Wards and Stakes and Temples, Oh My!
by Kathy Penrod
A friend of mine, upon investigating our church a little further, good-naturedly said to me one day, “You all have your own language. How am I going to learn all the terminology?”
That is so true. We definitely have a specific vernacular that someone who wasn’t raised as a member of the LDS church may struggle to understand.
Today, I wanted to explain just a few of those terms.
We live in a worldwide church. There are 15 million of us around the world. The curriculum for the church is pretty much the same all over. So, a Sunday School lesson on patience taught in Palermo, Italy on the second Sunday of the month, will most likely be taught in Mesa, AZ on that same Sunday… give or take a couple weeks. It takes massive amounts of organization to do this. But the organization doesn’t end with the curriculum.
In the LDS church congregations are divided up geographically and members are assigned to a congregation based on where they live.
First, the church membership is divided up by “area.” These are typically large sections of the globe, for example, “Africa West” or “Utah North” are both areas. These areas are under the jurisdiction of what we call an “Area President.”
Then, each area is divided into smaller sections called “Stakes.” These stake are made up of a collection of even smaller sections called “Wards.” There are usually approximately 10 wards in each stake.
Ward buildings are our regular church houses. This is where members go for their weekly worship services. There are approximately 300 people in each ward and often we refer to ourselves as a “Ward Family.” Twice a year, all the wards within a Stake gather for what we call Stake Conference. This has traditionally been held in what we call the Stake Center or Stake House (Note, it is not spelled steak house) because those buildings are typically larger than the regular church houses. However, it is becoming more popular in areas with a lot of members to participate in Stake Conference via satellite at the regular Ward building. These Stake Conferences last about 2 hours with an adult session (where we discuss more difficult topics) the night before also lasting about 2 hours. Any leadership is also requested to attend an additional meeting the day before. Regular Wards also meet in the Stake Center for the weekly services.
Our weekly church services last about 3 hours, consisting of Sacrament meeting, Sunday School and specialized instruction based on a person’s group. Women meet for what is called Relief Society, men meet in what is called Priesthood meeting, teenagers meet for Young Men or Young Women and under 12 meet for Primary (Primary actually lasts for 2 hours, serving as Sunday School as well). It may seem like a lot of church for someone new to our religion. However, most of the time, it passes quickly and it is so good for a soul. Being with a Ward family and learning of our Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father and His plan for us is spiritually uplifting and emotionally healing.
The highlight of our weekly service, the reason why we go to church, is the ordinance of the Sacrament – held during the aptly named Sacrament Meeting. This involves partaking of bread and water and renewing the covenants we made at baptism. Everyone is welcome to come to the weekly church services. There is no requirement other than a desire to be there. We do not turn people away who are of a different religion or who do not believe the same we do. However, the ordinance of the sacrament should be reserved only for those who have been baptized into the LDS church.
Finally, we have temples. (read my blog post about LDS temples here) These are sacred buildings that are literally the House of the Lord. Members of the LDS church, who are in good standing, can attend the temple during the week – separate from the regular weekly worship service. Before a temple is dedicated, anyone – regardless of religion – may tour the inside of a temple (click here to find a temple open house). Inside a dedicated temple we learn about Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness, make sacred covenants and participate in special ordinances by proxy for those – usually ancestors – who have already passed on. We will have another post just about temples in the near future.
Just like the geographical assignments for wards and stakes, each member lives within a “Temple District.” This is assigned by the “closest” temple to the member. For some it may be just down the street, for others, it could mean in the neighboring country. Unlike the congregational assignments, a member may visit any temple he or she desires. The decision to build a temple is based on the number of members in the area and/or location to the next nearest temple. Eighty-five percent of LDS members live within 200 miles of the nearest temple.
So there you have it – a basic run down of the geographical organization. Next time you hear an LDS friend talking about a Ward family or going to the Stake center – you will know exactly what they are talking about.