Updated: Nov 27, 2022
“HABEMUS PAPAM!!” These two words bring joy to Catholics around the world. It signifies the election of the next pope. It ends a process of centuries old tradition, ritual, and politics that last for weeks. The election of a pope is significant for the world at large. He is seen as a religious beacon for about one billion people across the world.
The process of electing a pope begins as soon as the current pope dies. After the funeral of the late pope, one hundred and twenty cardinals (the most similar calling in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be stake president) are invited to attend the conclave forming what is called the College of Cardinals. Once that list is made public, immediately there is a sorting out of those who are preferred candidates (preferiti) and those who are there to be ballot casters. The preferiti then have the option to campaign for votes among the invited cardinals. The way the college builds consensus is by seeing who gets votes in each ballot. When there is a break, more discussion and campaigning for one candidate or another occurs. Eventually, one cardinal or another gains enough support to be elected as the pope. This is when the words “habemus papam” are spoken from the balcony of St. Peters Basilica in Rome. The world then knows that a man has been chosen by his peers to lead a global church
The process by which callings happen in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is different. There is no campaigning, no electioneering, and no balloting. Each call extended to members of the church, from the prophet and president of the church, down to the ward librarian is done so by revelation from heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ cares for His people and prepares them and calls them to positions in the church where they will learn and grow personally while also helping those around them learn and grow.
Recently, our stake experienced a change in the stake presidency. I had the privilege to witness the process of how a stake president is called and I would like to share the experience with you.
About two and a half months before a stake conference, the First Presidency sends a letter to the current stake president extending the release to the stake presidency effective at the upcoming stake conference. In the letter the First Presidency expresses their love for the stake president and his counselors. They also make it explicitly clear that the release is an honourable one. This letter sets in motion the plan to call a new stake president.
There is a general authority assigned to facilitate the transition. He then contacts the stake president and outlines the process of the transition. These plans are then shared with the stake presidency who prepare a list of men to be interviewed by the general authority and his travelling companion (usually an Area Authority Seventy).
It was my responsibility to inform those who were invited to meet with the visiting authorities. As I sent out the invitations and received confirmations of attendance, I knew that each of them could wear the mantle of stake president.
The Night of Interviews
After weeks of waiting, the day of the interviews arrive. The visiting authorities arrive in the afternoon and quickly meet with the stake president and executive secretary to go over the format and the sacred nature of the interview process. In the meeting I participated in, it was clearly explained that the two visiting authorities were there to see who the Lord had chosen. The interviews that were to happen were not about asking who people were and who they thought would be a good stake president. They were all meeting the Lord’s choice.
The interview process therefore is very quick. Each interview was scheduled for five minutes. When you enter the office, you sit down in front of both visiting authorities. My worry was that I was going to be under intense scrutiny with them staring into my soul. But, from the moment I was settled into the chair, all I could feel was the combined love of the men in front of me and the intense burning love of my Saviour. The interview itself included exactly one question: “Whom do you feel could be the stake president?” After I had said my piece, I was thanked, and the interview was over. The elapsed time was just over two minutes.
It was an awesome privilege to be in the presence of so many worthy priesthood holders during this interview process. Not much beyond a greeting and a farewell was exchanged but the import of the evening made the foyer of our stake centre something close to a celestial room of the temple. Everyone had come in the spirit of prayer and prepared to serve if called.
After quite a few interviews, the visiting authorities retired to the office to counsel together and with the Lord to confirm whom is to be called as the stake president. This is where the foyer of the stake centre and the rooms around it became holy ground. As powerful as the spirit was when the interviews were taking place, there was a shift into overdrive. There was sacred music being played through a speaker, but it felt out of place. This was a time for peace and quiet. It was a time where everyone needed to focus on the Lord and His will.
It is my firm and unwavering testimony that the Lord truly made His will known in the brief minutes of consultation. Before the door opened after the confirmation had been given, I knew that the man chosen by God to lead the stake was the correct man for the position. I was not party to the discussion and consultations in the interview room, but I could feel the presence of the Spirit close enough as though I could reach out and touch him. It is impossible to adequately express the feeling. I feel like Moroni when he said: “Thou hast made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words,” (Ether 12:25).
