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Major changes announced for Latter-day Saint youth programs

Ward Young Men presidencies will be discontinued; adjustments to Young Women program scheduled for this evening

SHARE Major changes announced for Latter-day Saint youth programs
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Lolani Leneti and Wendy Prescott sustain church leaders during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Young Men and Young Women programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are being reorganized to strengthen what the church president has called the youth battalion of the church, leaders announced Saturday afternoon during the faith’s 189th Semiannual General Conference.

The announcements, made by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the conference’s Saturday afternoon session, include:

• The church is dissolving ward Young Men presidencies to increase the focus of each ward’s bishop on the leadership of boys ages 11 to 18.

• The church will create stake Aaronic Priesthood-Young Women committees, and the bishopric youth committee in each ward will be replaced by a ward youth council.

• The church also is retiring the term “Mutual” for weeknight youth meetings. They now will be known as “Young Women activities,” “Aaronic Priesthood quorum activities” or “youth activities.”

• The Relief Society, Young Women, Young Men, Primary and Sunday School will no longer be known as “auxiliaries.” Instead they will be called “organizations.” Leaders of those organizations for the entire global church will be called general officers. Those who lead them at ward and stake levels will be known as ward officers and stake officers.

• Ward budgets for youth activities “will be divided equitably between the young men and young women according to the number of youth in each organization.”

• Stake Young Men presidencies will continue to exist, but the stake Young Men president will be a stake high councilor. He will join the high councilors assigned to Young Women and Primary on the new stake Aaronic Priesthood-Young Women Committee with the stake Young Women presidency. A counselor to the stake president will be the chair. (A stake is a collection of congregations known as wards.)

A further announcement about adjustments to the Young Women will be made tonight during the conference’s women’s session, which begins at 6 p.m., said President Russell M. Nelson, who introduced Elder Cook.

President Nelson said the structural moves are intended “to help young men and young women develop their sacred personal potential. We want also to strengthen Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Young Women classes and provide support to bishops and other adult leaders as they serve the rising generation.”

The changes can be effective immediately but all will be implemented by Jan. 1, 2020, Elder Cook said.

Elder Cook said the reason for the adjustments is to help youth navigate foolishness, immorality and evil in the world. He said they go hand in hand with two other initiatives, including the addition of new curriculum for the home and the new “Children and Youth” program.

“These efforts, together with those announced during the last two years, are not isolated changes,” he said. “Each of the adjustments is an integral part of an interlocking pattern to bless the Saints and prepare them to meet God. One part of the pattern relates to the rising generation. Our youth are being asked to take more individual responsibility at younger ages — without parents and leaders taking over what youth can do for themselves.”

Elder Cook continued: “These adjustments will help bishops and their counselors focus on their core responsibilities to the youth and Primary children and place the power and duties of the Aaronic Priesthood at the center of every young man’s personal life and goals. These adjustments also emphasize the responsibilities of Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies and their direct reporting line to the bishopric, and motivate adult leaders to assist and mentor Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies in magnifying the power and authority of their office.”

In a footnote to his talk provided to the media, Elder Cook wrote that special advisers may be called to help the bishopric when they need to be in other meetings. Every meeting or activity will require the presence of two male leaders.

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Conferencegoers rise and sing with the choir during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

He also mentioned in another footnote how other recent adjustments fit together with those announced today, including having 11-year-old deacons pass the sacrament in Sunday meetings, 11-year-old young women and young men receive limited-use temple recommends and full-time missionaries serve at younger ages (18 years for men and 19 for women).

President Nelson also reiterated the policy changes he announced Wednesday that anyone holding any type of temple recommend may be an official witness of a proxy baptism for a deceased person, any endowed member with a temple recommend may serve as an official witness of sealing ordinances and any baptized member may be an official witness of a baptism of a living person.

He explained that the moves do not change church doctrines.

“These policy adjustments are procedural,” he said. “The underlying doctrine and covenants are unchanged and are equally efficacious in all ordinances. These changes should greatly enhance family participation in these ordinances.”

The rest of the meeting returned to a dominant theme from the morning session, that believers need to build unwearied diligence and constant vigilance to counter the problems in the world.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared a parable of cheetahs and antelopes. He said he and his wife once watched for two hours as cheetahs, which he found beautiful, sleek, alluring and captivating, stalked antelope called topis in Africa. He shared three lessons they learned watching the drama unfold — beware evil’s beguiling disguises, stay awake and alert, and understand the intent of the enemy.

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Conferencegoers leave the Conference Center after the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“In a paradoxical period when violating the sanctity of human life is heralded as a right and chaos is described as liberty, how blessed we are to live in this latter-day dispensation when restored gospel light can shine brightly in our lives and help us to discern the adversary’s dark deceptions and distractions,” he said.

