For Mormons

On Thursday, November 5th 2015, news began to circulate that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had issued a resource in which a policy was found that placed limits on what sacraments could be performed on behalf of children with same-sex parents.

If you are a Mormon who is concerned about these limitations, feel free to reach out to Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).  We are a progressive church of the Latter Day Restoration movement with priesthood authority  passed down from Joseph Smith Jr. through his son Joseph Smith III, who was anointed to inherit all of his father’s gifts. We are the church of Joseph Smith Jr’s sister Katherine.  We are the church of his brother William.  And we are the church of his wife Emma.  And we can be your church to.

Or, we can just be there for you.  Its your choice. 

Check us out at:

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“Jesus said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” -The Gospel of St. Matthew, Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version 19:14

“And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bear record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again, and he spake unto the multitude, and saith unto them, Behold your little ones.” -Third Nephi (CofC 8:23,24 / LDS 17:21-23)


What is Communion?

Communion Service, World Conference, 2013*

Adapted from a talk I did for CommumityPlace, October 7th, 2015

Communion  (also known as the Lord’s Supper, and in other denominations as the Eucharist or the sacrament**), is one of those things that is multi-dimensional. We celebrate it for a lot of reasons.

When we think about Communion we often think of it only in the context of remembering that Christ died for the sins of the world. That’s part of it, and I like to acknowledge that part, but its only one dimension of the greater purpose of communion.

I prefer to think of communion as an opportunity. It’s a chance for me to renew my covenant with Jesus Christ. 

That is something I take very seriously, and I think it warrants being very deliberate with my own personal preparation to take communion. And its up to each of us to decide how we want to do that.

When we participate in communion, we renew our covenants with Jesus Christ. But, what does that mean?  Those are not just fancy words; they have a practical meaning in our spiritual lives.  When we renew our covenants with Jesus Christ, we are reaffirming our willingness to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

We are, in essence, re-committing to follow the teachings of Christ, and to make a promise to respond. This is what it means to be a disciple. Anyone can be a follower, but a disciple is someone who responds. 

A disciple is someone who wants to be invitational, who wants to nurture holistic, Christ-like relationships, and who wants to build Zionic, or sacred communities.

A disciple is someone who wants to help the church resonate with people, and to help it be relevant and redemptive.

A disciple is someone who helps other people recognize the blessings they have received, and who understand the blessings they themselves have received, and who expresses gratitude to God for those blessings.

So when we participate in communion, we renew our commitment to doing, or being all of those things.

I also look at communion as an additional form of baptism.  When we are baptized, we are forgiven for our sins.  I look at each communion meal that I participate in as an additional opportunity to be forgiven for my sins, to be spiritually cleansed.  It’s a reset.   I know that each time I participate in communion, God is making peace with me, even if I don’t make peace with God, or with myself.

Communions is therefore a redemptive experience, and I think that it’s important that we remember that. When we go through those periods where we experience personal guilt, when we’re disappointed in ourselves, when we feel unworthy, we can come to the communion table, and we can count on God forgiving us. We can count on being redeemed once more in the eyes of God.

And we know that this is true, because we know that God views all people as having immeasurable and equal worth.

And when we approach communion this way, we need to be willing to give up our burdens. We need to freely give up whatever it is that wears us down.  That is also part of the process of achieving some measure of personal redemption.

But communion is also a chance for us to make new covenants with God. When we renew our baptismal covenant, we can also make additional covenants, challenging ourselves to increase our response to God.  That is what I said to my congregation just this past Sunday, I asked them to make additional covenants with Jesus Christ, “to more fully respond to the ever increasing need to heal the world”

And we can increase our response to God in any number of ways. That might include living our lives in harmony with our church’s Nine Enduring Principles, especially Unity in Diversity, and the Worth of All Persons.

Or, we might increase our response by embracing our mission initiatives, such as abolish poverty & end suffering.

When all is said and done, communion is an opportunity for rejuvenation, personal redemption, spiritually cleansing, gratitude and reaffirming our covenants with Jesus Christ. Its about redemption, renewal, and response.

*Presided over by the general officers of the church. President Veazey and President Savage served communion to each other, and then they served the other leaders, who then served an army of volunteers (and the choir) who served everyone else. Its a very impressive thing to watch.

**In Community of Christ the term “sacrament” does not refer exclusively to the Lord’s Supper, but is used in reference to eight sacred rites (what some faiths call ordinances) that require priesthood authority.  The others are: Administration to the Sick, Baptism, Blessing of Children, Confirmation, Evangelist’s Blessing, Marriage, and Ordination.

Ordination vs. Setting Apart

(this is one of those blogs that is probably of interest only to me 😉 )

seventytopresidentofseventyFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with all of the logistical considerations of the priesthood.  Consequently, I’ve explored in the past which positions in the priesthood require ordination, and which require a prayer of “setting apart” (both of which involve the laying-on-of-hands).  The former results in a particular priesthood office being conferred upon someone, while the latter results in a person assuming a new role.

