inclusive temple service, with priesthood being discussed primarily as it ties into the temple context. I don’t see this meeting as the place to discuss detailed Aaronic priesthood responsibilities or procedures, or to drill down into concepts of priesthood keys and hierarchies; save that for quorum meetings. Instead, I see this as a high-level inspirational overview of the important new responsibilities for 12 year olds in the temple, and an introduction to the way that concepts of ordinances, priesthood and proxy service work together.

My aim will be for every station to be relevant to both girls and boys and to highlight their shared involvement in the work of salvation. I’d like girls and boys to leave with a sense that they have something exciting to celebrate soon and important responsibilities that will follow. My instinct would be to acknowledge matter of factly in passing that the boys will receive priesthood ordination and duties, but to direct all of the discussion to both girls and boys. I will not present temple baptisms as a simplistic girls’ substitute for priesthood ordination (along the lines of “men have priesthood, women have motherhood”), but will instead try to show how closely the two practices work together and inform one another, and how important both are to the Lord’s purposes.

Meeting Outline
Open with a brief welcome introducing the theme, “This Way Up.” This meeting will help the children prepare to take the next step UP in their lives, as they grow and mature into young adults. Introduce the idea of “linking up”: in the gospel, the way we move up toward our Heavenly Parents is by linking with other people and lifting each other together. Temple ordinances and priesthood service are those links. Perhaps include a brief object lesson to visually demonstrate links forming a network that gathers and protects: a simple crochet demonstration, for instance, could show how links form chains, and chains double back to form networks of links, resulting in a strong and protective fabric.

Rotate the children and their parents through three or four 12-15 minute stations/presentations in different rooms around the church building (but not the chapel, if possible). Moving from room to room will break up the verbal monotony and make the experience more memorable. Place posters on each door to reinforce the related themes of each station. If you’re really ambitious, you could create a sticker or other small token for the children to collect at each station, so they can see visually how the stations work together. The structure could be something like the following:

  1. “LEVEL UP”. Invite the YW president to talk about the first visit to the temple at age 12 as a spiritual milestone, the next in the gospel path after baptism and before endowment. Talk about personal spiritual preparation for the first visit, focusing on developing compassion, unselfishness, and worthiness. Talk about what to expect at the interview with the bishop, and walk the children step by step through the experience of temple baptisms. Scripture: Mosiah 8-11. Engage: invite parents to share their memories of their first experience doing temple baptisms.
  2. “LINK UP.” Invite a bishopric member to talk about ordinances: a sacred action that must be performed with a physical body, which creates a covenant with God and teaches us through symbolic meaning. Ordinances are progressive and culminate in the temple sealing, which links us into God’s interconnected family. Ordinances are performed with priesthood authority that is granted by God and safeguarded by the Church. Nobody can perform an ordinance for oneself: we need each other to perform and receive ordinances. God wants us to work together as brothers and sisters to accomplish the work of saving all our Heavenly Parents’ children and linking them into their family. Scripture: D&C 84:20-21. Engage: have the children act out the dramatic rescue described in Sister Sharon Eubanks’s recent talk, demonstrating that saving ordinances require a physical body and cooperative action.
  3. “LIFT UP.” Invite the YM president to talk about the “sacred service” of the temple and the priesthood. We perform ordinances on behalf of others who died without the opportunity. When two people work together to perform a proxy baptism, they collaborate to provide a sacred opportunity for salvation. In the same way, the exercise of the priesthood is a sacred service to offer saving ordinances to others. As the children progress through YW and YM, they will take on greater responsibilities in doing family history work and performing Aaronic priesthood duties. Overview of temple work responsibilities: indexing, finding names, completing four generation chart, recording oral histories. Overview of Aaronic priesthood responsibilities: administration of sacrament, collecting fast offerings. Scripture: Malachi 4:5-6 and D&C 13:1. Engage: invite parents ahead of time to bring photos of ancestors, and challenge to children to identify their own.
  4. “LEAD UP.” Invite the beehive class and deacons quorum presidents to talk about leadership. Explain opportunities for leadership in teen classes and quorums and the duties they perform to fellowship, minister and bless. Scripture: Matthew 20: 26-27. Engage: invite the children to brainstorm ideas for fellowshipping a less-engaged class member.

Close with final thoughts by the Primary president reviewing the message of each station (level up, link up, lift up, and lead up). Close with song and prayer, and refreshments, of course! A small gift like a carabiner might reinforce the overall message of “linking up” toward spiritual maturity through temple and priesthood service.

I welcome other thoughts and ideas in the comments, bonus points if they are constructive. How do you think this new meeting can be most effectively framed?

13 comments for ““This Way Up”: An Outline for LDS Primary Temple and Priesthood Preparation Meeting

  1. I love this, thank you for your hard work and preparation. I especially love that it is doctrinally deep, and really gets to the meat of gospel teaching. I will be pondering over how to best adapt this for my ward.

