It’s that time of year again. The time when Mormons hit the rumor mill. Normally this is pretty silly. Even the shocking rumors are pretty small in the scheme of things. However it seems clear that Pres. Nelson is doing some major reforms to Church structure. If last spring surprised people by getting rid of both home teaching and separate quorums this week probably will bring even more surprises. I suspect we’ll be getting more changes per year than we typically got in a decade. So here’s my list of rumors, how likely I think they are, and what the implications might be.
2 Hour Block – Likely but not certain. I was a big skeptic of this one. The Church has done lots of test runs of this over the years and the costs always outweighed the benefits. I’m hearing it now from so many sources many that it seems unlikely to be mere rumor.
It’s not entirely clear how they’ll do it, but most sources are suggesting an end to Sacrament talks and a slight shortening of Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society. Honestly that’s the only way I could see it working. I know a lot of people are saying they’ll just get rid of Sunday School or have Sunday School three times a month and PH/RS once a month. The problem is Primary. Even with splitting Primary up into Junior Primary and Senior Primary there frequently aren’t enough class rooms. If you only have Sunday School then you’re effectively putting all the kids together which just seems unworkable.
The biggest problem with a 2 hour block, no matter how desired by many, is the problem of education. Let’s be honest. Most people right now just don’t read their scriptures regularly or have regular lesson based Family Home Evening. (Heck, I’m guilty of not doing enough lessons myself) The question is whether kids will get enough teaching if Church is reduced. But it’s not just a problem with kids. We have lots of areas where there are many converts who need to learn about the gospel and doctrines. The legitimate worry is that by reducing Church the membership becomes more ignorant. We’ll also lose that training that helps people become more comfortable with public speaking that can pay off when people are put in leadership positions.
Expanded Role for Women – Unlikely but possible. I think this will come eventually. There’s lots of activities, particularly done by the Aaronic Priesthood, that technically don’t require priesthood office. Deacons pass the sacrament but what they are doing is really no different from when you pass the tray to the person beside you. There’s no reason we couldn’t have young women helping out. Likewise ushering is typically done by Teachers or Priests but could easily be done by young women. Note this isn’t saying women get the priesthood or some major doctrinal innovation. This is just a small policy change already permitted by our existing doctrine.
Related to this are women’s blessings. This might seem like a more major change but actually women anointed with oil and gave blessings up to around the Second World War. Typically women would anoint women especially for things related to childbirth where it was seen as inappropriate for men to give blessings. (In those days the anointing wasn’t always to the head) This one seems a bit more improbable compared to allowing girls to usher or pass the sacrament. However it is well within historic practice. Again it’d just be a policy change with no major revelations required.
Changing Mission Age – Possible It was only a few years ago that the Church changed the mission age to 18. This in turn has led to some big decreases in missionary effectiveness. Now technically the change was just to allow young men to go earlier without pushing that age. However in practice the past five years has seen a presumption that every young man go on a mission at 18. I could see just an emphasizing that they go when they are mature enough and encourage some to go at 19 or even 20 – 22. However it’s also quite possible that they just change the age to 19 again even though that’d cause a huge temporary reduction in numbers.
Changing Missions – Unlikely. I know some have speculated a major rethink of missions is in order. Many don’t realize that the current system is largely a product of the post-war era and really didn’t get going in mass until Pres. Kimball became President. A lot of the older or recently deceased apostles didn’t go on missions simply because it wasn’t as common when they were young. A rethink might significantly decrease missionary numbers or make various type of service missions more common. Other changes might be allowing for different mission lengths like six months, one year or even three years. More close ties between Stake missionaries and full time missionaries might also be possible. (I’ve mentioned how I had a full time companion as a one month Stake Missionary when I was young)
The problem of course is that we have a duty to preach the gospel. While there are problems with our current approaches, if we change things too much that’ll make things worse not better.
New Scripture – Unlikely. This would include major doctrinal revelations, such as what some want on feminist or LGBT issues. I suspect some major revelation, if only to clarify some issues of salvation, is coming. But I can’t see it happening this fall. It’s also possible that older revelations get added to the D&C or Pearl of Great Price. Especially with the Joseph Smith Papers project we have a lot of Joseph’s lesser known revelations that could be published.
Dropping Stake Callings – Possible. I’ve heard this one from a few sources as well. The idea is of paring back many Stake callings so that more people are available for ward callings. This might take the form of outright dropping many calls like the Stake Sunday School callings or just consolidating many callings to the High Council.
The problem with this is that while it’s popular in strong Mormon areas like Utah it’s deeply problematic for Stakes with weaker wards or branches. Often Stake callings can significantly help these smaller units. The counter argument would be that this could be done by the High Council or having more training meetings.
Any ideas you think are reasonable? I suspect we’ll get some other big changes beyond the 2 hour block which sounds likely. I’m just not sure what they’ll be.