Please know that God lives, He loves us, and He cares what happens to us. His Son directs the work and glory of God here on the earth and is invested in our little corner of the Kingdom. The Lord saw fit to rescue President Wilde from the grip of death when he was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. He has walked with us through Covid. Now, the Saviour has raised up a new stake president to teach and care for us.
At last, the time had come to extend the call to the man the Lord had chosen to be stake president. President Wilde was invited to phone and invite the brother and his wife to come to the church and meet with the visiting authorities. I have never seen a more reverent phone call. It was a simple invitation filled with excitement and love for the soon to be called brother.
It took a few minutes for the brother and his wife to arrive. When they did, they came through the doors of the church, and it was noticeable how they changed as the spirit descended on them. The love in the foyer was palpable and all that could be done was to hug and weep for joy together.
The call of a stake president is a sacred and divine event. It is one of the great examples of revelation we know of.
Now that we have a new stake president, what’s next? What does a stake president do? What is our responsibility?
The first thing is to sustain him in his calling. When we sustain anyone in the church, we make a solemn agreement to stand beside them and lift them up. There is an account in the Old Testament where the Children of Israel were fighting a large battle while wandering through the wilderness. Moses was not leading the fight, but his role was to stand and raise his arms to show the people that he was there with them. As time progressed, the battle continued, and Moses’ arms began to lower due to the continued use. When his arms were lowered, the battle began to turn against the Israelites. Two men saw this and went over to Moses and held up his arms. This act of service allowed Moses to keep his arms up and the Israelites were victorious over their opponents.
Another event in Moses’ life also illustrates the need for action-based sustaining. When the twelve tribes arrived at Mount Sinai, Moses spent much of his time adjudicating all manner of disputes. He was the only one recognized as a judge for the people. There was no balance in his life. Finally, Jethro, father-in-law to Moses came and gave some advice. He told Moses that he would wear out and ultimately fail in leading the people to the land of promise. Jethro’s counsel was for Moses to seek out those that would serve as judges for the people, so he could spend his time serving the people as the prophet and serving his family as husband and father. The men were duly called to serve and took much of the weight off the shoulders of Moses.
We sustain the stake president when we stand and serve when we are asked. We sustain him when we Minister to others. We sustain him when we do a little better in our scripture study. We sustain him when we heed his counsel. We sustain him when we reach out to him and say “Thanks president for your service; is there anything I can to do help you?” I can guarantee that these simple acts will lighten the load of leadership.
A stake president is more than a man who is the second signature on a temple recommend. His main duty is to “care for stake members with love, helping them become true followers of Jesus Christ,” (General Handbook 6.2). This duty can be broken down into these four responsibilities:
1. He is the presiding High Priest in the stake
2. He leads the work of salvation and exaltation in the stake
3. He is a common judge
4. He oversees records, finances, and properties.
Presiding High Priest (GH 6.2.1)
As the presiding High Priest, the stake president is the principal spiritual leader. This means that he is to teach and uplift the members of his stake. When it comes time for ward and stake conference, listen closely when he says things like “I’ve been thinking a lot about…” or “This has been weighing on my mind.” These are clues that the Lord has something for us to know and understand. It is in those moments when the Spirit will whisper to us and guide us in our movement along the Covenant Path.
The Work of Salvation and Exaltation (GH 6.2.2)
The goal of this life is to learn and grow in the gospel and make and keep the sacred covenants when we are baptised and go through the temple to receive our endowments. The stake president helps us by his continual encouragement and counsel on how to stay on the Covenant Path. He teaches us how to better pray to our Heavenly Father, search the scriptures for answers to our questions, and about the nature of the covenants we make throughout our lives.
The work of salvation is not just about our spiritual wellbeing. It is also about our physical wellbeing. When we are suffering physically, it can take time away from our efforts to grow spiritually. The stake president directs the welfare efforts of the leaders and members of the stake. He make sure that we do all we can to reach out to those who are in need of physical nourishment.
