Do women preside at church?

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Our church places a huge emphasis on the word “preside.” The word preside is often used in sacrament meetings, general conference, and other church meetings. Whoever conducts often announces that someone is presiding. Always, that someone is a man.

What exactly does preside mean? “Preside” reminds me a lot of the word “president.” Preside could mean someone who is the president or person in charge of an organization. In ward meetings, it’s usually announced that the bishop presides. If the stake president visits, then the person conducting announces that the stake president presides. I find it confusing at times and I don’t even see any reason for this “presiding” to be mentioned. What exactly does it mean? And why does the church put so much emphasis on it?

The Family Proclamation states that husbands preside in a family. There have been many general conference quotes both for and against this statement. For example, L. Tom Perry has said that in a family there is no president or vice-president, but there are co-presidents. That right there debunks the statement that only the husband presides. According to L. Tom Perry’s words, both the husband and wife preside. They are both presidents. Here are L. Tom Perry’s exact words:

“Therefore, there is not a president or a vice president in a family. The couple works together eternally for the good of the family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.”

There used to be a line in there that said that wives and husbands are co-presidents, but it isn’t there anymore and I have no idea why. I thought it was the best line ever! However, this missing line has been quoted in other places, such as this article, which says:

“There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.” (Missing phrase is in bold.)

My brother dislikes the word preside. He has told me that in his Elder’s Quorum meetings, whenever they talk about men’s roles, one man will comment and say that the man presides. Then, another man will counter his comment and say that men and women work together. It sounded to me like they go back and forth between these two opposing ideas.

I used to hear a lot in church meetings about men being the head of the household and presiding and all that, but today, I don’t hear this as much. It seems that the church is becoming silent on this issue and is slowly moving away from the old tradition of the husband being in charge. More and more I hear at church that wives and husbands are equals and are supposed to work together. Instead of vocally abandoning the “head of the household” idea, the church chooses to become more silent about it.

There are a few instances in which I’ve heard of women being announced as presiding. At a temple meeting once, I heard the person conducting say that Brother and Sister so-and-so were presiding. I was very surprised! Those that were presiding were a couple. The wife was assistant to the matron and the husband was counselor to the temple president. I’ve been to lots of temple meetings, since I’m a temple worker, but only once have I heard them mention that a woman was presiding. Usually they only name the man.

Another instance in which I’ve heard of this is when members talk about a woman who leads a mission with her husband as a mission president. (I didn’t want to call the woman “mission president’s wife” since that’s not even a real title.) This is the only other time I’ve heard of a woman presiding. Usually someone will say, “My husband and I presided over the so-and-so mission.” I’ve even heard a stake president say, “They were mission presidents in the so-and-so mission.”

Now, it’s great that there are instances of women presiding, but the problem is that they never say that a woman presides over a group of men and women unless her husband presides with her. I don’t know the reasoning behind this.

There shouldn’t be anything unusual about a woman presiding. After all, if you look at the workplace, you’ll see numerous women who are presidents and leaders in their workplace. Women leaders and women being in charge of groups of men and women is not something new to the world, so why should it be something new to the church?

 

 

 

 

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34 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    Good, relevant questions, Dani! Thank you for raising them here.

    My husband and I have taken the idea of copresidents to heart in how we work together to lead our family. One way we’re doing this is by dividing up the responsibilities for being “acting” president, so one of us isn’t always solely in charge of the day-to-day, moment-to-moment demands of raising small children and running the household. Since I work (some) evenings and my husband works during the day, we agreed that I would be the acting president of our family M-F during the day. But before my husband leaves for work in the morning and once he walks in the door from work on weekday evenings, he is the acting president. He also takes on the responsibility as acting president on the weekends (meaning he plans the meals and when the kids need something they go to him first.)

    It’s such a relief to not have to always be doing the heavy lifting emotionally and physically at home and it’s been beautiful to watch how competent he is in these areas. It has strengthened our relationship and its beautiful to have my daughters witness their father taking on what was once considered a traditionally female role.

    We consult each other when the other is the “acting” president, and our children get the benefit of parents watching their parents cooperate and share power in leadership.

  2. Andrew R. says:

    A person who presides is the one excising priesthood keys. So, in a Sacrament meeting it is the person who by who’s authority and priesthood keys the Sacrament is being administered correctly.

    In a stake conference, where sustaining business takes place, the person presiding oversees the transaction of the business to be sure that those present fully have the opportunity to sustain or oppose.

    In a quorum meeting the president, or a counsellor in his absence, discharge the responsibilities of the keys held by the Elders Quorum president.

