Meeting with my ward high priests group has been one of my favorite parts of the week for several years. It wasn’t always this way—when I was first ordained, out of the blue and not in association with any particular calling, I was bitter about what I saw as a life sentence to the senior citizen’s wing of priesthood meeting. But I’ve since come to appreciate the discussions with people whose life experience is broad and rich. I like my third hour of church almost as much as I enjoy ward socials (and I react to suggestions to reduce the block to two hours about as well as I would to a rule prohibiting linger longers; no one’s preventing you from skipping out if you want, but please leave my three-hour block alone).
But as much as I’ll miss discussions among the familiar circle of the ward high priests group, it’s clear that combining high priests and elders into a single elders quorum is the right step. The language used last week in general conference to describe the change comes in at a solid 7.0 on the Richter scale of prophetic announcements (“The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presidency of the Seventy have considered these adjustments 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…”). And beyond that, the potential benefits are numerous.
- Two or three fewer ward positions requiring experienced Melchizedek Priesthood holders means more people are available to teach Primary or serve in other positions.
- Fluctuating numbers between the high priests and elders quorum are now stabilized in one joint quorum, and wards with two small quorums now have one quorum of serviceable size. It’s hard to have a functional first-Sunday quorum council discussion of the ward’s needs when it’s just the elders quorum president, a visitor, and four missionaries.
- There are fewer bureaucratic hurdles to assigning member visits based on geographic proximity. An elder attending to the needs of a high priest’s family? No problem.
- Elders are interesting people too, with diverse experience and perspectives. More exchange of experience is good, and being ordained a high priest at 40 or younger is no longer a life sentence.
- If it’s a priesthood responsibility, it’s a priesthood responsibility. No more buck-passing between quorums.
- No one seems to be mourning PEC. (Quotes from today’s discussion: “A visiting general authority told us to stop holding PEC six months ago.” “In our ward, we haven’t held PEC in a year.” “When I was bishop 30 years ago, we always invited the Relief Society president to PEC.”)
As with any change, there are challenges and risks that will require some flexibility and goodwill, and probably taking a few pages from the Relief Society.
- In some student-heavy wards, the average age in the elders quorum might be 28, while the average high priest is 68. Some of the things that of course everybody knows and agrees with in each group may not go over well in mixed company.
- Elders quorums typically have more experience with welcoming visitors and making the discussion comprehensible for them. Some days, discussion among high priests can get, well, let’s call it very high priestly. The kids these days are in fact in the process of screwing up the world, and we wouldn’t mind a chance to tell them so. Wouldn’t mind it a bit, actually. Is that a problem?
- The calling of elders quorum president just got 200% more terrifying. Now you have to deal both with people moving in and out, and with people dying. At the same time that home teaching as you knew it is in flux and familiar structures for attending to ward members’ needs are undergoing substantial revision, the Sunday curriculum is also new and experimental. The missionaries and the ward family history director both want to talk to you as soon as possible, too.
- In many buildings that house multiple wards, there is no space equivalent to the Relief Society room in which to put a large elders quorum. On the 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM rotation, if your cultural hall is needed as overflow space for another ward’s sacrament meeting, there aren’t many other options. Organizational change is fast; architecture is slow.
- It’s easier to open up and talk in a group of 3-8. It’s easier to hide silently in a corner in a group of 15-40+. Teachers and quorum presidencies will have to find ways to amplify the quiet ones and slow down the talkative ones.