J.W. Hackett thought it was an April Fool’s joke when a buddy texted him on April 1 about an updated policy that now will allow single men and women to serve in more positions in young single adult congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It was no joke. Far from it.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, did announce the updated policy on April Fool’s Day during the leadership session of the church’s 191st Annual General Conference. He then spoke about unmarried church members again during a conference session on Saturday.
What he said Thursday: “Marital status has nothing to do with one’s capacity to serve and bless the lives of others,” he said. “The Lord honors those who wait upon him in patience and faith. We can do better at providing opportunities for our single members to serve.”
What he said Saturday: “The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have counseled together, in a spirit of prayer and with a yearning to understand, how to help all who feel alone or feel they don’t belong. We long to help all who feel this way. Let me mention, in particular, those who are currently single.”
- The majority of adult church members are unmarried, widowed or divorced. That has been true for the church has a whole since 1992, but became so for the church in the United States and Canada in 2019, Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Saturday in general conference.
- The church has responded by creating some singles wards for those 31 to 45 and young single adult wards and branches for those 18 to 30. Wards and branches are congregations gathered in regional groupings called stakes.
Details on callings: The church altered its policy on young single adult leadership positions on Wednesday, when it released an update to the General Handbook, which sets the church’s policies and gives instruction for operating congregations known as wards and branches, and for stakes, which are regional groupings of congregations.
- The church now has 87 YSA stakes with approximately YSA 1,200 wards and branches, church spokeswoman Irene Caso told the Deseret News.
- It also has about 40 single adult wards and branches, she said.
- The updated policy states that single women 30 and under can be called as YSA stake Relief Society presidents and counselors.
- Single men can now serve as counselors in YSA stake presidencies, bishoprics and branch presidencies and as high councilors and stake Sunday School presidents and counselors.
Reaction from single adults, young single adults, a YSA stake president and more of what President Ballard, Elder Gong and another church leader have said about the changes follows:
The news is “inspired” and “significant,” said Madison Selee, a BYU-Idaho political science major living in Logan, Utah, and attending a YSA ward there.
“That’s amazing. I love that,” she said . “I think it is cool because your marital status doesn’t define your worthiness before the Lord. I think it validates the hope that all YSAs have that they are loved and of great value. Whether they are married or not ... they can serve just the same. ... I think they will be a force for good.”
Selee served a church mission in Houston. Ryenne Wood, 21, returned in October from a mission in Los Angeles. She attends a standard ward in Tremonton, Utah, but doesn’t yet have a calling. In fact, she just asked for one.
“I just need something to do,” she said.
It’s a common problem for recently returned missionaries. They return home and miss the heavy responsibilities and constant service of their missions.
“It makes sense to me,” Wood said of having YSAs serve in more callings. “Maybe because after being a missionary, you are so young, you are really involved with the ward, helping out the high council and other organizations, it just makes sense. Young people need to learn how to contribute and I think we do have a lot to contribute.”
Single adult perspective:
Hackett, who thought the new callings might be a joke, serves a stake high councilor, assisting with wards in the Midvale Utah Union Fort Stake. He attends the Union Fort Single Adult 12th Ward, one of two in the stake. He said a single woman serves in the stake Relief Society presidency.
“To hear this from an apostle was just very validating to those who might have felt like there’s maybe not a place for me here, to realize there definitely is,” he said. “They’re aware of this demographic, and it’s not a forgotten one, and it’s a valuable one in the church and you can help serve just as well as anybody else.”
Hackett said the possible of new callings raises the bar for singles in the church and could lead to greater understanding.
“One of the concerns I think a lot of young single and even mid-single adults have is when they get a bishopric or they get a stake presidency that’s quite a bit older and who all got married in their early 20s, some think they don’t really relate to the demographic that they’re presiding over, so being able to have leadership that’s more familiar with your demographics, struggles and concerns, I think, is extremely beneficial.”
Josie Pugsley, a 33-year-old Garland, Utah, resident was excited about the changes.
“It’s hard being single and it’s hard to feel included in so many different areas,” she said. “So it is really cool that the church is doing that because we can bring a whole new fresh perspective to the table that maybe people who are married don’t see.”
Stake president’s perspective:
Wayne Janzen is president of the Washington D.C. YSA Stake. Five years after it was created with seven congregations, it now has 13, with membership growing from 1,300 to 2,000.
“We’re looking to add more units and eventually split the stake,” he said.
Janzen strategically keeps congregations smaller to provide more leadership opportunities to more single members. He also instructs leaders throughout the stake to turn over callings more often so members have more opportunities to serve, and serve in different ways.
Janzen learned about the policy update in an official communication from church headquarters. Does he expect to call young single adults into some of the newly available positions?
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s clear to me that’s what the Lord wants.”
Janzen said young single adults step up in leadership callings. YSA wards do help single adults find more relatable leaders, he added.