    In a family I don’t see the need for someone to be in charge of what is going to be eaten – generally it’s going to be whatever the person preparing the food is wanting to make – at least for us.

    Big decisions in a family are different. Moving house, changing jobs. We would always weigh up the pros and cons. The final decision will be semi-mutual.

    So me changing jobs would ultimately be down to me if my wife was happy with whatever the consequences of the change might mean – moving, less money, more time away, etc.

    Moving house. I would decide what could be afforded after discussion. We would then not buy a house for more than that. The final choice of the actual house would be my wife’s. I would have to like it, but it would be her choice.

    But this is an evolution of things over 32 years. Actual presiding – ie laying the law down to my wife – NEVER HAPPENED.

    Presiding in a church sense is important. We need to recognise where the authority lies for the correct processes to take place.

    • Dani Addante says:

      Actually, a person doesn’t need priesthood keys to preside. In the Church Handbook, under Relief Society, it says that the Relief Society president presides at the presidency meetings and Relief Society meetings, even though the RS president does not have priesthood keys.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Actually you should learn to read before jumping in.

        I wrote, quite clearly, “A person who presides is the one excising priesthood keys.”

        A counsellor, presiding in the absence of the bishop likewise holds no priesthood keys. But he does excersise the priesthood keys of the Bishop, delegated for that purpose. As does the Relief Society President – that is why it is the Bishop that has to set apart the RSP, YMP, YWP, SSP and PP – so that they may excersise that portion of the Bishop’s keys – delegated in the setting apart.

      • Violadiva says:

        “Actually you should learn to read before jumping in.”

        Ugh — you do realize you’re insulting a woman who came to the US as a child and learned English, and who now holds college degrees in writing? Your regular disregard for following the guidelines of our comment policy is wearing all of our patience very thin. Cut it out.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Violadiva,

        You charged in without fully reading my statement, which at no time said anyone had to hold priesthood keys to preside and quoted the handbook at me. You disregarded me. Do you realise that you were insulting someone who’s knowledge of the handbook is legendary in his stake?

        I don’t care if English is your first or ninth language. You didn’t fully read my comment, you assumed what I was saying, and you were wrong. I am allowed to point out your mistake.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Oh, and just to be sure, since English isn’t your first language, when I said “you should learn to read before jumping in” I wasn’t saying that you couldn’t read, I was saying that you hadn’t read.

        I was saying that you need to fully read a statement before you, unwisely, assume you know what is being said.

        I am not from the US and as such I use the original English language, unadulterated and pure 😉

      • Ziff says:

        Andrew, I’m just guessing since I’m a fellow guest here at the Exponent, but I don’t think you’re going to endear yourself to the bloggers or the community as a whole by insulting the bloggers. Also, it seems like in your haste to accuse others of not reading carefully, you may have overlooked the fact that Dani Addante and Violadiva aren’t the same person.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Sorry for the person confusion. However, I am still completely baffled as to why I was sanctioned anyway.

        I didn’t say the person couldn’t read, I said they misread what I said. If that is a crime around here then you have huge problems.

        I realise that I am a man, and men are horrible, nasty, people who only want to subdue women. However, I still don’t see why Dani should be allowed to come back at me, basically saying I said something I didn’t. I believe that’s not allowed either.

        But thanks, Ziff, I know I can always count on you to assist in bringing this man down.

        Women can, and do preside – in many places. They do it over men in the home (their children) and they do it is Primary.

        However, in my experience Presiding has never really meant much. And I am in exactly the same boat as the sisters in this respect. I will spend about two hours this evening in a stake PEC. I am not a member of the presidency, nor am I a member of the High Council. I am the stake clerk. For any items of business my say will have no meaning. For any discussion I am really only listened to in relation to doctrine, policy and procedure. As many have noted here, although to hold this calling I have to be a Melchizedek priesthood holder (by policy) there is nothing I do in this calling that actually requires the use of the priesthood.

        Only the stake president holds priesthood keys. His counsellors excersise those keys in his absence with his authority. High Councillors do not generally preside. Multi-unit baptismal services, and multi-unit activities, where no member of the stake presidency is present is about the only place they do preside. They can not even meet together without a member of the stake presidency being present.

        But the clerk – he does nothing. He doesn’t set people apart, he doesn’t interview people. I train and I record.

        Having said all that – Am I listened to? Yes I am. My stake president calls me to be sure about a lot of things, and whatever my answer, that is what he does.

        I am a part of the discussion when talking about callings.

