Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Top, the Bottom, and the Inbetween: Church Hierarchy in the Middle (Areas)

Areas. Seventies.  Coordinating councils.  Presidency of the Seventy.  Presiding Bishop.
Sure, most of us are familiar with the First Presidency (FP), as well as our local ward.  But what about the middle- how is the church governed between the FP and the ward level? 

I begin by noting how surprisingly difficult it has been for me to find the answer.  I spoke with a number of stake leaders in my stake (some of them former mission presidents and stake presidents), as well as a secretary of a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, and a well-connected executive secretary friend of mine.  Most of them could only offer pieces of the puzzle, and occasionally some gave contradicting information. 

As with church discipline, I feel like I am reinventing the wheel.  No doubt several others have already explained the structure I expound below. Please comment with the URL's of the articles and flow charts/maps my research failed to unearth.

Here's the middle hierarchy as I see it in outline form for the US and Canada:
  1. US/Canada is split into 10 areas, assigned as follows: the Presidency of the Seventy has 7 presidents, with 1 senior president.  The senior president assists in all areas.  1 president governs 3 areas.  2 presidents govern 2 areas each.  The remaining 3 presidents govern 1 area each.  Badda bing, budda boom: all 10 areas covered.  I'm guessing the Presidency of the Seventy reports to the FP.
  2. Each area has several missions (geographically defined) 
  3. Each mission has several coordinating councils
  4. Each coordinating council contains several stakes
  5. Each stake contains numerous wards (or, each district contains numerous branches- I think the hierarchy goes through the mission president if the geography falls within a district)
Worded differently:
  1. US/Canada
  2. Superblocs (1, 2, or 3 areas per member of the Presidency of the Seventy, e.g. Idaho and North America Central Areas)
  3. Areas (e.g. North America Northeast)
  4. Missions (e.g. New Mexico Farmington)
  5. Coordinating Councils (usually about 10 or so stake presidents, trained by an area seventy from the third through eighth quorums.  I'm guessing a mission typically has one or two coordinating councils within it)
  6. Stake/District
Outside US/Canada:
  1. The non-US/Canada world
  2. 16 Areas (presided over by an area president with two counselors [area presidency], e.g. Asia.  These area presidencies are populated by members of the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th quorums)
  3.  Stake/District
Thus, for general membership in 2010:
  1. 1 world (14,131,467 members)
  2. 2 vineyards (US/Canada v. non-US/Canada)
  3. 26 areas
  4. 340 missions
  5. 1000 ish coordinating councils (my guesstimate)
  6. Stakes/Districts
  7. Wards/branches
After that, organization gets complicated.  Consider the following facts, accurate as far as I currently know:

- There are parallel or overlapping hierarchies along a number of independent or interdependent dimensions:
  • Age (think age limits for YSA wards)
  • Student status (until recently)
  • Military
  • Marital status (i.e. a YSA stake could cover two coordinating councils)
  • Welfare (welfare regions sometimes, but not always, correspond to coordinating councils)
  • Mission president keys (including disciplinary and presiding authority- though that may expand or contract, based on (1) whether he's in US/Canada and (2) whether his mission has districts v. stakes)
  • Perpetual education fund 
  • Family history centers
  • Temple districts and temple president keys
  • Corporate hierarchies blending somewhat with priesthood ones (more below)
  • Presiding Bishopric (including that corporation's legal and PR departments-which have recently asserted rather significant authority, including speaking for the church in lieu of one of the Lord's anointed spokesmen- am I alone in seeing the recency and significance of that move?  And who are exactly the "leadership of the Church" these days: corporate or priesthood?)
  • Ethnicity or language (think of the Tongan units in the Salt Lake Area, etc.)
- Area seventies in the US/Canada (members of the 5th and 6th quorums) meet four times each year with the coordinating council or councils they are responsible for (they are known as "council chairmen"- don't think I ever heard that phrase in that context in my quarter century of LDS practice).  Two of these quarterly meetings occur soon after general conference, and include training of the 10 or so stake presidents that constitute a coordinating council.  The stake presidents also swap area-specific best practices (seems a smart idea).  It is unclear to me how much influence or subordination exists between a council chairman and a stake president in that coordinating council.
- Area seventies speak at stake conferences, divide stakes, and call new stake presidents.
- Area presidencies (remember, these only exist in the not-US/Canada portion of the vineyard we call Earth) are usually constituted by members of the First and Second Quorums.
- First Quorum and Second Quorum members are both general authorities, meaning they preside wherever they go.  However, First Quorumers are appointed for life (in practice, they become emeritus somewhere around age 75).  Second Quorumers typically serve 5ish years; Third to Eighth Quorumers typically between 3 and 5.
- In the US and Canada, there are often about 6-8 area seventies from the 5th or 6th quorums assigned to a particular area (e.g. 8 members of the Sixth Quorum assigned to the North America Central Area)
- First Quorumers that become emeritus are released as active general authorities, but still are general authorities, just not members of a quorum.  (I don't know what that means).  Second Quorumers, on the other hand, are neither members of a quorum nor general authorities when released (though, like bishops, they retain their new priesthood office)
- In addition to being governed by the Seven Presidents, the First Quorum are subject to the Quorum of the Twelve.  But not the FP.  Seems a bit bizarre.
- The FP, Qot12, and the Presidency of the Seventy are co-equal, but the Presidency of the Seventy is subservient (to one or both, I'm not sure).  Also, I'm not sure if the Qot12 is considered a peer of or a subordinate to the FP.  Where the Presiding Bishopric comes in is uncertain.   What keys does that entity have, and to whom does it report?  Same question regarding correlation, church educational system, church auxiliaries (e.g. primary, relief society, Sunday School, young women general presidency) and the many other spawned departments of the past century?
- Emeritus general authorities were sustained under Benson.  But not under Hunter.

