Thursday, October 10, 2013
LDS Church Programs Have Evolved Over Time
Changes in programs and policies for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have occurred periodically during its 180-plus -year history, as conditions, circumstances, technologies, membership numbers and needs changed.
For example, meetings weren't always in a three-hour block; "fast day" wasn't always on Sunday; teachers and priests weren't always ordained at ages 14 and 16 respectively; missionaries didn't begin full-time service at age 19; and chapels didn't always include cultural halls.
Some of the changes are announced at general conferences such as the one taking place this weekend.
Among the many changes over the years:
Buildings — LDS chapels and classrooms, previously separate structures, were joined beginning in 1920 through the use of a cultural hall and foyer. During President David O. McKay's tenure in the 1950s, cultural halls were linked to chapels by sliding curtains.
Also, basketball courts were standard in new LDS Ward buildings by the mid 1940s.
Family Home Evening — This program was first announced in 1915 by the First Presidency. Monday became the designated night church-wide in 1970.
Fast Day — Starting in 1896, Fast Day was set on the first Sunday of the month, instead of the first Thursday.
Genealogy — Local wards and stakes begin to establish on-site genealogical facilities in 1964. The Genealogical Department was renamed the Family History Department in 1987. FamilySearch software was released by the church in 1990.
General authorities — The First Presidency announced a new leadership position, assistant to the Twelve, in 1941. Emeritus status came along in 1978. The Second Quorum of the Seventy was created in 1989. General authorities stopped serving on boards of directors for businesses starting in 1996. Area authority seventies were called beginning in 1995.
General conference — The twice-yearly meetings were shortened from three days to two days in 1977. Until then, conferences were planned to include April 6, the anniversary of the founding of the church. Conferences were sometimes held on non-consecutive days.
Home teaching — "Ward teaching" was replaced by home teaching starting in 1964.
Institute — The church's first Institute began in 1926, not at Brigham Young University, but at the University of Idaho.
MIA — The Mutual Improvement Association was revised and renamed Young Men and Young Women starting in 1974. (Young Women's Mutual program was originally called "The Young Ladies' Retrenchment Association.") "M-Men and Gleaners" groups started in 1921 to serve young people ages 17-23, and continued until 1974.
Meetings — The "block time" began in 1980, replacing separate priesthood/Sunday school meetings and separate sacrament meetings with a single section of continuous meetings. (Before the block time, priesthood and Sunday School meetings were held in the morning and church members came back in the evening for an approximately 90-minute sacrament service.) Semi-annual stake conferences replaced quarterly gatherings in 1979. A network of satellite dishes at stake centers was announced in 1981.
Missionaries — Married men were serving full-time missions as recently as the early 1950s. The first standard missionary discussions were issued in 1952. Returned missionaries stopped reporting to general authorities in 1953 and only reported thereafter to their home stake presidency and high council. In 1961, a language training mission was established at BYU. The age for young men to serve a full-time mission was lowered from 20 to 19 starting in the early 1960s. The Missionary Training Center in Provo, previously the Language Training Mission, started training all missionaries in 1978. Missionary service was reduced from two years to 18 months for a two-year period, 1982-1984. Costs for full-time missionary service were equalized in all missions starting in 1990.
In October 2012, the missionary age for young men was dropped by one year to age 18 and it was also lowered for young women to age 19. Also, the social media began being used in some areas for missionary contacts, more so than the old traditional tracting, door-to-door approach.
Plural marriage — The "Manifesto" was adopted by the church in 1890, declaring that the church would obey the constitutional law of the land and cease plural marriage. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith reaffirmed the 1890 Manifesto.
Priesthood — Worthy men of all races could receive the priesthood starting in 1978.
Priesthood advancement — The First Presidency formally adopted the ages of 12, 15, 18 and 21 as ages for deacon, teacher, priest and elder advancement starting in 1908. The age was reduced for teachers and priests to 14 and 16, respectively, beginning in 1954, and the age for elders was lowered to 19 at about the same time. Seventies quorums in stakes throughout the church were discontinued in 1986.
Primary — Presiding officers of the Primary were called presidents, rather than "superintendents," starting in 1942.
Records — The presiding bishopric began keeping master membership records in 1941, eliminating the need for personal membership certificates. A computerized system for recording contributions went into effect in 1970. All membership records were computerized worldwide by 1991.
Relief Society — All women were automatically enrolled in the program and dues were eliminated as of 1971.
Sacrament service — The tradition of passing the sacrament to the presiding authority first began in 1946. Drip-proof sacrament trays first appeared in the late 1950s.
Student wards — The first appeared at BYU in 1956 and the practice expanded to other universities. By the 2010s, some "Mid Singles" wards were also operating.
Tithing/contributions — This practice of paying a 10th of one's increase was re-emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow in 1899. In 1908, the church discontinued "tithing script" and moved to an all-cash system. Meetinghouse construction costs were shifted to general church funds in 1982, ending local building fund campaigns. Stakes and wards no longer have budget assessments, starting in 1989.
Welfare — The church began its first formal welfare program to help the needy in 1936.
(Sources: Deseret Morning News Church Almanac, Mormon Encyclopedia, Desert Morning News archives.)
(-Updated, but originally published in the Deseret News, Oct. 3, 2006.)