What has always struck me as odd is that there seems to be some inconsistencies regarding which positions are viewed as offices, requiring ordination, and which are viewed as roles that only require setting apart.  It seems that there has been confusion on this point, which was acknowledged in Guidelines for the Priesthood: Ordination Preparation Continuing Commitment (© 1985 Herald Publishing House).  That resource states on page 63:

“Some semantic confusion exists concerning the differences between ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands.  Therefore, we define these terms as follows:

Ordination is to membership in the various offices, quorums, and orders of the priesthood…Setting apart by the laying on of hands is to presiding roles within quorums, councils, orders and field jurisdictions of the church, including districts and congregations…This modified definition constitutes a new application of setting apart as interpreted by the First Presidency.”

A modified version of the above appears in the 2004 Priesthood Manual:

“Some semantic confusion exists concerning the differences between ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands.  Therefore, we define these terms as follows:

Ordination is to ministry-specific priesthood offices …Setting apart by laying on of hands is to specific leadership roles within quorums, councils, orders, mission centers and congregations.”

There are several positions that are, beyond doubt, offices of the priesthood, requiring ordination.  These positions include: apostle, bishop, deacon, elder, evangelist (formerly known as evangelist-patriarch), high priest, priest, seventy, and teacher.

Less common positions that are also understood as being offices of priesthood requiring ordination are: president, presiding bishop, presiding bishop’s counselor, presiding evangelist, and prophet.

Positions such as pastor, president of the Council of Twelve, and presidents of the Quorum of High Priests are set apart.

However, there are other positions that seem to be treated inconsistently.  For example:

Presidents of Seventy

There are some references to the position of President of Seventy being conferred via ordination (thereby being viewed as an office of priesthood), and other references to it being granted via setting apart (thereby being viewed as a priesthood role).

Consider the following: In both Guidelines for Priesthood (page 63) and the Priesthood Manual (page 23), presidents of seventy are listed as examples of priesthood offices requiring ordination.

Note that Guidelines for Priesthood, as quoted above, states that the First Presidency has defined the terms ordination and setting apart, and president of seventy is stated as falling under ordination.

However, page 35 of the 2004 Priesthood Manual contradicts page 23, stating that presidents of seventy are to be set apart.

How has the church actually handled presidents of seventy in recent years?  A review of the minutes of World Conferences 2000 to 2013 show that all new president of seventy became such via setting apart, *not* via ordination.  This is in violation of page 23 of the Priesthood Manual and with Guidelines to the Priesthood (though it is in  harmony with page 35 of the Priesthood Manual).

The fact that this type of inconsistency exists utterly baffles me.  Is the position of president of seventy an office of priesthood, requiring ordination, or, is it a role that does not require ordination, warranting only a prayer of setting apart?  That should be a very easy question to answer, but based on our history, it’s not.

On page 23 of The Ministry of the Elder, by Dwight DW Davis (Herald Publishing House, 1953) we are told that president of seventy is a priesthood office.

The book Priesthood Orientation Studies (Herald Publishing House, 1964) makes reference to presidents of seventy, but is not clear on whether this position is an office of priesthood, or a leadership role.

Looking at an older copy of the Priesthood Manual (1985), it states on page 48 that presidents of seventy are set apart.

So, what is the proper understanding of the position of seventy?

Several years ago, I wrote a letter to the World Church Secretary, asking for clarification on these type of questions.  He sent me a reply, which included:

“Your questions are a little complicated, but I’ll try to answer as clearly as possible. There are certain gray areas in this consideration, but ordinations are usually to a priesthood office, while a setting apart is to a responsibility within a priesthood office…

…There may be some inconsistency in World Church quorums and orders…If I may hazard an observation, it would appear to me that leadership positions in World Church quorums are termed ordinations when the role includes a significant function independent of the leadership or the quorum or order. Thus, the Presiding Bishopric carries certain responsibilities as trustees and as leaders of the Aaronic Priesthood, and its members are ordained. The President and Secretary of the Council of Twelve primarily give leadership to the Twelve and are set apart. The Council of Presidents of Seventy call new Seventy and new Presidents of Seventy in addition to their leadership of the seven quorums, and their members are ordained. The President of the Quorum of High Priests primarily gives leadership to the quorum and is set apart.”

So, according to this letter, presidents of seventy are ordained.  The rationalization he gave me made sense to me.  In the letter I sent him, I opened by acknowledging that I was perplexed that the president of the Quorum of High Priests was set apart, but a counselor to the Presiding Bishop was ordained.  I thought it was very odd that a counselor was being ordained, thus having a new priesthood office conferred upon him, but the High Priest quorum president was simply set apart.