“It’s all about being able to understand, to empathize, to really be able to relate to these young single adults,” he said. “We call them young single adults, but they’re adults. They have adult issues. They’re facing adult challenges in the world today, challenges that some, who are older, have never experienced. So it’s important to have those in leadership positions who are empathetic and can relate and who are living those challenges as well.”
Church leader statements:
- Wednesday, when the church issued the handbook update, it released a statement from Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“In recent months, our minds have been drawn with particular focus to Latter-day Saints who are single adults,” Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a news release. “We want you to know that you are loved — and so very needed in building the kingdom of God. For this reason, we felt to search carefully for policies and misperceptions that might limit the church service of single members. What we found was that church policy already allows for broad service by single adults — and it could be even broader. We feel today’s policy adjustments can make a big difference. We hope your leaders know to put you to work—including as counselors in bishoprics, on high councils and as organization presidents and counselors.”
- Thursday, President Ballard provided instruction to 300 general authorities, general church officers and Area Seventies about the new policy:
“Marital status has nothing to do with one’s capacity to serve and bless the lives of others. The Lord honors those who wait upon him in patience and faith. We can do better at providing opportunities for our single members to serve. I am not talking about creating service projects, although those are important. I am talking about giving them significant callings, including leadership callings. Single members are just as capable as married members. There are only a few callings, such as stake president and bishop, that are specified only for married members. The restriction of having only married men serve as counselors in bishoprics and stake presidencies in young single adult wards and stakes has been removed.”
“Don’t worry about their age either,” he added. “I am 92. I am glad I was not released from my calling as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles because of my age or at the death of my wife. I love my Savior Jesus Christ, and I love helping to build up His Church. Most members feel the same way. This gives us hope in Christ and a feeling of belonging.”
President Ballard shared five doctrinal assurances church leaders can use to help single adults in their midst:
“The scriptures and declarations of latter-day prophets confirm that every person who is faithful in the gospel covenant will have the opportunity for exaltation.”
“The precise times and manner in which the blessings of exaltation are bestowed upon every faithful person have not all been revealed, but they are nonetheless assured.”
“Waiting upon the Lord implies continued obedience and spiritual progress.”
“God offers eternal life to all of his children.”
“Our confidence in these assurances is rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ by whose grace all things pertaining to mortality are set right.”
- Saturday, three apostles spoke on the topic, one each during the day’s three sessions of general conference:
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have counseled together, in a spirit of prayer and with a yearning to understand, how to help all who feel alone or feel they don’t belong. We long to help all who feel this way. Let me mention, in particular, those who are currently single.
Brothers and sisters, more than half of adults in the Church today are widowed, divorced, or not yet married. Some wonder about their opportunities and place in God’s plan and in the Church. We should understand that eternal life is not simply a question of current marital status but of discipleship and being “valiant in the testimony of Jesus.”
The hope of all who are single is the same as for all members of the Lord’s restored Church—access to the grace of Christ through “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”
(He then expanded on the five principles he talked about on Thursday, before continuing.)
Never forget that you are a child of God our Eternal Father now and forever. He loves you, and the church wants and needs you. Yes, we need you! We need your voices, talents, skills, goodness, and righteousness.
For many years, we have talked about “young single adults,” “single adults” and “adults.”
Those designations can be administratively helpful at times but can inadvertently change how we perceive others.
Is there a way to avoid this human tendency that can separate us from one another?
President Nelson asked that we refer to ourselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That seems to cover all of us, doesn’t it?
The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to unite us. We are ultimately more alike than we are different. As members of God’s family, we are truly brothers and sisters. Paul stated, “And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.”
To you stake presidents, bishops, and quorum and sister leaders, I ask you to consider every member of your stake, ward, quorum, or organization as members who can contribute and serve in callings and participate in many ways.
Every member in our quorums, organizations, wards, and stakes has God-given gifts and. talents that can help build His kingdom now. Let us call upon our members who are single to serve, lift and teach. Disregard old notions and ideas that have sometimes unintentionally contributed to their feelings of loneliness and that they do not belong or cannot serve.
The bishop has a paramount role in serving as a shepherd to guide the rising generation, including young single adults, to Jesus Christ.
Also, the majority of adult church members are now unmarried, widowed, or divorced. This is a significant change. It includes more than half our Relief Society sisters, and more than half our adult priesthood brothers. This demographic pattern has been the case in the worldwide church since 1992, and in the church in the United States and Canada since 2019.
Our standing before the Lord and in his church is not a matter of our marital status, but of our becoming faithful and valiant disciples of Jesus Christ. Adults want to be seen as adults, and to be responsible and contribute as adults. Disciples of Jesus Christ come from everywhere, in every shape, size, color, age, each with talents, righteous desires, and immense capacities to bless and serve. We seek daily to follow Jesus Christ with faith unto repentance and enduring joy.