During the Saturday afternoon session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this weekend, a member of the church's First Presidency will make it official: Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy will become an emeritus general authority.
It isn't a big surprise — for two reasons. First, it was announced in January that he would be released as LDS Church historian and recorder and as executive director of the church's Historical Department and replaced in those positions by Elder Steven E. Snow, who was then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy. A First Presidency letter at the time said Elder Jensen "will be released from the First Quorum of the Seventy and given emeritus status in October."
And second, Elder Jensen turned 70 in May, and the recent history of LDS Church general leadership has been that members of the Seventy are extended emeritus status the October conference following their 70th birthdays. Indeed, there are three other members of the First and Second quorums of the Seventy who have turned 70 this year, so it is likely that Elder Jensen’s name won’t be the only one added this conference to the list of 77 men who have been given emeritus status since Sept. 30, 1978, when Elders James A. Cullimore, Henry D. Taylor and S. Dilworth Young became the church’s first emeritus general authorities.
“These brethren are not being released but will be excused from active service,” said President N. Eldon Tanner, then first counselor in the First Presidency, in announcing during general conference the new emeritus designation. “It is out of consideration for the personal well-being of the individuals, and with deep appreciation for their devoted service, that this designation will be given from time to time to designated members of the general authorities.”
The LDS Church website indicates that "members of the First Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve until the age of 70, at which time they are given emeritus status (similar to being released). Members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy typically serve for three to five years; after this time, they are released."
Prior to 1978, general authorities served for the rest of their lives, according to Elder Bruce C. Hafen, who was given emeritus status in 2010.
“Having a designated age for retirement is a good way to bring new blood and fresh perspective into the quorums of the Seventies,” he said from his home in St. George, where he is currently serving as president of the St. George Temple. “It allows the brethren to experience the natural retirement years that happen to everyone eventually. And it is consistent with our experience elsewhere in the church, where you can be a bishop one week and Scoutmaster the next. That is the natural ebb and flow of church service that is familiar and comfortable to all Latter-day Saints.”
'Flow' to emeritus
So Elder Jensen’s “flow” to emeritus status comes as no surprise. But it is most welcome — at least as far as Elder Jensen is concerned.
"I've been looking forward to this," he said from his home in Huntsville, Weber County, during a recent telephone interview. "I'm excited for the opportunity to be less public. It will be refreshing."
A general authority since April 1989, Elder Jensen said he's been living the life of an emeritus general authority since early August.
"The church assignment year begins Aug. 1, so practically speaking I've been a free agent since then," he said, chuckling.
Looking back on the past two months of "free agency," he said "it's an interesting transition."
"You sort of have removed now all of the external trappings of your church life — 'defrocked' would be a good word if we were Catholic," he said. "Now you're just practicing what you've been preaching, and living as an ordinary Latter-day Saint."
Which he believes is a good thing.
"I'm grateful the Lord has made provisions to be emeritus," he said. "I think it's wise. To me, it makes possible the refreshment of the Seventy. You have new Seventies come on board, and they work hard for a number of years and give it the best they have, and then they quietly step down and let new men come in to keep pushing the work along with new energy and vitality."
Others to lead
And now, after 23 years pushing the work along as a general authority, he's ready to let others take the lead.
"The rising generation needs to rise," he said. He paused, then added cheerfully: "I guess that means I'm in the sinking generation. I'm just very comfortable with the idea of getting offstage and being less visible."
And getting some rest.
"Not too long ago I spoke to (Elder L.) Aldin Porter, who has been emeritus for 11 years," Elder Jensen said. "I asked him, 'What did you do for the first couple of months after you became emeritus?' He said, 'I just slept.'
"I can relate to that," Elder Jensen continued. "I was pooped."
Not that he's complaining.
"It's a wonderful blessing to be a general authority, and all of the associations that come along with it," he said. "But it's also very stressful. And exhausting. And darn hard work."
Through the years, he has occasionally heard friends in what he calls "civilian life" speak about working 13-hour days on their jobs. He said he smiles and sympathizes with his friends, but there's a part of him that says: "Wow, how would that be to just work 13 hours a day?'"
All of which makes him admire and respect the members of the church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles even more, because for them there is no emeritus status to which they can look forward.
"I pray even harder for those good men who don't get any respite and whose burdens are relieved only by death," he said. "Thankfully they are borne up by the Spirit and the Lord blesses them in extraordinary ways, although I’m not sure that any of us can really appreciate and understand the burden they carry, many of them well into their advanced years.”
What we can understand, Elder Hafen said, is the example the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve set for a lifetime of service in the kingdom, and enduring to the end.
“I don’t really see any shelves in the church, so there’s no way we can be put on a shelf and left to gather dust,” he joked. “Whether you’re an emeritus general authority or a recently released Primary worker, we all have service to give, regardless of our age and experience in the church.”
For Elder Hafen, that service has included two periods when he was working as companions with Elder Jensen: once in 1962 when they were full-time missionaries in Frankfurt, Germany, and again 40 years later, when they were general authorities in the Europe Central Area presidency — once again in Frankfurt.
Today his service is with a different companion — his wife, Marie, who serves as temple matron — in the St. George Utah Temple, where “we see a lot of mature church members, many of them with health issues, yet these are among the most faithful people we see working in the temple.”
“In more tribal societies there is a more natural veneration and gratitude for the older generations,” he continued. “Our society encourages us to think that if you’re older than Barbie and Ken you’re not very interesting. But I see such strength in these mature, seasoned workers. They set such an example for me that you can serve with all your heart wherever you are, and whatever stage of life you are in.”
