Priesthood and Family Executive Councils

3PresidentsAs Deseret News’ Tad Walch reported yesterday, “Church leaders changed the name of the faith’s Priesthood Executive Council to the Priesthood and Family Executive Council.” Click here to read the full article.

It was during the presidency of Spencer W. Kimball when the leadership of the Church formally aligned themselves with the three-fold mission of the Church:

Proclaim the Gospel
Strengthen the Members
Redeem the Dead

The three presidents of the Church’s organizations headed by women have been invited to be permanent members of the the Executive Councils aligned with this three-fold mission.

The Relief Society General President, Sister Linda K. Burton (right), becomes a permanent member of the renamed Priesthood and Family Executive Council.

The General Young Women’s President, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson (center), joins the Missionary Executive Council.

The General Primary President, Sister Rosemary Wixom (left), joins the Temple and Family History Executive Council.

The women who have served in these positions have often been ad hoc participants in these councils in the past, but the formalization of their membership in these councils and broadening the focus beyond “priesthood” is highly significant. This move does not merely add three women to the highest Church councils, but serves as an initial step towards integrating tens of thousands of women into Church leadership throughout congregations in all the world.

For those who are not aware, the LDS Church is highly centralized, and so each congregation is organized in a manner consistent with policies from Church headquarters. Thus there will not be debate and schism regarding how women are to be included in what was previously the “Priesthood Executive Council” or PEC that serves as the entity for tactical governance for congregations (“wards” for congregations of ~500, “branches” for congregations where the Church is less-well established, often numbering ~100) and groupings of congregations (“stakes” for groups of wards, “districts” for groups of branches).

With the announcement that the highest “PEC” in the LDS Church is becoming the “PFEC,” with permanent inclusion of women, we can expect an updated version of the Handbook of Instructions that rolls out and dictates the PFEC structure for stakes, wards, districts, and branches. Women in the congregations (who are already in positions of leadership) will become part of the PFEC.

For those parts of the world where a single family was already the “congregation,” governance by both the male and female leader of the “congregation” has already been the pattern for tactical governance.

[Feel free to point out where I might have erred in my understanding of what’s going on here.]

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

21 thoughts on “Priesthood and Family Executive Councils

  1. Thank you for posting this story. I meant to do it yesterday, but never quite got around to it.

  2. In our ward at least, PEC has been completely dead for going on a decade now. Three consecutive bishops have determined that it’s better to just have the women there for everything that is discussed. I suspect that this is a pattern that has been repeated elsewhere.

  3. I like how this was done. As the announcement clarified this was not a radical move but based on an ad hoc participation of women in high councils of the church previously. Women already have significant participation as individuals in such areas as humanitarian services and PA. Ward councils long included the leaders of Relief Society and Primary which are almost always led by women. This is essentially an application of the temple pattern where Presidents are mirrored by Matrons who are their wives. I have seen instances where the ill health of a Matron has resulted in a change of presidency. Those who keep calling for priesthood for women seem to ignore the definition of the highest priesthood in our church which is only complete when shared by a man and a woman in a covenant marriage.

  4. I don’t think this will translate to the stake and ward level because these “councils” don’t exist at the ward and stake level. Sure, there is a general PEC, but it isn’t defined so narrowly into the three fold mission of the church. Already, many wards hold Ward Council twice a month, and PEC once or twice a month. I can see some instruction coming out that encourages units to simply hold Ward Council two – three times a month, and let PEC go by the wayside since virtually all things discussed at PEC are the same kinds of things discussed at Ward Council. It will be an interesting transition. Already, I’ve seen hints of complaining by the RS/YW/Primary presidents of having to attend early morning meetings several times a month. Not all meetings look like the ones on church training videos. Still, I think the whole council concept is the best medicine for administering the affairs of the ward.

  5. Also, usually you would want people on committees or councils where there roles dovetail one another. Not that all parts of the gospel aren’t interconnected to some degree or another, but some things just naturally fit better than others. I’m not sure what input the Primary President will have on the Temple/Family History Council, or the YW President will have on the Missionary Council aside from the fact that more young women are serving missions. Even then, they serve at age 19, are already out of YW program and into RS. It might have made better sense to appoint RS President to the newly formed PH and Family Council, then assign a RS counselor to serve in the Missionary Council, and the other RS counselor to serve on the Temple/Family History Council. Ebeh – what do I know?

