Do women preside at church?
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?