And that, Elder Hafen says, is the essence of service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“My view of church service is there really isn’t a hierarchy of service — I think it’s more horizontal,” he said. “I’m not saying that as a way of trying to be brave and cheerful about being an emeritus general authority. I really believe that you serve in whatever role the Lord needs you to serve in, and in that role you have the opportunity to see the spirit of the Lord and its power in people’s lives. That happens everywhere, in any calling we have. And wherever the spirit of the Lord is active and present, that's where the spiritual action is.
"Of course, that 'action' is found in what general authorities do," Elder Hafen continued. "But I have also found that same closeness to the spirit of the Lord as a full-time missionary, as a member of a stake presidency, as a gospel doctrine teacher and as a father and husband."
Board of Regents
Elder Jensen isn’t aware of any new church assignments that await him, although it was announced in early August that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has nominated him to serve on the state Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in the state.
“That was a total surprise,” Elder Jensen said of the governor’s appointment. “I wanted to have something to retire to, not just from, so this will be a wonderful way to render public service.”
Beyond that, he said, he’s looking forward to devoting himself to “securing my eternal family.”
“By virtue of the demands of the calling there are many things you’re not present for, many family things you have to let go,” Elder Jensen said. “My wife (Kathleen) is an absolute angel, and she has never once complained. But two weeks ago we went to a birthday party together, and then we watched the BYU-Utah football game together. At one point she looked up at me, and with emotion in her eyes, she said, ‘I can’t remember the last time we’ve had an evening like this together.’
“Relationships take time,” he said, “and I haven’t had time — at least, not the kind of time that I would like to have. I always want to keep my serving edge and my learning edge, but I’ll be looking for ways to do that within the family circle.”
And not, he said, in politics. For many years, Elder Jensen has been widely known as one of the most prominent Latter-day Saints belonging to the Democratic Party. With his impending emeritus status, he said he has been approached to run for political office.
“It took me just a minute to say, ‘Thank you, but I have no desire,’” he said. “I don’t know that I would ever have that interest.”
What he is interested in, he says, is continuing to live on the family farm in Huntsville, feeding the horses, tending the chickens, hauling the hay, going to home evenings with his eight children and their families, watching his grandchildren play soccer and reading the scriptures with his wife.
'All work is equal'
“The Amish have a saying that ‘all work is equal,’” he said. “If we’re thinking straight, then the work I’m going to do with my family is just as important as the work I’ve been doing in the church for most of the past 25 years.
“Don’t get me wrong — I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world, to be able to do what I did, and associate with the people with whom I’ve associated,” he continued. “I remember when I was first called as a general authority, an old cowboy in Huntsville said I would be riding for a mighty fine outfit. And I found that to be absolutely true in every way, with all of the great men and women leaders of the church. I feel grateful to have been within a hundred miles of any of them.
“But now, stepping down and letting others have that experience seems to me to be the most natural, logical thing in the world.”
And not in the least bit surprising.
Emeritus LDS general authorities
General authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have been given emeritus status, by year:
1. James A. Cullimore*
2. Henry D. Taylor*
3. S. Dilworth Young*
4. Sterling W. Sill*
5. Joseph Anderson*
6. William H. Bennett*
7. John H. Vandenberg*
8. Eldred G. Smith (patriarch)
9. Bernard P. Brockbank*
10. O. Leslie Stone*
11. William Grant Bangerter*
12. Victor L. Brown*
13. Theodore M. Burton*
14. Royden G. Derrick*
15. Paul H. Dunn*
16. J. Thomas Fyans*
17. Rex C. Reeve*
18. Robert L. Simpson*
19. Robert L. Backman
20. Marion D. Hanks*
21. Jacob de Jager*
22. Adney Y. Komatsu*
23. H. Burke Peterson
24. Hartman Rector Jr.
25. Ted E. Brewerton
26. Hans B. Ringger*
27. Carlos E. Asay*
28. J. Richard Clarke
29. Dean L. Larsen
30. Robert E. Wells
31. Jack H. Goaslind*
32. W. Eugene Hansen
33. James M. Paramore
34. Ronald E. Poelman*
35. Joe J. Christensen
36. Andrew W. Peterson*
37. F. Enzio Busche
38. Loren C. Dunn*
39. Alexander B. Morrison
40. John K. Carmack
41. Vaughn J. Featherstone
42. L. Lionel Kendrick
43. Rex D. Pinegar
44. L. Aldin Porter
45. Benjamin B. Banks
46. Cree-L Kofford
47. Angel Abrea
48. William R. Bradford
49. John H. Groberg
50. David E. Sorenson
51. F. Melvin Howard
52. Harold G. Hillam*
53. F. Burton Howard
54. Wm. Rolfe Kerr
55. Merrill J. Bateman
56. Robert K. Dellenbach
57. Monte J. Brough*
58. Gene R. Cook
59. Earl C. Tingey
60. Sheldon F. Child
61. Lynn A. Mickelsen
62. Charles Didier
63. John M. Madsen
64. Dennis Neuenschwander
65. Spencer J. Condie
66. Bruce C. Hafen
67. Kenneth Johnson
68. Glenn L. Pace
69. Lance B. Wickman
70. Richard G. Hinckley
71. Yoshihiko Kikuchi
72. Cecil O. Samuelson
73. Gary J. Coleman
74. Carl B. Pratt
75. H. David Burton
76. Richard G. Edgley
77. Keith B. McMullin