        And you know what? So are the sisters in our stake. For stake council there are three sisters and up to 19 men. I would say the ratio of women to men talking time is at least 50:50 and possibly closer to 60:40.

        Now, as I have said, maybe that is a national thing. In the UK we like listening to women, and we have no problem with them being in power and authority over us. They have high positions in the Police, Fire Service, Government and much more.

        If there is a problem in the units in the US with sisters not being listened to, or even being repressed, I would look a lot closer at the society you live in before I simply blamed the Church, God and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having the priesthood, and priesthood power, authority and keys are not the be all and end all, and will not be what gets any of us Eternal Life.

      • Dani Addante says:

        Andrew, the church very rarely talks of women exercising priesthood keys. As far as I know, you need to have priesthood keys in order to exercise them. That’s why I made that comment.

        ADMIN WARNING: If you’re going to keep commenting, make sure you review the comment policy and adhere to it very strongly, because you are breaking the rules by insulting people. Otherwise, I’ll have to remove your comments.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Dani,

        Please tell me what you mean when you use the noun “church”? The church doesn’t speak at all – it’s an organisation. It’s leaders speak, it’s members speak. We discuss in great detail lots of things in our lessons – but generally we discuss what people want to discuss. I think this will increase with the new Relief Society and Priesthood lessons for next year – it certainly needs to.

        This talk https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/the-keys-and-authority-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng however is a talk that does speak about the priesthood authority of sisters in the church.

        I genuinely think that the more LDS feminists concentrate on what sister can do, and make it happen, and less time pushing for things sisters can’t do, the more sisters will be used.

        Here in the UK multi-generational families are usually second, and the occasional third, are still not entrenched in pioneer tradition. We have a lot of part member families, with sisters as the member. All of this means that our sisters take as much of a lead as the men, and things like who presides are just things that happen, not things to be questioned.

  3. I wrote an article here once about how, historically, in the time and place where the LDS church began, it was a secular tradition that women were not permitted to preside over mixed gender groups. I wonder if the Mormon tradition of male-only presiding stemmed from that secular tradition, and now people assume there must be a doctrinal reason for it simply because it has been going on for so long and no one remembers why. http://www.the-exponent.com/presiding-over-promiscuous-company/

    • Melissa says:

      I was thinking about that. I recently listened to an episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class about the Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments that it issued. Even though this women’s rights convention came, in part, out of two leaders anger at being refused the opportunity to participate in an abolition convention they had traveled because they were women (women were eventually allowed the concession of being allowed to sit in a special section in the back so they could watch and listen but not speak or act as delegates), one of their husbands presided over the convention, including the first day which was only for women. Please note I was trying to summarize, and glossed over a lot, including that when the Seneca Falls Convention was held it was more than just Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Candy Stanton who were behind it.

      Personally, I think Elder Oaks’s 2014 talk about women and the Priesthood from totally opens up the possibility that a woman should be able to preside over a mixed gender group at church with the authority of the Priesthood, which Elder Oaks points out women are given when they are set apart to callings.

    • Ziff says:

      I think you were spot on with your analysis, April.

  4. Curious says:

    “Do Women Preside at Church?”

    Sure. In the absence of the Bishop or one of his counselors, the Primary President, YW President or RS President (or one of their counselors) presides over their meetings. Some bit of exception: Once the YW break out into individual classes, then the Laurel/MiaMaid/Beehive presidents preside. I would also say that even outside of a Sunday church setting (like a presidency meeting at someone’s home), the women presidents preside at that meeting. The real question then becomes: is anyone offended by that idea? For instance, would any sister attending a RS Presidency meeting or activity at someone’s home have a problem with the idea that the president is presiding? If not, why not?

    • Moss says:

      The problem isn’t having someone preside- the problem is women only preside over groups of other women and children, while men preside over everyone. Women don’t even preside over their own Women’s Session of General Conference- men do.

      • Andrew R. says:

        “The problem”?

        What exactly is the problem? Women don’t preside because women do not hold priesthood keys. The problem would be if they tried to do so.

        A sacrament meeting with no priesthood holders would not be a sacrament meeting. There would be no one to authorise the ordinance, and no one to perform it.

        So, unless you are saying that women should hold the priesthood (and that that is the problem), there isn’t a problem – just a situation.

        Women actually preside in Primary when men are in there serving. I have been Primary Music Director and Pianist, despite holding the Melchizedek (and being a High Priest) I did not preside.

      • Moss says:

        But women are not presiding over men in Primary, they are presiding over children. The presidency does not have stewardship over the teachers, just the kids. Women do not, ever, preside over a man or boy over the age of 12. She can’t even be Sunday School President, a position which holds no keys.