As I mentioned above, the explanation he provided made a lot of sense.  The apostles have a lot of responsibility, but the role of president of the Twelve does not have responsibilities beyond directing the Twelve. What apostles do, they do by virtue of their office of apostle.  However, the presiding bishop, *and* his counselors, do not merely hold presidency of the order of bishops, but also  function as a judicial council, hold presidency of the Aaronic priesthood, and have the tremendous responsibility of managing the global finances of the church.  So, based on the insight I received, it makes perfect sense that they would be ordained.

Likewise, the President of the Quorum of High Priests has administrative functions only, but the presidents of seventy, in addition to having that role, are also responsible for calling new seventies and even other presidents of seventy (when a vacancy exists).

So, from the various sources referenced above, there are various different opinions, and clearly, differences between what is stated, and what is actually done.  The letter I received stated that presidents of seventy are ordained, but in the 21st century, they have always been set apart.

Furthermore, the church has issued clarifying statements about the difference between ordination and setting apart, and, in that section, as it appears in the 2004 Priesthood Manual, they are to be ordained, yet, again, that is not what has actually happened in any of our 21st century World Conferences *and* the Priesthood Manual contradicts itself further on.

So, what really is the proper understanding?  Well, I can only offer my own personal opinion, but it would seem to me that it is proper to view the position of President of Seventy as a true and distinct office of priesthood, requiring ordination.

While we have not done so in the 21st century, our most recent Priesthood Manual, on the subject of setting apart vs. ordination, clearly states that presidents of seventy are to be ordained, and senior presidents are to be set apart.

While it is true that later on in the book, it is stated that presidents of seventy are set apart, I feel that this position, and not the former, must be viewed as erroneous, or perhaps out-of-date (the book, in being prepared, may have had the latter chapter written first, and as the clarity on ordination vs. setting apart was incorporated from Guidelines for Priesthood, it may have  been intended that this new view would supersede the other, and the former statement removed, then being overlooked for such removal by accident).

Another indication that the latter view is in error is because it appears in an overview of the office of high priest, which of course, seventies are not.

Finally, the Seventy have a presiding role in the church, as noted in various sections of the Doctrine & Covenants, and as confirmed in Joseph Smith III’s Letter of Instruction.

While such references speak of this presidency being vested in the Seventy, it would be impractical (in my view), in our modern era, for the Seventy as a whole to so function, given that there could be, in theory (presuming ten quorums), 700 seventies.  Therefore, it would seem reasonable to conclude that should the Seventy ever need to function as a third presidency, the Council of Presidents of Seventy would do so on their behalf.  This additional responsibility would seem to warrant ordination.

So, my vote is: presidents of seventy are ordained as such.  The president of seventy who becomes senior president is set apart as such, as that role does not seem to have responsibilities beyond presiding over the Council of Presidents of Seventy.

High Councilors

As another example of inconsistencies regarding a role being ordained or set apart, members of the Standing High Council are high priests and become members of the Standing High Council by being set apart.  However, according to Section 129, it is noted, in a passage concerning evangelists (patriarchs), that they are an office of priesthood:

129:7a Those who are holding the office of patriarchs are to be enrolled with the high priests, the same as the bishops, who are acting in their office by virtue of their being high priests.
129:7b These men in their office are an order in the priesthood, the same as the high councils of the church and the stakes and as the bishops who hold as high priests, as the quorum of the twelve, and as the presidency are but orders in the priesthood, there being but two priesthoods; and these are orders in the Melchisedec priesthood.

Section 17:17 also refers to the office by name (high councilor), and states that they are ordained:

“Every president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest, is to be ordained by the direction of a high council, or General Conference.”

Furthermore, like the Seventy, the High Council is an additional presidency of the church, again as noted in both the Doctrine & Covenants, and Joseph Smith III’s Letter of Instruction.

Therefore, while we seem to currently view them as a role to which one is set apart, it would seem proper to ordain them.  An additional reason to do so is that the Council of Twelve is the “traveling high council”.  Both are “high councils”, one travels, one does not.  As apostles are ordained, it is only logical that high councilors would also be ordained.

It just does not make much sense, when both bodies are regarded as high councils of the church, to ordain members of one, but not of the other.  Nor does it make any sense to not view the role as an office, when the Doctrine and Covenants, which forms the law of the church and is part of the Standard of Authority, clearly states that it is an office, requiring ordination.

Another thought: The church has recognized for some time now that Apostles are not as free as the should be to preside over the missionary efforts of the church, as they have a great deal of administrative responsibilities.  The Standing High Council was originally created to support the First Presidency in governing the church.  While I understand that both high councils have changed over the years in purpose and responsibility, perhaps the Standing High Council could in some way, support the Traveling High Council, so that the latter is more free to focus on missionary work.  I realize that the members of the Standing High Council are not full time ministers, and that funding is not currently available to make them such, but if each was assigned, just as the Seventy now are, to work with a specific apostle, regardless of location, there may be some tasks that they could do to help free the apostles.