Special Feature | BYU Studies

Special Feature

Priesthood Reorganizations of the Past
April 3, 2018
Special Feature
Priesthood Reorganizations of the Past
Author William G. Hartley,

Seeing the elders and high priests quorums undergo changes in policy at the April 2018 general conference brings to mind the many changes that have happened over the decades since the restoration of the priesthood. William G. Hartley is an expert on priesthood history, and today we highlight his BYU Studies articles and book on the subject.

"Nauvoo Stake, Priesthood Quorums, and the Church's First Wards," William G. Hartley, BYU Studies, Volume 32, no. 1-2
Nauvoo became a restarting point for priesthood quorums as men with various callings gathered. Quorums met together and fulfilled assignments, but even knowing who belonged to each quorum was a challenge for leaders.

"The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young's Last Achievement," William G. Hartley, BYU Studies, Volume 20, no. 1
Practical application of revelations about the priesthood required creativity and innovation because the revelations did not always say how. By 1877, Brigham Young knew he had to act to reorder the organization of the priesthood quorums. This reorganization involved every stake, 241 wards, hundreds of quorums, and more than a thousand leadership positions. He had already reordered the seniority of the Apostles and saw them released from stake presidency positions. He set in order that each stake president would have two counselors, and high councils, which had been missing from some stakes, were standardized. The 1877 changes revolutionized Aaronic Priesthood work by stipulating that all youth receive some priesthood instead of just a few youth having that privilege.

"The Priesthood Reform Movement, 1908-1922," William G. Hartley, BYU Studies, Volume 13, no. 2
Prior to 1908, priesthood quorums lacked strong central direction and standard practice in callings and jurisdiction. There was no set schedule for meetings or instruction. In 1908, the First Presidency established a General Priesthood Committee on Outlines responsible for preparing lesson outlines which in turn led to involvement in all aspects of priesthood work. From this came Church-wide practices for young and adult men.

"My Fellow Servants: Essays on the History of the Priesthood," William G. Hartley
The restoration of priesthood authority was a key event in the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith in 1830, as is well known. Much less familiar is the fascinating process of continuing revelation and administrative brilliance that has unfolded over the last two centuries as priesthood offices and quorums have gone into action. This book makes available William G. Hartley's lifetime of research about that powerful story.

Interesting questions include: How were local congregations organized before there were wards and ward bishops? Do bishopric counselors need to be high priests? When did leaders begin to expect all boys to receive the Aaronic priesthood at age 12 in preparation for becoming elders? What is a quorum? Who defines the work of an elders quorum? What is the relationship between the Presiding Bishop and Aaronic Priesthood quorums? When and why did the Seventies become General Authorities? These, and many others, are answered on the pages of this unique and very significant book. Sample pages are available here.