  6. Just a clarification, there is no longer a “Three Fold Mission”. Elder Oaks recently held a regional training meeting here, and asked us to “Forget about” that, and stop using that terminology, because it caused us to needlessly compartmentalize the Gospel, also noting that it left out some key important missions of the Church such as caring for the poor and needy.

    This is why the current handbook says, “In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.” Handbook 2, 2.2

  7. I don’t know how the local implementation of this change will roll out, but I made the statement regarding tens of thousands of women because of the most recent statistical report:


    Stakes………………………………………………… 3,114
    Missions………………………………………………… 406
    Districts…………………………………………………. 561
    Wards and branches…………………………………29,621

    If they only asked the Relief Society president for each branch, ward, district, and stake to become part of the “tactical governance” for their local group, we’re talking about a few more than 33,000 women becoming formally identified as part of their congregation’s governance (my word).

    If they do include the presidents of the three major auxiliaries to become part of the PHEC (or whatever they end up calling it at a local level), then we’re talking almost 100,000 women. And as these are not callings where the same woman would be both the Stake RS president and the Ward RS president, we are talking about individual women.

    If they ask that the entire RS presidency and some portion of the presidencies of the other two women-guided auxiliaries in each congregation become part of governance, then we’re talking about 150,000 to 300,000 women.

    Got it that we no longer focus on the “three-fold mission” to the exclusion of the humanitarian efforts of the Church, that was alliterative and pithy in a way the more complete mission of the Church hasn’t achieved. I was so excited when I heard that announcement that I think that three-fold mission fills an entire page in my journal.

    Back to how the handbook might suggest things move forward, I suspect there will be a core group that is required to be part of the PHEC at the local level. Then there will be a larger group that constitutes the Ward Council, a group that will include the PHEC. Some bishops will choose to always have the entire Ward Council present (as in the cases mentioned by George S). Others will read the handbook and only deviate from the suggested governance when inspired. And given that I expect the women who become part of local PHECs will also have access to the handbook, I imagine we’ll see them offer counsel to the Bishop if they perceive that the non-handbook practice is in some manner deleterious to the women in the congregation (either overburdening them or under-representing them).

  8. @ George: In our ward, a couple of bishops ago our bishop didn’t have Ward Council each week, but he had the RS president come to PEC each week. Much to the frustration of the stake leadership, he said.

    @ David T: I’ve always considered that president Kimball’s 3-fold mission was not meant to compartmentalize but to help define what the church does and does not do. They decided they don’t run hospitals, for example, and divested themselves of the Primary Children’s Hospital.
    I’ve also considered that while the 3 missions worked on the church level, they did not cover everything the scriptures demand of us on the individual level. For myself I added a 4th mission: serving the world. And I have been pleased to see that fourth mission gradually emerge on the church level as well — Mormon Helping Hands, for example — to the point of being listed along with the other three in the handbook, as you point out.

  9. I posted this elsewhere but the renaming seems to reinforce the false notion that priesthood = guy stuff.

    At what point could you say “this doesn’t pertain to families it’s just a priesthood matter” or “this just relates to families and has nothing to do with the priesthood.”

    The true and eternal order of the priesthood is inseparable from family. It’s literally bound up in genealogy leading back to Adam and to God the Father.

    Are we so insecure to say that a sister sat in on a priesthood meeting, and thus give credence to the conference protests that we have to append the word Family to the new counsel meeting to make it kosher?

    If the priesthood session of conference was renamed to the priesthood and family session with sisters, I guess all would be well. . except it would lose its distinctiveness would it not? Because it would be what general conference already is since priesthood is bound to families already and vice versa.

    So rather than seeing what is gained here, I’m wondering if something could be lost?

