We are deeply appreciative of the inspired way that leaders all over the Church have responded to the introduction of the new Church handbooks.
My purpose in this training is to clarify a few key principles and cover certain important matters in Handbook 2.
As President Eyring and Elder Oaks have so beautifully taught, there are three basic principles that summarize the major changes. Handbook 2:
Is doctrinally based.
Facilitates ministering and revelation.
Provides flexibility and simplification.
As Elder Oaks just emphasized, the responsibility of stake and ward councils has been greatly enhanced.
Some bishops have asked if there is a clear distinction between what should be addressed in PEC meetings and what should be discussed with the ward council. The general answer is set forth in sections 4.3 and 4.4. The PEC meets regularly to consider priesthood matters, such as quorum priesthood responsibilities, ordinances and blessings, callings and releases, certain temple and missionary items, and administering Church discipline. Generally, the PEC need not discuss matters that will be reviewed by the ward council. “However, it may be beneficial for the PEC to preview some matters that will be on the ward council’s agenda” (Handbook 2, 4.3). On the other hand, the ward council typically discusses matters that benefit from coordination and discussion and are of general concern for the ward as a whole.
Participation from all council members, especially the sisters, is essential if the revelatory potential is to be achieved. The bishop may determine that a decision is appropriate at the end of the ward council discussion, or he may feel inspired to make the decision at a subsequent bishopric or PEC meeting.
While a bright line of distinction between the two councils is not intended, three principal objectives may give bishops guidance in determining whether to utilize the PEC or ward council:
First, decrease the burden on bishoprics.
Second, increase delegation and revelation through councils.
Third, avoid regimentation that interferes with inspiration.
We also pray that common sense and guidance from the Spirit will prevail.
Chapter 6 covers welfare principles and describes the purpose of Church welfare and how bishopric and ward council members work together.
Even though the welfare meeting will no longer be held, welfare principles are essential and are emphasized more than ever in this handbook. The elders quorum president, high priests group leader, and Relief Society president work with the bishopric to address short- and long-term welfare needs. They may delegate extensively to accomplish this objective. The bishop may invite the Relief Society president to the PEC to discuss confidential welfare matters.
Chapter 7 covers the Melchizedek Priesthood. Elders quorum presidencies and high priests group leadership receive instruction from the stake presidency and are taught by assigned members of the high council. They meet regularly with the bishop to receive counsel and direction.
One of the important roles now envisioned for priesthood leaders is that they and experienced members of their quorums will handle many issues, including some worthiness issues that have previously been handled by the bishop. For example, with the consent of a member struggling with pornography, an experienced high priest could receive an assignment from the bishop to provide the extensive counseling and coordinate other assistance that the member may need.
Chapter 8 covers the Aaronic Priesthood. Two principles should be mentioned. First, parents have the first responsibility for the spiritual and physical welfare of their children. The bishopric and other Aaronic Priesthood leaders support but do not replace parents in this responsibility. Second, with increased delegation of many other responsibilities, the bishopric as the presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward will have more time to spend watching over the youth.
Chapter 13 is on activities. As you are now aware, there is no longer a permanent activities committee. It is intended that the ward council will see that the purposes and objectives set forth in chapter 13 are achieved and that activities are calendared well in advance. Some priesthood and auxiliary leaders have asked if the burden for planning and executing activities will now rest on them.
Normally, when an activity is for the entire ward the bishop will assign one or more organizations for the specific activity or event, or he will assign responsibility to other individuals or a temporary committee that would work under the direction of the ward council. Generally, when the auxiliary or quorum leaders are assigned responsibility, it will be of an oversight nature. These leaders would almost always delegate the accountability to plan and execute the activity to other members of the auxiliary or the quorum.
Chapter 13 also provides instructions for planning activities and contains general guidelines for stake, multistake, and area activities. An appropriate number of such activities is strongly encouraged by President Monson. He has specifically requested that we emphasize policies and guidelines which commence at section 13.6, such as accident prevention, adult supervision, and safety precautions. In your role as Church leaders you need to make sure you are familiar with these policies and guidelines and see that they are followed. In today’s world the heartbreak and liability that come with any Church-related tragedy make this a serious matter.
Chapter 16 concerns single members. Almost all young single adult units are in North America. The Presidency of the Seventy will oversee the changes provided in the handbook for these wards and stakes.
In international areas and in much of North America, few young single adult wards will be necessary or appropriate. In general, we bless young single adults when we leave them in regular geographical wards where priesthood leaders know them well and they have callings. But this is incomplete unless we provide them with stake, multistake, and area activities to satisfy social needs and encourage courtship and marriage. This is the preferred approach.
Chapter 20 covers priesthood ordinances and blessings. Additional explanation may be helpful with respect to participation in an ordinance or a blessing by fathers who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. Because of the eternally significant role of fathers, the new handbook authorizes stake presidents and bishops, as guided by the Spirit, to allow fathers who are not fully temple worthy to participate in ordinances and blessings of family members. For example, where the father is striving to be a full-tithe payer or to be more attentive to Church and priesthood duties, he and his family can be strengthened if he blesses a newborn child. Previous handbooks did not authorize such participation.
Presiding leaders will need to receive inspiration and exercise righteous discernment in determining when this is appropriate. Such participation should only be allowed if the priesthood holder does not have unresolved serious sins.
The specific authorization is that fathers who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood who are not fully temple worthy, but do not have serious unresolved sins, may:
Bless their children.
Baptize their children.
Ordain their sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood.
These fathers may also stand in the circle but not act as voice for:
The confirmation of their children.
The conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on their sons.
The setting apart of their wife or children.
In conclusion, I am confident that, as President Eyring testified, increased inspiration, revelation, and the blessings of the Spirit will attend our efforts as we righteously treasure and utilize these handbooks. I so testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.