A brief moment of carelessness can invite a swift cheetah attack, he said. Spiritual thoughtlessness invites similar danger into life.

“Constant vigilance is required to counteract complacency and casualness,” he said. “To be vigilant is the state or action of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. And keeping watch denotes the act of staying awake to guard and protect. Spiritually speaking, we need to stay awake and be alert to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and the signals that come from the Lord’s watchmen on the towers.”

Elder Bednar said Satan labors to confuse the sons and daughters of God and make them unhappy and hinder their progression.

“The Father’s plan of happiness is designed to provide direction for His children, to help them experience enduring joy, and to bring them safely home to him with resurrected, exalted bodies,” he said.

Still, many of God’s children lose their way, said Elder Rubén V. Alliaud, a General Authority Seventy.

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Conferencegoers listen during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Jesus Christ himself is the Lord of lost things,” he said. “He cares for lost things. That is surely why he taught the three parables that we find in the fifteenth chapter of Luke: the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and, finally, the Prodigal Son. All of these stories have a common theme: it doesn’t matter why they were lost, it doesn’t even matter if they were aware that they were lost, in each case there reigns supreme a feeling of joy that exclaims: ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found (that) which was lost.’ In the end, nothing is truly lost to him.”

In fact, he said, “It seems that the story of conversion is always the story of how we are found.”

Elder Alliaud said he was found by the Book of Mormon and he encouraged church members to allow it to find them again and again.

The president of the General Sunday School organization said the “Come, Follow Me” church curriculum implemented last January has improved personal and family gospel learning with weekly lessons from the New Testament.

“We see Latter-day Saints everywhere growing in faith and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ,” Brother Mark L. Pace said. “We see individuals and families setting aside time throughout the week to study the words of our Savior. We see improving gospel instruction in our Sunday classes as we study the scriptures at home and share our insights at church. We see greater family joy and unity as we have moved from simply reading the scriptures to studying the scriptures in a profound way.”

He said the program has been what President Nelson promised it would be, the Lord’s counterstrategy and proactive plan” as part of changes that included reducing the church’s traditional Sabbath meetings from three hours to two.

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President Russell M. Nelson greets other general authorities and waves to the Provo, Utah, combined choir prior to the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Studying the scriptures with ‘Come, Follow Me’ as a guide is strengthening our conversion to Jesus Christ and His gospel,” Brother Pace said. “We are not simply trading one hour less in church on Sunday for one hour more of scripture study at home. Learning the gospel is a consistent effort throughout the week. As one sister shared with me, ‘The goal is not to make church one hour shorter; it is to make church six days longer!’”

Elder L. Todd Budge, a General Authority Seventy, said that increased strength is vital today and used the Book of Mormon story of the Jaredites building barges to cross the ocean to illustrate it.

“We live in a world where the monster waves of death, physical and mental illness, and trials and afflictions of every kind break upon us,” he said. “Yet, through faith in Jesus Christ and choosing to trust in him, we too can have light continually whether above the water or under the water. We can have the assurance that God never does cease to blow us towards the promised land.”

Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, a General Authority Seventy, said believers and those who want to believe should ask themselves, “What should we do to best meet the trials that come our way?”

“As we follow God’s voice and his covenant path, he will strengthen us through our trials,” he said. 

Elder Ronald A. Rasband publicly thanked the Boy Scouts of America and leaders and mothers who helped support it.

“Our association with the Boy Scouts of America, as it now concludes, will always be an important legacy to me and the church,” he said. “To the scouting organization, to the scores of men and women who have served diligently as Scout leaders, to the moms — real credit goes there; and to the young men who have participated in Scouting, we say, ‘Thank you.’”

He described how many of the adjustments announced during the meeting or previously fit together to strengthen the church’s youth.

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A combined choir and signers from Provo, Utah, sing during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Just last Sunday, President Nelson and President Ballard explained the new Children and Youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints program for the entire church,” he said. “It is a worldwide initiative focused on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are unified in thew direction and I personally bear my witness that the Lord has guided us every step of the way. I am excited for the children and youth of the church to experience this integrated focus on them both at home and at church — through gospel learning, service and activities, and personal development.”

He said the 2020 youth theme — “Nephi’s classic promise to “go and do” in the Book of Mormon — “means rising above the world, receiving and acting on personal revelation, living righteously with hope and faith in the future, making and keeping covenants to follow Jesus Christ and thereby increasing our love for him, the Savior of the world.”

Elder Rasband also asked members to “strive with unwearied diligence to build up your lives, your families and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

President Nelson presided in the session, which was conducted by President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.

A choir of church members from Provo, Utah, sang “The Lord is My Light,” “Sweet is the Word,” “Redeemer of Israel” and “Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls.”

Elder Matthew L. Carpenter and Elder Craig C. Christensen, both General Authority Seventies, provided the prayers.