Eliminating Needless Gender Barriers: When Can Girls Pass the Sacrament Already?

My nephew, a nice kid by all accounts, turned 11 on December 28th. Less than a week after his last day of being 10 years old, he was given the priesthood. 

January is now the season of priesthood ordination. It used to be that a boy’s advancement in priesthood offices coincided with his birthdays (12, 14 and 16 for Aaronic offices), but that all changed three years ago when the Church announced that boys could now be ordained at the beginning of the year that they turned a milestone age instead of waiting for their birthdays. 

Several years back, I read through the duties for each priesthood office, and it became obvious to me that ordaining boys to Aaronic priesthood offices at 12, 14, and 16 years old, let alone ordaining children at all, was not scripturally or doctrinally supported. [1] The leaders of the Church apparently also came to the conclusion that there’s nothing inherently magical about the long-standing but arbitrary age requirements for priesthood advancement, so they shifted them, removing the barrier of boys being an exact age to be ordained to Aaronic priesthood offices.

The Church rolled out another change for priesthood holders recently, tucked in the long list of Church Handbook revisions in December 2021. To perform a baptism, a male has always been required to hold at least the office of Priest; to perform a confirmation, he must hold Melchizedek priesthood. In the temple, however, proxy confirmations were only allowed to be performed by endowed Melchizedek priesthood holders. The December 2021 revisions to the Handbook removed that barrier, now allowing unendowed Melchizedek priesthood holders to perform confirmations for and in behalf of the dead. This change makes sense: the barrier for unendowed men wasn’t doctrinal or scriptural. Removing needless barriers is generally a good thing.

While I’m glad for the relatively small number of unendowed but temple attending men that this minor change will benefit, I’m also frustrated by this change because it shows that church leadership really does go through current policy with a fine-toothed comb to determine which policies and barriers are no longer necessary–and yet they do not make changes to remove countless barriers placed upon women and girls that are not scriptural or doctrinal. [2]

Let’s talk about one specific piece of low-hanging fruit. It is explicitly against doctrine for deacons or teachers to administer the sacrament: “But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands” (D&C 20:58), but teachers and deacons set up and pass the sacrament every week. Clearly, then, these actions are not part of administering the sacrament and are not included in the prohibition on anyone save a priest or elder taking part. And there’s precedent: before disposable cups, women helped set up and clean up the sacrament. And in 2018, in response to press about a few congregations where young women were permitted to carry sacrament trays into the mothers’ lounge for nursing mothers to partake of the ordinance, a church spokesperson said,“It is appropriate for a sister to assist by carrying the sacrament tray into the mother’s lounge, just as it is common for members to pass the sacrament tray to one another in the chapel.” 

Clearly, the church sees no substantive difference between passing a tray to one’s neighbor down a full row and standing up and walking down a mostly empty row to pass a tray to people sitting at the opposite end and carrying a tray to pass sacrament in the mothers’ lounge. How are these things, which the church deems acceptable, any different than carrying the trays down the aisles and between rows?

The answer, of course, is that they’re not. There’s no scriptural or doctrinal reason why girls can’t pass the sacrament, and there’s no real difference between carrying a sacrament tray to women in the mother’s lounge and carrying a sacrament tray between rows. There’s also no justifiable reason why girls can’t stand at the doors during the sacrament or help set up the sacrament before the meeting or clean up after. The fact is it still necessary in 2022 to write blog posts about how this needs to change raises both my frustration and concern. There is no way that the Brethren, the same men who made a shift from the non-scriptural but long-standing tradition of ordaining boys after certain birthdays, the same men who removed the obscure, non-doctrinal barrier for unendowed elders to perform proxy confirmations in the temple, are not aware of this needless disparity between boys and girls, this easy way to provide girls a sanctioned way to serve the congregation in visible and important ways like their brothers. They are perfectly aware.

They just choose not to change it. 

[1] There is no scriptural directive for ordaining children. Read through the priesthood office responsibilities sections in the Doctrine and Covenants and it’s abundantly clear the job descriptions were not written with children in mind. Take, for example, the duties of a Teacher as laid out in D&C 20:53-55: 

53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;

54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;

55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.

56 And he is to take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest

The church has come up with some creative workarounds to give these now 13-year-old boys the illusion of fulfilling some of these responsibilities, such as having them greet congregants at the chapel doors or accompany older men as home teaching companions, but to suggest that barely-teen boys can or should “see that all the members do their duty” or “take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest” is as inappropriate as it is laughable. 

But if the church is able to find flexibility in scriptural mandates, as they do in this instance by allowing boys to be ordained to priesthood offices that have duties they cannot hope to fulfill by nature of being so young, perhaps they can find flexibility in other scriptural mandates, too. Perhaps church leaders can look past all the male language and pronouns in scriptures about priesthood in the same way they do in other verses to include the feminine. With the nearly complete absence of the feminine in the Doctrine and Covenants, surely there’s room to extend promises and blessings and exhortations that apply to men to women, too. And if so, then why not scriptures about priesthood?

