Sunday, July 24, 2011

Talk like A Mormon: Moving through the Ranks - Young Men

12 is an important age for Mormon boys. It is the age at which a male may be ordained to the first office in the lower or preparatory priesthood, called the Aaronic Priesthood (after Moses's brother Aaron, who, according to the Bible, was the first man ordained by God to be a priest in the temple). Mormon boys from the ages of 12 through 17 are said to be part of "Young Men's," short for "The Young Men's Organization." They are generally referred to this way only in the collective sense ("the young men" or "Young Men's"); an individual boy is not referred to as a "young man" when talking about his rank. (Mormons do use the term "young man" in the same sense that the term is used generally by the English-speaking world). Instead, an individual from "Young Men's" would be identified by the rank he holds within the Aaronic Priesthood, and ranks correspond to age groups. The ranks are:
  1. Deacon: 12- and 13-year-old young men are deacons, and they belong to the "Deacons' Quorum." Deacons have primary responsibility for passing the sacrament (the bread and water) during Sacrament Meeting on Sundays (think of Sacrament Meeting as Mormons' version of Mass). One deacon is selected by the men who work with the quorum to be the quorum president, and he in turn gets to select two counselors from among his peers. The presidency gets to design the pattern for the passing of the sacrament and to decide which deacon takes which part of the pattern (think of the the pattern as the equivalent of a play in a ball game: each boy passes the bread and then the water to a section of the chapel based on the number he is assigned). Mormons love efficiency, so there can be constant redesign and improvement of the pattern. Deacons also collect fast offerings. On the first Sunday of every month, called "Fast Sunday," Mormons are expected to go without food and water until the Sunday block of meetings has ended. As part of the fast, they are asked to give as "fast offerings" whatever money they would have spent on the meals (generally breakfast and lunch) they have skipped. They can do this at church (there are little envelopes by the bishop's office precisely for this purpose), but deacons are also sent door to door on that Sunday to collect the offerings. When I was a deacon, we were told not to look to see how much people gave, but it was easy to do since the envelopes were closed with a string fastener much like an interdepartmental office envelope. Needless to say, I peeked from time to time. I often noted how some inactive Mormons who never came to church and likely never skipped a meal would still let us come to gather fast offerings and would give a generous amount, whereas some holier-than-thou regulars at church would give a pittance, but would present it to us as if it was a great offering.
  2. Teacher: 14- and 15-year-old young men are teachers, and they belong to the "Teachers' Quorum." There are also a couple of men assigned to work with the teachers, and one of the teachers is chosen as the president, who in turn gets to select counselors. Teachers have two primary responsibilities, both relating to the sacrament. First, they take care of the preparation and clean-up of the sacrament. This means that they bring the Wonder bread to church and place it in the trays for the group of young men just older than them to break, bless, and give to the deacons during the sacrament portion of Sacrament Meeting. They also place the tiny cups (made from paper when I was young, but mostly from plastic these days) in the trays with the tiny cup holders, and then fill them with water. They place both the bread and the water trays on the sacrament table and cover it with a white cloth. Then, after Sacrament Meeting, they clean the trays and store them. As a side note, Mormons don't guard or babysit the leftover sacrament (as do Catholics their Holy Eucharist). Teachers just pour out the leftover water and dump the leftover bread. Except on Fast Sundays, when some of them (or at least some of my fellow teachers and I, when I was that age) would eat the leftover bread because we were SO HUNGRY! Second, teachers close the doors to the chapel when the sacrament is prayed over and passed during Sacrament Meeting. This is to discourage entrances to and exits from the chapel during this most sacred part of the meeting. Just the same, if someone has to go to the bathroom or has a crying baby, teachers let them by.
  3. Priest: 16- and 17-year-old young men are priests, and they belong to the "Priests' Quorum." As is the case with deacons and teachers, a couple of men work with the priests. What is unique about priests, however, is that one of the men who works with them within the quorum is the bishop of the ward, and it is the bishop who is the president of the quorum. The bishop will select two priests to serve as his assistants (first and second). Priests' primary responsibility is to break the sacrament bread and to say the set prayers that are delivered over the sacrament before it is passed by the deacons. Ordinarily Mormons do not use set prayers, but these particular prayers were revealed to Joseph Smith as special sacrament prayers, and they are recorded in a collection of his revelations called Doctrine and Covenants, which Mormons consider to be scripture. The prayers have to be delivered exactly as the prophet received them, except that the original prayer for the second portion of the sacrament says "wine" instead of "water" (early Mormons used wine for the sacrament until Joseph Smith received a revelation about food and drink called the Word of Wisdom, which forbade wine). I have to admit that I wondered a time or two when I was a priest about why God didn't realize that he was going to forbid wine when he gave Joseph the prayer that had to be recited exactly as written. It was almost as if God wanted to confuse us, or to see whether we were smart enough to substitute "water" for "wine" if we were reading the prayer from Doctrine and Covenants. Luckily, by the time I was a priest, printing and laminating were common with church members, so we could always use a printed and laminated copy of the prayer that only said "water." I figured God gave us printing and laminating in order to fix the confusion (or help the less smart priests). As Mormons like to say, God will never test us beyond what we can handle!