L. Robert Webb, “Ward Organization,” in Latter-day Saint Essentials: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. John W. Welch and Devan Jensen (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), 130–3.
A ward is a geographically defined Church unit organized to provide every member the opportunity to find fellowship with the Saints and give service to others. The ward is led by a bishop and two counselors. An executive secretary and ward clerks assist the bishopric with the tasks of record keeping and management. Priesthood and auxiliary presidencies (a president and two counselors) are assigned to attend to various needs of ward members. Other leaders supervise missionary activities, provide gospel instruction, and help ward members with temporal needs, such as searching for employment. Frequent social and service activities involve adults and youth.
Typically, the administration of the ward is carried out in a weekly bishopric meeting attended by the bishop, his two counselors, and his executive secretary. These same men hold a weekly ward priesthood executive committee meeting with the high priest group leader, the elders quorum president, the ward mission leader, and the young men president. They consider such matters as ward temple attendance, family history activity, missionary work, home teaching, and member activation. When the female Relief Society president attends this meeting (at least monthly) for a discussion of the temporal needs of ward members, it becomes the ward Welfare Services committee. The Relief Society president helps the bishop coordinate appropriate assistance and compassionate service to the sick, the aged, the lonely, and the needy. Under her direction, monthly home visits are made to each adult woman in the ward in which brief gospel instruction and encouragement are given. Once each month this ward Welfare Services group becomes the ward council when joined by the Sunday school president, the young women president, the primary president, and the activities committee chairman. The ward council discusses and plans all ward activities and correlates the services and programs of the Church in relation to individuals and families. Historically, youth usually have been given leadership roles in planning their own activities and in helping with events to which all ward members are invited. Since the mid-1970s, youth leadership has been nurtured on a monthly basis by the bishopric in the bishopric youth committee meeting, where youth activities and service projects are planned. Often members of a ward activities committee are called to supervise and carry out special wardwide events as requested by the bishopric.
Since 1980, when the Church adopted the consolidated meeting schedule, each ward holds three general meetings during a three-hour block of time on Sunday. In sacrament meeting family members worship together, renew covenants through partaking of the Sacrament, and listen to talks and sermons based on the scriptures. During a second hour, Sunday School classes are held in age groups from twelve to adult. Each year in the adult classes, one of the standard works of scripture is studied: Old Testament, New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. During a third hour Priesthood quorums, Young Women, and Relief Society meet separately, where youth, men, and women are taught how to put gospel principles into action in everyday life. Priesthood quorums and the Relief Society are the service arms of the ward. Their members provide the volunteer help necessary to implement the plans made by the bishopric and auxiliary leaders. Adult holders of the priesthood attend quorum meetings according to whether they are high priests or elders. Young men (ages twelve to eighteen) meet in Aaronic Priesthood quorums for deacons (ages twelve and thirteen), teachers (ages fourteen and fifteen), and priests (ages sixteen to eighteen). The Young Women are organized in age groups similar to the Young Men: Beehives (ages twelve and thirteen), Mia Maids (ages fourteen and fifteen), and Laurels (ages sixteen and seventeen). From age eighteen, women are members of the Relief Society, a benevolent society dedicated to caring for the needy and to assisting in spiritual, social, and personal development. Relief Society lessons focus on spiritual living, home and family education, compassionate service, and social relations.
Concurrent with the Sunday School and the men’s and women’s activities, the primary organization holds a nursery for children from ages eighteen months to three years, and classes for those three through eleven years of age, where children are taught lessons about Jesus Christ and the scriptures and are involved in singing and speaking.
Special activities (service projects and socials) are held for the women and youth on a day other than Sunday. The Relief Society holds a monthly evening meeting in which the sisters are taught home management techniques and skills.
The bishop is responsible for the finances of the ward, and is assisted in this matter by a financial clerk. Ward activities are either financed locally by individual contributions of ward members, or by a system wherein each ward receives an operating budget from general tithing funds based on the number and level of activity of its members. There are to be no other fund-raising activities.
The ward organization is a tool to help assure that Church activities complement, rather than compete with, family activities; that social activities are inclusive, rather than exclusive; and to nurture those who feel that geographic boundaries are artificial and thus exclude them from Sabbath day association with longtime Church friends.
Ideally, the ward organization becomes the means of creating an intimate religious community where the work of the kingdom of God on earth is carried out by every member in a lay ministry. Through the ward organization members teach the gospel, perform the ordinances, provide fellowship with the saints, and in all ways nurture one another in the faith.
Alder, Douglas D. “The Mormon Ward: Congregation or Community?” Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 61–78.
Arrington, Leonard J., and Davis Bitton. “The Nineteenth Century Ward.” In The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 206–19. New York, 1979.
L. ROBERT WEBB