The third large portion of the work of salvation is Temple and Family History work. President Russell M. Nelson has spent a lot of time as our beloved prophet encouraging us to seek out our kindred dead and gather Israel on the other side of the veil. With the help of stake Temple and Family History leaders, the stake president encourages us to attend the temple and do the proxy work for our own ancestors (when possible). The stake president also encourages and teaches us about the worth and necessity of receiving our own temple ordinances.
Common Judge (GH 6.2.3)
Usually when we hear the word “judge,” we conjure up images of a robed figure passing sentence on a criminal. The worldly connotation is one of punishment and imposing disgrace on a person. This can greatly affect how we understand the term Common Judge used in the church.
A common judge is not a person who is sitting above us, looking down with menacing eyes. A common judge sees us as the Saviour sees us. A common judge sits across from us and preaches the Atonement of Christ. A common judge is given the keys of inspiration and discernment so he can succour the Children of God in his care.
The stake president does this by conducting interviews for members of the stake. These include Living Ordinance Recommends (for those getting sealed and/or going through the temple to receive their endowment), Temple Recommend Renewals, Melchizedek Priesthood Ordination interviews, and Mission Preparation interviews. None of these interviews are structured to guilt those coming in, but they are opportunities to feel the love of the Saviour. Interviews are a time of communion and consultation with the Lord. The stake president is the facilitator and speaks and teaches according to the influence of the Spirit.
There are times when a Membership Council is needed when a member of the stake has committed a serious sin. These meeting have also been structured to be times of teaching and communion with the Lord.
The common judge is to follow the counsel found in Doctrine and Covenants 121. The Lord said to Joseph Smith:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile- Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
After this counsel, the Lord then shares what the blessing will be when a stake president righteously uses his keys:
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, […] and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion[…].
When the stake president acts as a common judge and does so righteously, he is promised that he will grow in confidence and also in communion with the Holy Ghost to know the will of the Lord.
Stake Records, Finances and Properties (GH 6.2.4)
This responsibility is the administrative role of the stake president. Much of the daily administrative tasks are delegated to the clerks, secretaries, and various High Councilors within the stake. The stake president receives regular updates on these efforts, approves expenses, and decides on matters of where membership records need to be.
During the meeting that officially organized the church on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation contained in section 21. This revelation began with the words “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.” This commandment is the basis for the administrative work of the church. If the church did not keep accurate records, the saints could not and would not be Ministered to properly. Moroni wrote in the sixth chapter of his book:
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and finisher of their faith.
The stake president makes sure that the membership, financial, and property records in the stake are properly accounted for and used in accordance with the guidelines, principles, and doctrines of the church.
When these principles are followed, the administration of the stake will allow each member of the stake to have the opportunity to have the three things outlined by President Gordon B. Hinckley. He said that we need to have a friend, a responsibility, and to be nourished by the good word of God (see “Converts and Young Men”- April 1997 General Conference). While the stake president does not go around to each member of the stake and set these three things up for each of them, he oversees the framework that allows this to happen naturally.
Dear brothers and sisters, this church is the true church of Jesus Christ. It is called by his name. Leaders are prepared and called by Him. He takes particular care to raise up stake presidents so the right men can care for us. These men are indeed Holy. They did not vote or politick for the position. They did not aspire to it. The Lord guided their growth and they accepted and learned from His lessons which led them to the point of being prepared to serve. Each stake president I have known has exuded love and joy. If nothing else, seek to be physically close to them at least once so you can feel that love. Our Saviour spent His life reaching out to lift up the downtrodden, the broken hearted, the physically weak. Today, He uses the thirty-five hundred stake presidents of the church to reach out and lift up. When we sustain our stake presidents, we allow them to grow closer to the Spirit, which allows them to give us better and clearer counsel. Use your gifts and talents to raise up the arms of our stake president and help him continue the work of the Lord. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Stake Executive Secretary