Big change in witnessing for ordinances

The Church just released this email:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

Witnessing Ordinances

Early in this dispensation, the Lord instructed that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:28). Consistent with this direction, members of the Church serve as witnesses when sacred ordinances of salvation and exaltation are performed. 

We are pleased to announce procedural adjustments for the two individuals who serve as witnesses to baptisms and sealing ordinances. These adjustments are effective immediately in all temples and in all Church units. As invited by presiding authorities:
–Any member holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend, may serve as a witness to a proxy baptism.
–Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a living or proxy sealing.
–Any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.
We trust that you, as individuals and families, will find great joy in your service as you help provide saving ordinances to Heavenly Father’s children. 

Sincerely yours, 


The First Presidency
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “Big change in witnessing for ordinances

  1. I’ve long believed this procedure could and should be changed. I hope primary kids and Mom’s witness for child baptisms as a norm.
    For sealings, it relieved the PH of so many duties, now that sisters can 2itnesd. So pleased at the changes Pres Nelson is making.

  2. I like this, giving more priesthood opportunities to the sisters and I hear there are even more changes coming down the pipe of this nature. I love the direction the church is going on this, small steps but taken as a whole they become big. More equality can only be a good thing

  3. So… a newly baptized 8 year old will serve as witness and be expected to be able to determine whether the person being baptized went all the way under the water and the baptismal prayer was said correctly? (The same thing with a fresh 11 year old under the new advancement rules witnessing baptisms in the temple.)

    I like the general changes but wish church leaders would have provided some doctrinal basis for the changes. If witnesses never needed to be priesthood holders in the first place, it begs the question as to why these changes weren’t made years ago. I also anticipate a big push by MoFem’s to have female executive secretaries, clerks, and SS Presidencies, and for sisters Bee Hive and up to prepare and pass the sacrament. Again, if priesthood doesn’t matter, then at least explain why it doesn’t matter.

  4. One of the responsibilities of the priesthood is to administer ordinances. As more and more of these responsibilities are given to the sisters what does the role of men become? Specifically your average, run of the mill priesthood holder. There is less and less that differentiates the sexes as far as the roles at church and home are concerned.

  5. President Nelson’s comments make it clear the intent is to make the ordinances more participatory for families. I look forward to my children being witnesses for each other’s ordinances.

  6. @IDIAT: Of course the recipient of the ordinance should be able to determine who their official witnesses can be, and it would be presumed that such witnesses should be aware of what they’re actually witnessing. Perhaps that has to be spelled out, but D&C 58:26 and Jacob 6:12 have some relevance here.

    I also see it as another way to facilitate the Church’s expansion to parts of the world where there aren’t readily available members to witness events like a baptism; for example, places where a senior missionary couple can go but the elders cannot.

  7. The temple teaches us that the sons of Aaron are washed before the temple, and we do so likewise for men and women.

    Clearly if the washing was done for the priestly class then and we do so now for women and use ancient priestly justifications, it’s only a matter of time and degree before ordination as a priest or parallel priestess. Else why wash women the same as with Aaron’s sons?

    Next, YW and RS have classes while EQ and AP have quorums. We’re taught in quorums that we are so much more than a class, we are a brotherhood, a service unit, and so on.

    And the female classes are taught exactly the same, even though we call them classes. So for them a class is functionally equivalent to a quorum.

    It seems the issue we face is primarily one of creativity, since we can’t find any parallel names or terms for women administrative groups in sculptural history,

    Relief society and Beehives, etc ares auxiliary organizations that support the responsibilities of the priesthood quorums. But they do a lot of the same spiritual activites outside of administrative ordinances.

    Will we see the Elizian Priestesshood, after the pattern of her ministry? Will we see an Emmian Priesthood represent a different class? Can we ordain high priestesses quorums and matrons quorums in the Elizian Priestesshood and teachers, deaconesses and priestesses in the Emmian Prieatesshood?

    Regarding these witness changes, all is well. It’s a pain searching for extra men in the temple. I think having women or men present either gender at the veil makes sense too.

  8. Doctrine and Covenants 128 laid out the practice of having witnesses watch, and a record made. In 1842 that was generally assumed to be a job for men, but it was not so defined in scripture, nor is it named anywhere in scripture as a responsibility tied to a specific priesthood office. A witness’s responsibility described there is simply to witness that it was done.