[2] In fact, when church leaders looked into barriers around who was allowed to be a witness for ordinances, not only did they not find scriptural or doctrinal justification for barring women from the practice, they also apparently didn’t find justification for barring [baptized] children, either. I wouldn’t be surprised if when/if policy about who is permitted to pass the sacrament finally changes, women + young women + baptized children will be allowed to do that, as well. Whether the Brethren have any idea how much it stings to be denied something for an arbitrary reason like gender for decades only to finally receive the opportunity but be lumped in yet again with children is unclear.

[3] I had already written the bulk of this post when I realized I’m far from the only one to address this issue recently. I nearly started writing about something else instead before I decided that the volume of criticism of this current policy speaks to the urgency with which it needs to be addressed. Here are a couple more articles that popped up in my cursory search:
It’s Time for Girls to Help With the Sacrament by Caroline
Sacrament at Home: Allowances That Could Be Made for Women by me
Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament by Sam Brunson
What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too? by Sam Brunson


ElleK is a foodie, gardener, and writer. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.

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14 Responses

  1. Kaylee says:

    Seriously. And I’m willing to bet that my daughters were not the only ones passing the sacrament during covid home church.

    • Kaylee says:

      only *girls*

      • ElleK says:

        Thanks for adding a link to your excellent post, Kaylee! Yes, my little girls passed the sacrament at home as well. They also tore the bread (such a powerful object lesson!) And poured the water. And the sacrament felt just as sacred, if not more. I do not think God cares about so many of our “rules.” I think God just cares about us.

  2. Katie Rich says:

    In 2009 I met with a BYU history professor who was a longstanding expert in the history of the priesthood and development of priesthood quorums. He was the first to tell me there was no reason for women or girls to not be able to pass the sacrament and that it was just tradition. I was a baby feminist at the time and suddenly this seemed so obvious to me, but it wasn’t something I had considered much beyond the obvious disparity between what the church thought I was capable of compared to my brothers. You hit the nail on the head here about the response from church leaders: “They are perfectly aware. They just choose not to change it.”

  3. Cate says:

    Amen to this. Blessing the sacrament is a priesthood ordinance; passing it is not. If we needed to take the sacrament from a priesthood holder we’d line up in the aisles the way they do in other religions, or have the deacons go individually from person to person, the way they were doing it – in my ward, at least – during part of the pandemic to avoid all those hands on the tray. As it is, I’ve been passed the sacrament by men, women, girls, and these days by a five-year-old boy who likes to sit with me.

    Cute and endearing as it has been this month to see this year’s new crop of deacons, some of whom aren’t even as tall as the sacrament table, carrying those trays oh, so carefully, I’m bothered that so much attention and priority is given yet again to the boys but none to the girls.

  4. Risa says:

    They choose not to change it because they believe in patriarchy and like reinforcing the gender bias. There is simply no other reason not to change it besides misogyny.

  5. Elisa says:

    I think your question is rhetorical, but if I were to answer, I’d have to say “probably not in my lifetime, maybe never.” I see no indication whatsoever that current Church leadership has any indication of giving up a male-exclusive leadership. As has been noted – they aren’t stupid, they just don’t care.

    FWIW I don’t know what “administer” means, but the sacrament prayer is just a prayer. I don’t see why women can’t say a prayer over bread and water either. Or, you know, give healing blessings like they used to. Or do anything else that they see fit and feel called to do.

  6. Sara says:

    As much as I would love to see this change, I wonder if it would almost be more hurtful for girls to be involved in administering sacrament for four years then being stopped at 16 from blessing it as they watch their male peers continue on.

    • Cate says:

      Sara, that’s a fair point, and one I will admit I hadn’t thought of. Of course, there IS a solution to that…. Our GAs can talk about how we exercise priesthood authority in our callings, and receive priesthood power in the temple; however, all those months of sacrament at home – but only for some people – really underlined how disparate things are. And I can’t find any doctrinal or liturgical reason for them to stay that way.

      Perhaps people are concerned that girls passing the sacrament would be the thin end of the wedge.

  7. Ziff says:

    Excellent points, ElleK. It’s really sad that the vision of the GAs–what they can even imagine as possible–is so remarkably narrow.

  8. Abby+Hansen says:

    The idea of girls passing the Sacrament was shocking to me when I first heard it in 2013. I remember genuinely feeling stunned and very uncomfortable with the idea, which is so funny to me now because I feel quite the opposite. It seems shocking that in 2022 we still think that only boys should be serving this way. My, how my thinking has shifted!

  9. Laura says:

    Thanks for this post- especially the foot notes.

    While I’d love to see this change as a “step forward,” I think until full equality for women is restored in the church, it would become just another “women help and support while men do the actually work” situation.

    • Laura says:

      On the other hand, maybe it is a step forward to rid our religion of “policies” that are said to be rooted in scripture but really aren’t.

  10. Moss says:

    This is a perfect time for our young women to help pass the sacrament: since the passers need to wear protective masks and gloves there is a very low chance that any “girl germs” will get passed on to the congregation. /s

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