  10. If you include the RS/YW/Primary presidents in a “PHEC”, then the only calling short of Ward Council is SS President. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to add them to PEC. You might as well just have Ward Council and be done with it. I’ve had differing experiences with having sisters attend meetings. We invited the RS president to PEC 10 – 15 years ago, and my bishop was a traditional type of guy (now stake president.) On a personal note, I do think the RS President tired of attending the meeting every Sunday of the month. When I was bishop. we started having Ward Council twice a month, and PEC twice a month. As a practical matter, the things discussed were redundant, and I considered not holding PEC or just holding it once a month and limiting the discussion to home teaching stuff. There wasn’t that much coordination of ward mission matters or young men matters at PEC, anyway. I think, if I were bishop again, I would probably just have Ward Council twice a month, maybe PEC once a month, and leave the other Sunday open for interviews and follow up kinds of stuff. You inevitably have bishopric meetings just about every week, anyway, so it is easy enough to follow up on particular needs in a ward council setting. The only thing I’ve noticed is that with the increased number of ward council meetings, it’s straining some families where both husband and wife serve in key positions. That’s always been the case, but if we get to the point where ward council is every Sunday morning 2 hours before the block of meetings, it’s going to be difficult on some families. I sense some feeling that some people would like RS/YW/Primary to even attend bishopric meetings, where callings and other matters are discussed. Presently, not even other PH leaders attend bishopric (EQP, HPGL, WML, YMP). It wouldn’t be fair to have those sisters attend bishopric if the other leaders aren’t invited as well. But, I could see chaos ensuing from having too many bodies and opinions and “personal revelation” when it comes to callings. Plus, I’m afraid it might devolve into “body brokering.”

  11. I am confident that the updated Handbook of Instructions will have taken all our concerns and many other matters into consideration.

    Another thing that is done is to roll out pilot programs and validate the expectation of how a new process will actually work before inflicting it upon everyone.

  12. Meg, that testing of programs is something I think people don’t realize the Church does. There’s lots of testing going on at any time. For instance there were some wards up in Tremonton area testing two hour meetings instead of three. Since that doesn’t appear to have gone nation-wide I assume the tests showed problems. Likewise the wifi and other issues were tested before being implemented nationally.

  13. “If you include the RS/YW/Primary presidents in a “PHEC”, then the only calling short of Ward Council is SS President. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to add them to PEC. You might as well just have Ward Council and be done with it.”

    That would be great – one more meeting eliminated.

  14. The comments here focus on the ward level, and seem to be predominantly voiced by men.

    When I attended Ward council (I think I was a Family History Consultant at the time – inclusive bishop) I brought food from time to time. Which can make a meeting less objectionable.

  15. Anyone errs who suggests that there is any similarity or pattern between the priesthood executive council at the general church level and the priesthood executive committee at the ward level. There is none. Therefore, a change in one need not ordain a change in the other.

    At the general church level, there are three executive councils, each led by a member of the Twelve — priesthood, missionary, and temple and family history. The First Presidency does not participate in the councils — each member of the Twelve participates in only one council.

    This pattern is wholly administrative and non-doctrinal, and adapts as time passes.

    There is no similar pattern at the local church level.

  16. And yet, given this shift, it still seems likely that a similar shift (formally including women leaders in administrative councils at the local level that were previously only formally attended by priesthood leaders) is at least paved by this move.

  17. Meg,

    We’ll have to wait and see. Women already attend ward council, which is the local church’s version of a priesthood, missionary, and temple and family history committee all rolled into one. When the brethren permanently invite sisters to attend First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and the combined Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve meetings, then I will agree that more change is coming to local church bishopric and PEC meetings. But I’ll sustain whatever happens when it happens.

    In my ward, PEC is once a month and ward council is twice a month. In my brother’s ward, there is no PEC and ward council is every week. I don’t understand why some sisters want to attend more administrative meetings. I promise you, no one is missing anything by not attending PEC. Whatever action there is happens in ward council or bishopric meeting. Most bishops in my experience are afraid of doing anything to cross the ward Relief Society president and are very solicitous of her favor, so she is almost always in the know anyway. Certainly she has far more clout than any man on the ward council other than the bishop (and maybe more than the bishop if he is afraid to credit as her). I think women are well represented in leadership in the local churches. I think all of our changes over time have been for good, and no doubt, more will come.

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