    Who does the verification that it involved complete immersion is not scripturally defined either. I would guess that Mnmaybe Handbook 1 says something about that? If so, I predict another minor change there.

    This adjustment makes sense to me.

  9. For what it’s worth, I’d expect the average 8 year old to be more keen-eyed and likely to pipe up than even the former distinguished priesthood brethren who exclusively performed this duty in the past.

    I see this more as a move to make young members full participants than necessarily a move to extend participation to ladies, though that is also cool. The OW folks, in the day, focused on optics. In my observation, optics recently tend to be pretty good (e.g., the 45 minute session discussing the new youth program), with a few exceptions (like the conferences that have Saturday night sessions for male members, versus the former practice where ladies always got their own session the week before).

    This also makes it less weird that the very first baptism on behalf of a deceased person was witnessed by a woman (and performed with the mother of the dead teen acting as proxy). Future generations won’t even realize any of us ever thought that story was a bit off.

  10. Oh, and reading an e-mail from a missionary from our ward, it occurred to me that this change will be awesome for folks who were taught by sisters.

    I know there is a certificate of baptism, but with this change, it seems like it might be nice to have a commemorative certificate that is signed by the officiator, the two main witnesses, and additional corroborative witnesses who are members of record (and maybe with space for friends who are not yet members of record). That would be a cool artifact for family history…!

  11. I like it. I look forward to sitting with my wife in the temple witnessing when not participating directly in sealings.

  12. Let’s not forget that it is always the presiding authority’s job to make sure the ordinance is done correctly. As for the sacrament, it is the duty of a priest to administer. That is in the D&C. Everything else done by teachers and Deacons is mere tradition and not mentioned in the scriptures. So, yeah, a change could take place there as well. There is no ordinance performed when preparing the sacrament, nor when passing it. Just when breaking and blessing it. It is important to know the difference between doctrine and policies, practices, and procedures subject to change. I, for one, am glad to see the traditions that are not doctrinal stripped away even if it does cause somewhat of a sifting among the Saints. The Lord adapts how we worship with the times, just as he did in first instituting the law of Moses and then fulfilling it.

  13. This is just a restoration of the witnessing, both in the temple and outside, that LDS women did prior to a change sometime in the 1970’s or 1960’s. Sister Kimball acted as the official witness to a baptism performed by her husband in India in 1961. President McKay’s papers make it clear he supported using women as temple witnesses. Joseph Fielding Smith did not. Could not locate anything showing exact date of change but some say about 1976.

  14. When I attended the 2016 Mormon History Association conference, one of the sessions discussed the evolution of priesthood, which prior to the death of Joseph F. Smith had been viewed as God’s power used by all. According to the scholars in that session, Joseph F. Smith tried to get priesthood codified as a male-only prerogative, but failed to sway the leadership of his day. Following Joseph F. Smith’s death, his acolytes (a group which naturally included his sone, Joseph Fielding Smith) eventually achieved the codification Joseph F. Smith had sought.

    Recall that the presidency of Joseph Fielding Smith occurred in the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and in the midst of the “New Mormon History” and associated feminism of the 1970s, which many within the Church saw as an all-out attack on Church hierarchy. It didn’t help that in those years select women would attend Conference for the express purpose of standing up and screaming their opposition when leaders were sustained. I remember sitting in the Tabernacle in the pew behind a group of these women in the early 1980s – I was so glad my session wasn’t the one where sustainings occurred that year.

    Policies shift and ebb, much the way a sailing vessel must tack back and forth to move towards its goal. If we think of the Church as a vessel able to unilaterially advance towards salvation without reference to the culture in which her people live, then we will be distressed when we see the sail and rudder shift. But when we become alive to the nuances, we can begin to marvel at the skill with which the crew moves in concert with the elements to move us powerfully and inexorably towards salvation.

    And in case someone wants to snipe about those who are no longer aboard the good ship Zion, I would call to mind the myth of Scylla and Charibdis. There are times when the crew finds itself between the mythic rock and hard place. An armchair historian can quibble about whether a past version of the crew could have maneuvered so as to entirely avoid the problem, but we cannot change the past. And were the good ship Zion to have pivoted on a dime in some hypothetical past, critics cannot guarantee that the damage would have been less, only that it would have been other.

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