SALT LAKE CITY — Benn Thorderson of Tupelo, Mississippi, planned to be ordained a deacon sometime after his 12th birthday on May 31, 2019, the same age boys have received the priesthood for the past 110 years in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now his ordination may be accelerated to January after the First Presidency of the church announced Friday that youths will advance from one class or priesthood quorum to another together as age groups instead of individually on their birthdays.
"I am very, very shocked," Benn said Friday afternoon after he got home from school and his parents shared the news with him and his three sisters and brothers. "I'm feeling nervous. I did not expect it to come so soon. I was waiting until I turn 12."
The change had immediate, major ramifications for young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will affect priesthood ordinations, Young Women advancement, the Primary program,Young Women and Young Men camps, teen ministering assignments and the ages at which children may first attend the temple and participate in church dances.
Parents and children said they liked the changes, though some parents, especially those whose oldest child is 11, took to social media to say they weren't ready for the instant move of their children from Primary to youth programs.
"That was sudden," Michael Newton said with a laugh. His oldest, a girl, turns 12 in May. "We didn't expect that."
Benn's mother called it "better than Christmas morning."
"Eleven can be a tough age with the transition from Primary to Young Men and Young Women," said Julie Thorderson, who also has two teenagers and an 8-year-old. "And it can be hard to wait to turn 12 when your friends turn 12 and move on without you. Wonderful changes have been happening for adults and the youth. Now these children will be able to say, the Lord sees me, the Lord loves me, and I can be doing things to build the kingdom."
Bishops, Young Women and Young Men leaders and Primary presidencies also face adjustments.
"Though these adjustments lead to some significant logistical changes, I encourage you to focus first on the spiritual benefits," church President Russell M. Nelson said in a Facebook post. "Our youth and children are among the best the Lord has ever sent into this world. They have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation! We must do our part to help them realize their potential."
The changes begin with the Primary. In fact, they start with 7-year-olds. Children may begin attending activity days in January of the year they turn 8.
They will complete Primary at the beginning of the year they turn 12 instead of waiting until their 12th birthday. The church will discontinue the Valiant 11 Primary class next month. Girls and boys will attend Sunday School together and the Beehive class or deacons quorum at the beginning of the year they turn 12.
"I'm happy I can start now in Young Women and go to the temple instead of waiting another year in primary," said Sophia Puertas, who lives in Provo and will turn 12 on Oct. 23.
"We desire to strengthen our beloved children and youth through increased faith in Jesus Christ, deeper understanding of his gospel, and greater unity with his church and its members," the First Presidency said in a letter sent to congregations around the world and signed by Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring.
Boys now are eligible to be ordained deacons in January of the year they turn 12. They also can be ordained teachers at the beginning of the year they turn 14 and priests at 16. The same goes for girls, who can advance to Beehives (12), Mia Maids (14) and Laurels (16) in January of the year they turn the required age.
Boys have been ordained deacons on or after their 12th birthday since 1908. However, age requirements are not doctrinally mandated, allowing for the change, the First Presidency said.
"I'm excited and happy," Benn said. "I'll be able to help with the sacrament and go to Young Men's and mini youth conference and the temple."
Benn's father, Jedd Thorderson, is bishop of the Tupelo Ward. He is happy to tackle a new set of advancement interviews for 11-year-olds in the coming weeks.
"We'll finish tithing settlement and go start interviews for youth," he said. "I guess that's our new way to operate. "I'm most excited about being able to get them into the temple earlier, especially with all the things they're exposed to at an earlier age, so that they can feel the Spirit there at an earlier age."
The First Presidency said children may now receive limited-use temple recommends in January of the year they turn 12.
Lilly Newton of Morgan said she's looking forward to joining older friends and her aunt in the Young Women program months before she turns 12 on May 23.
"I'm really excited I get to go to the temple and be in Young Women's," Lilly said. "The temple is going to be really special because I'll get to do things I haven't done before for people that are dead."
With parental permission, girls and boys may begin to attend camp in the summer of the year they turn 12. Until now, boys and girls who turned 12 after camp or later in the year could not attend camp with their friends who turned 12 in the first half of the year, even though they had been in the same Primary classes.
Until Friday's announcement, Sophia's sisters Isabel, 14, and Natalia, 12, were going to go to camp in 2019 without her.
"I was sad I couldn't go with my sisters to girls' camp this year," she said. "When I came home from school today, my mom was acting really excited and told me she had big news."
They jumped for joy around the living room together.
"I was so happy because my sisters always told me stories about how fun camp was and how spiritual it is," said Sophie, who has five older sisters and is one of 10 children. "I was always so jealous I had to wait another year. Some of my friends are older than me, and now I get to go with them at the same time."
Bishop Thorderson said congregations with large numbers of children who turn 12 in 2019 may now face unexpected costs as they send more youth to girls and boys camps this summer.
"It'll be interesting to see how the church will figure that out," he said. "We'll find a way to make it work."
The changes in age-group progression also affected ministering assignments. Girls and boys may now receive assignments to minister to families at the beginning of the year they turn 14.
The announcement also included a change to church dances. Mia Maids and teachers now may attend dances and youth conferences before their 14th birthdays. However, the First Presidency reaffirmed that "a young woman or young man should be at least age 16 before beginning to date."
Cub Scouting and 11-year-old Scouts will remain the same until the church's new initiative for children and youth launches in 2020.
Boys will continue to progress between dens on their birthdays and join 11-year-old Scouts when they turn 11. But when their age-group moves from Primary to priesthood, boys will join Boy Scouts.
Some parents pointed out on social media that this means 11-year-old Scout troops will empty out next month and only gain members as 10-year-olds turn 11.
The First Presidency directed local leaders to implement the changes in January. It said children should change classes and organization at the beginning of the month but that sustainings and ordinations could take place anytime during the month to accommodate schedules.
In one final change to current practice, bishoprics no longer will recognize children and youth in sacrament meeting as they move between organizations, classes and quorums. Young men must still be sustained in sacrament meeting but will stand in the congregation instead of at the podium.
President Nelson announced in October that sacrament meeting — the faith's weekly worship service — will be one hour long instead of 70 minutes beginning in January. That change is part of a larger effort to create a more home-centered church.
"President Nelson wasn't lying when he said, 'Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It's going to be exciting,'" Julie Thorderson said of the change's place amid others undertaken by the church president. "We're super-excited for Benn. He's been looking forward to becoming a deacon."
Local leaders and parents can work together if they feel a child's circumstances dictate the child not move on within the outlined schedule.
Additional information is available at childrenandyouth.lds.org.
For interviews with church leaders about the announcement, see the Church News.