        I do see this as a problem because I think women are capable of leading groups of mixed gender and we are missing out of half our leadership pool. I also see it as a problem because it sends the message that men don’t need to listen to women because they are not accountable to them. This message in and of itself creates a host of problems in how men and women, boys and girls see themselves and each other.

      • Curious says:

        I disagree Moss – the Primary Presidency has authority over male primary workers. She and her presidency can assign them to teach as they see fit. She has delegated authority straight from the Bishop, who obviously holds keys over all that goes on in the ward.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Of course they stewardship over the teachers.
        From CHB2 Section 11.2.2
        “They orient newly called teachers and oversee efforts to improve gospel learning and teaching in Primary. In these efforts, they follow the principles in 5.5.3 and 5.5.4. They also support Primary teachers and nursery leaders by (1) visiting with them occasionally to address their questions and concerns and to discuss ways to serve the children; (2) helping them maintain reverence during sharing time, class time, and breaks; and (3) arranging to visit their classes.”

        And the music personnel.
        CHB2 11.2.4
        “Under the direction of the Primary presidency, Primary music leaders and pianists have the following responsibilities:”

  5. Ziff says:

    I’m encouraged for any movement away from an only-men-can-preside model, but I doubt we’ll get any real movement on this issue until women are ordained. The Church is set up so that only priesthood holders are really presiding-eligible (with some exceptions where the people being presided over are all female or are children), so unless that’s changed, I think the only way to have women preside is to have women be priesthood holders.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Absolutely correct. It is not being a man that allows someone to preside, it is holding the priesthood – and in most cases being a key holder (president) or authorized representative of one.

      So the only way it could happen is for women to be ordained. But then that throws up ordained to what? The same (Melchizedek) priesthood or a different “female” priesthood?

      And where would that priesthood sit? What would its power and authority be?

  6. Rob Osborn says:

    One cannot remove the fact that it is Christ, a male, who presides over his church

    • In Christ’s time, people were pretty certain that only people who belonged to Christ’s demographic (Jewish) should even be taught the gospel. Then God corrected them. Today, I hope we know better than to justify exclusion on the basis of which demographic groups happened to have included Christ.

  7. Em says:

    Presiding to me means looking benevolently out at the congregation with one leg crossed. Possibly glancing at scriptures or a device that could plausibly have scriptures on it. Obviously only a man could do this because if a woman crossed her ankle across her knee we’d see her underwear.

  8. Dani Addante says:

    Another thing is that, though women do not have the priesthood, they are on- or at least should be- on equal footing with men. It makes no sense for the church to say that men and women are equal and then treat women like they are less, as is implied by this presiding issue. I may write a future post about this.

    • Andrew R. says:

      You are on an equal footing with me! I am in no presiding position, and the last time I was was over 20 years ago as an Elders Quorum president. I served three and a half years as a bishop’s counsellor and only once did I preside in the sacrament meeting – and that was 15 years ago.

      Interestingly at that same time we had just had a sister baptised and she needed the new member lessons. I asked the Relief Society president if the Visiting Teachers could do it with the sister missionaries as it would be easier. She point blank refused – bringing all manner of nonsense. What I didn’t know was that her husband had just been called as the new bishop so she didn’t really care much about the current one, or his first counsellor. She abused her authority, and the fact that she was about to be the bishop’s wife.

      Alas, she was later excommunicated and he had his name removed after their marriage ended and he resigned as bishop. It was very sad, and four boys have been taken from the gospel.

      Women in power will be no better or worse than the men.

      • Dani Addante says:

        I guess what really bothers me is that a man presides at the Women’s Session of General Conference. It just doesn’t make sense to me why a man would preside at a women’s meeting.

        You asked what I meant by church. By “church” I mean the church organization.

      • Andrew R. says:

        But for that to happen would require no men to attend – at least no members of the First Presidency, no Apostles and no General Authority Seventies. All of these hold priesthood keys that mean they preside.

        Would a conference session with no member of the First Presidency speaking be one that the majority of sisters want to attend? I don’t know. What I do know is that I attend the Priesthood session where all three members of the First Presidency normally speak – and that is the session that sisters have been trying to get into for a number of years now.

        Every year one of the stake conferences held is attended by a General or Area Authority. Because of their position they preside, and they rule the roost. Generally they are great men, and the conference is a good success. However, occasionally they are young and inexperienced and I wish they were not presiding, and not taking 40 to 60 minutes of all the sessions.

        At least this last Sunday you got to have President Uchtdorf speak.

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