  2. Laura, you made my day. I love teaching children the gospel. There’s so much richness and power there, if we can find the words to convey it. Good luck with your own preparations!

  3. I really like the thought and preparation that went into this blog post, as well as the thought and preparation it would take to put this kind of event together. Just getting the key leaders working together on this meeting would have a significant positive effect, I think. I do have a few questions asked in a spirit of seeking clarification:

    * Is the new meeting expected to be held on a stake level, or organized by wards? (Last year, there were just two boys and their dads, who met briefly (20 minutes?) at the bishop’s home, a more intimate setting). Obviously, a group of three youth is different than a stake function with 10 youth at each of the various stations.

    * In reducing the old-style priesthood preview material to brief mention by the YM president, do you feel there’s any risk of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’?

    Obviously, adding YW to the mix will make the meeting unlike any old-style “priesthood preview,” and I look forward to seeing how this rolls out.

    Ironically, while the OP laments “a major problem with our program for teen girls,” I find that in general, the YW program is much better equipped for promoting spiritual growth in teens than the YM program.

  4. Thanks, TOC.

    To respond to your questions, in the official directive, the new meeting is intended for the ward level, but allows for stake level meetings in the case of small numbers.

    I hear your concern about providing adequate training for the prospective Aaronic priesthood members. There’s certainly a need for that kind of teaching, but I’d prefer it to happen in deacon’s quorum meetings with a narrower focus. It’s hard to envision a way for it to be done in the general meeting without alienating or condescending to the girls. Though I’m open to suggestions, because I also believe that girls should feel confident in their understanding of the priesthood and that the teachings should be transparent. There are no obvious or easy approaches, alas.

  5. A few years ago I started presenting the Baptism Preview (I know, not in the handbook but a tradition our ward is invested in continuing nonetheless) as the first step on the Covenant Path. I anticipate presenting the Temple and Priesthood Preparation meeting in a similar way… I hope to post about it later this week :) Thank you so much for your careful thoughts on this meeting posted here.

  6. You have given me something from “Times and Seasons” I can share with my spouse that gives her practical direction. My spouse is very practical in her approach to the gospel, while I have been a little more abstracted/distracted. It’s not a gender split necessarily, but a combination of yin and yang that has been effective in raising children in the gospel, for the most part.

    What you’ve provided is a framework for her to help YM/YW understand their potential place in the gospel, and your insistence on leaving specific priesthood operational questions to quorums and young men’s presidents aligns with how she attempts to negotiate the tricky gender space between men and women in the context of church leadership.

    My wife is an ardent disciple, and an operational feminist, which is how I see most women in the LDS church. But one does not call my wife a feminist to her face.

    Anyhoo, thank you.

  7. As the teacher of an 11-year-old Primary class and the father of an 11-year-old, I like this a lot. I especially like putting the presidents of the Beehives and Deacons in charge of a section–too often we don’t ask nearly as much of them as they are capable of, and they would benefit greatly from doing more. A thought: for the lesson on baptism for the dead this year I brought in a laptop and fired up FamilySearch, and my class was absolutely fascinated. You might consider something similar as an alternative “Lift Up” engagement activity.

    As for the question of whether this leaves enough time for teaching about priesthood, I’ll point out that the Senior Primary manuals include a special lesson on priesthood just for the 11-year-old class, to be taught “before the first child in your class turns twelve.” (I could have sworn that used to say “before the first boy turns twelve” but I could be misremembering.) So that’s another opportunity to teach both the boys and the girls about priesthood, which I think is important. (I tend not to follow the manual very closely for that lesson. Elder Oaks’ April 2014 conference talk makes an appearance in my version; I can say more if there’s interest.)

    It bugged me that there was no equivalent for the girls, so with the Primary President’s permission I’ve added a special lesson on the Relief Society before the first girl turns twelve. We act out part of the first Relief Society meeting, and I invite someone from the Relief Society Presidency to talk about what the Relief Society does and what it means to her. (The part of the meeting we act out includes Emma Smith and the other RS leaders arguing against John Taylor’s proposal to rename the Society despite Joseph Smith’s initial support, and that leads to a (brief) discussion on the importance of both speaking up and running inclusive meetings.)

    Why talk about the Relief Society? Well, whatever the “cosmological” temple priesthood that women fully participate in is, and I sure wish we knew a lot more about it, I suspect the outside-the-temple manifestation of it for women was meant to be the Relief Society. They both come out of the same period of Joseph Smith’s thinking. Once again, it’s not really a topic for 11-year-olds, but I do include in our meeting script a few of the key quotes from Joseph Smith that hint at the importance he placed on the Society. If that prompts some of the girls and boys to realize that the Relief Society is much more than “the place Mom goes during the 3rd hour of church” then I’ll call it a win.

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