 - A regular old member can't just dial up a web address or phone number to find out which coordinating council he's in, who the area seventy is over his stake president, and what area his stake is in for that matter.  At least, this regular old member had to do some serious digging (and still haven't identified what coordinating council a test stake is in, nor the area seventy over it- apparently that type of thing "isn't published," and if maps and boundaries do exist, they aren't public).  You can, however, find in Wikipedia a mapless table describing Superblocs and areas with a certain level of detail.  You can type in any address and a web app will tell you what ward and stake it's in.  In the online Church Almanac you can search with ctrl+F to find whether a particular stake is in a particular area.  I'm not sure if the online version is different from the Deseret Book 2011 print version available for about 10 bucks.
- Men without priesthood keys aid in supervising those with them.  Area seventies (who don't hold keys; they are delegates for the Seven Presidents, which do) in the US and Canada, from what I understand, oversee the coordinating councils, which are constituted by key-holding stake presidents.
- It's weird that part of the world (US/Canada) is governed by the Presidency of the Seventy, which has keys, while the rest of the world is governed by delegates (First and Second Quorumers theoretically derive keys from the Seven Presidents, though it seems the Seven Presidents are focused just on US/Canada).
- How is it that the First and Second Quorum preside anywhere they go when they lack keys?  Why would 3rd through 8th quorumers, similarly placed beneath the Seven Presidents, be privileged only in their own areas (if not even further restricted to the set of coordinating councils they supervise)?
- I think areas are somewhat new.  Pre-1995, I think regional representatives and regions were the going memes.  Not sure what that structure looked like. 
- Are there names for the coordinating councils (e.g. the San Diego coordinating council)?  If so, what are the names?  I don't know of a single one.
- By the way, I made up the term Superbloc.  Apparently no word exists for that level of dividing up the US/Canada part of the world.  I also coined Vineyard.  I've tried to be as inventive as the Mormon movement, don't cha know.
- The structure is somewhat awkward in that much of the money and decision making are funneled, ultimately, to and from two very unique corporations- the corporation sole that has only one member who has all decision making power and owns all assets- whoever the senior apostle is, whom we recognize as the Prophet.  (The succession process described in the articles of incorporation for the Corporation for the President of the Church, from what I understand, are what we currently understand to be the pattern of prophetic succession- bit a of a let-down there, at least let's roll dice or have a conclave or electoral college, y'know?).  The other parent is the Corporation for the Presiding Bishop.  Given (1) the amount of work these corporations do, (2) the assets they control, and (3) the power they wield, it is difficult to speak of LDS governance without delving into the ins and outs of these corporate politics, which are to me an almost entire mystery (I barely know the net worth of these companies, to say nothing of their structure, functions, interrelationships, and governance). 

You can't tell me Mormons don't believe in evolution.  That is one jerrymandered organization chart if ever I saw one!  At least at some level, though, it works (classic Darwinian brinkmanship).

Organization was one of Joseph's most important religious innovations: one that helped the movement survive.  Few of the entities he created do not survive in some form today (the Council of 50 is a notable exception). 

Unanswered questions
Some of the pieces don't add up in my mind.  For instance:

- I don't know what it means to have status as a "church" under (or over) the law- presumably the law has no overlap with religion- but 501(c)3 status means something.  If "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" is merely a trademark, and the priesthood keyless correlation (not even delegated from I understand, which, admittedly, is little).can wield such influence over the transmission and presentation of authorized manuals, then where is the priesthood, and how does it govern what we expect to be "the church?"
-Why would the presidency of the seventy not exercise keys over the whole earth?  In any case, why differing levels of priesthood authority solely because of geography? 
- Who decides the makeup of a coordinating council?  How flexible are those beasts?  Do they always, sometimes, or never honor mission and area boundaries? 
- If we can readily identify the stake and mission boundaries we live in, as well as the stake president and mission president: why can't we readily identify the coordinating council we live in, and that council's chairman (one's area seventy)? It's an organizational level between the stake and mission.

I feel like we all need a tutorial on how the church is organized!

I remember teaching a man in Sacramento as a missionary about the priesthood. I had some great visuals, and was able to dive deep with him, identifying the offices, power, and authority of the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods, as well as the structure and hierarchy of quorums, patriarchs, etc.  Now I realize the reality is much more fluid and dynamic than I had realized.  On my mission I experienced elation witnessing the "I get it" of realization dawn on Mike's face as I taught about the priesthood's structure and functions.  Now, I experience my own realization: I don't know it!  Even at the end of my research I'm disoriented, groping to grasp a cognizable organization chart. 

Now I must leave the reader with a challenge!  Next time you're set apart, rather than being set apart to a calling in X ward in the Y stake of the Church, ask to be set apart in the A ward of the B stake of the C coordinating council of the D mission of the E area of the F Superbloc of the G Vineyard of the trademark, "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."  See if the Bishop and the Holy Ghost can keep up!


  1. Does this help at all?

  2. Or this?

  3. I knew of the ldschurchnews site- but the ldschurchgrowth is awesome! Thanks for both!


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