Return to About Mormons home

Ward

Salt Lake 11th Ward chapel (erected 1911; photo c.1934). Beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Church divided its membership into local ward units. They served a wide variety of functions: economic, cultural, social, and educational, as well as religious. Photographer: Acme Photo Co.

Ward
Ward Budget
Ward Council
Ward Organization
Ward Welfare Committee


Ward

by Douglas D. Alder

The ward is the basic ecclesiastical unit in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is comparable to a Protestant congregation or a Roman Catholic parish. Normally, its membership ranges between 300 and 600 people. A ward is part of a larger unit called a stake, which usually includes between five and ten wards. When a ward or stake grows beyond the usual size in membership and in number of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders, it is divided, creating a new ward or a new stake, usually determined by geographical boundaries.

The ward is presided over by a bishop and his two counselors. Assisted by several clerks, these men comprise the bishopric. All are laymen and serve without monetary compensation. Bishops of wards extend callings to men and women in the ward so that each may serve in one of numerous offices or teaching positions in the ward.

The first wards were organized early in the History of the Church in the 1840s in Nauvoo, illinois. By 1844 the city was divided into ten wards, with three more in the surrounding rural neighborhood. The name "ward" was borrowed from the term for political districts of the frontier municipality. Joseph Smith, who was simultaneously mayor of the city and President of the Church, assigned a bishop to preside over each ward. The bishop's chief responsibility to begin with was temporal rather than spiritual leadership. To prevent hunger, he surveyed the physical needs of the members living within his ward boundaries. Second, the bishop organized his members for Church work assignments, particularly to serve one day in ten as laborers on the Nauvoo Temple. This was a form of paying tithing.

Many of the Saints who fled Nauvoo under persecution in 1846 gathered at winter quarters, located near present-day Florence, Nebraska. There Brigham Young and other leaders again set up ward organizations. Their function was similar—to look after the temporal Welfare of the people.

Soon after the first group of pioneer immigrants arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, Brigham Young divided the area into several wards and called a bishop to preside over each. The temporal well-being of the people was still the bishop's chief concern. Soon bishops were assigned to collect tithes from the members and deliver them to the central tithing office. At this time, most of the tithes were paid in produce and livestock because of a lack of circulating currency.

Initially, worship meetings in the Salt Lake Valley were held in the Bowery, erected in the block now occupied by Temple Square. But soon the population increased until the various wards started building their own meetinghouses and holding separate worship services.

Brigham Young determined quickly to move the immigrants beyond the limits of Salt Lake City. Thus, he established small agricultural settlements throughout the Rocky Mountain valleys in the Great Basin. Through this colonization effort nearly four hundred Mormon villages were founded during his lifetime, built on nearly every available water source. Each village was eventually organized into a ward, and several wards into a stake. The bishop of each village ward was essentially the community leader, serving as the judge and mayor as well as the bishop. In the villages the bishops out of necessity became the temporal as well as ecclesiastical leader. Each ward also tried to support an elementary school.

Gradually, the activities and programs of several organizations were added to the normal weekly worship meetings. Sunday Schools, priesthood quorums, the Relief Society, and youth groups emerged in the rural areas as well as in the cities. All were nominally guided by the bishopric, but each received some encouragement from stake and central Church leaders.

In 1890 the manifesto was published, which ended Church support for the performance of plural marriages and the Manifesto was also an important landmark in the separation of the church and state in Utah. Gradually the wards and the villages turned many secular functions over to non-religious leaders. Bishops withdrew from being mayors and judges. Ward schools gave way to public schools. Water companies took over the administration of pioneer irrigation systems. Church-run cooperative stores were gradually replaced by private commercial enterprises. As this separation occurred, the ward became more and more an exclusively ecclesiastical organization rather than both a religious and political-economic one. Nonetheless, the resulting ward was more than just a congregation; it still retained much of the spirit of a close-knit community that it had so long been.

In the nineteenth century, wards and stakes were organized mainly in the intermountain United States, in Alberta, Canada, and in northern Mexico. Most members outside these regions were organized into missions and branches, the name given to small dependent units within the mission. By the outbreak of World War II, a few wards and stakes were organized in states beyond the intermountain region, particularly California and Hawaii. Then following the war, as the Church became established all over the United States, wards and stakes were organized throughout the country. By the 1960s, wards and stakes were organized in Europe and the Pacific. Asian and Latin American wards soon followed. In 1991 wards exist in many parts of the world. This means that these units are essentially able to provide their own leadership. On January 1, 1991, the Church had a total of 18,090 wards and branches in 1,784 stakes, and 497 districts.

Today LDS wards continue many of the community functions of pioneer times. The Sunday meetings are just an outer evidence of the unit. Social life and friendship among members are largely developed within the ward. Youth programs bind teenagers and their parents to the ward. Education of children is supplemented by teachers of the youth and primary programs. Family education is furthered through training parents in the ward programs. Sports and other activities are promoted in the ward.

Great diversity exists among wards. Many are located in Mormon communities. Others are in areas where Mormons are a distinct minority. Some have an overabundance of leadership and talent. Others suffer from lack of leadership or lack of youth involvement. Some cover a small neighborhood; others, a widespread area. But wherever located, wards have much similarity, following the same curriculum, working under equitable budget allocations, and adhering closely to central authority from Church headquarters. Increasingly, materials such as videotapes or satellite broadcasts from the General Authorities in Salt Lake City are received in all wards, promoting uniformity and commitment.

As Latter-day Saints move throughout the world, they typically transfer from one ward to another with ease, finding acceptance, responsibility, and similarity of doctrine and practice everywhere. The ward system is successful partly because wards are kept small and because, ideally, everyone in them is needed and asked to accept a calling. Serving one another, bearing each other's burdens, is the norm. Socializing the young is everywhere a mainstream activity, and the youth also contribute much to the dynamics of the ward.

Illustrations

Members of a student ward partake of the sacrament during a sacrament meeting (1975). Local members of the Church are organized into wards (usually about 200-600 members) for purposes of religious, social, educational, and service activities. Courtesy Doug Martin.

The Hollywood Stake tabernacle and Wilshire Ward chapel was one of the most imposing church buildings of its day in Los Angeles. Build as a solid piece of reinforced concrete, it was dedicated in 1929. In the early 1900's, the Church expanded significantly in California.

Bibliography

Alder, Douglas D. "The Mormon Ward: Congregation or Community?" Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978):61-78.

Allen, James B., and Glen M. Leonard. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1976.

Arrington, Leonard J. From Quaker to Latter-day Saint: Bishop Edwin D. Woolley. Salt Lake City, 1976.

Arrington, Leonard J.; Feramorz Fox; and Dean May. Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons. Salt Lake City, 1976.

Beecher, Dale. "The Office of Bishop." Dialogue 15 (Winter 1982):103-115.

Nelson, Lowry. The Mormon Village: A Pattern and Technique of Land Settlement. Salt Lake City, 1952.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 4, Ward

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


Ward Budget

by Robert J. Smith

A ward budget is the fund from which local congregations (wards) finance their activities. Historically, the ward budget was raised through voluntary donations. Since January 1, 1990, ward and stake budgets in the United States and Canada are funded entirely from general tithing without additional local contributions. (Before 1990, bishops and ward members agreed privately on voluntary annual contributions. Wards sometimes organized supplementary fundraising activities.) Building operation and maintenance costs are reimbursed from Church headquarters. The quarterly allowance for each stake and ward is based on average meeting attendance. Additional fund raising is discouraged, and expenditures are carefully monitored. Donations are not solicited in worship services.

In parts of the world other than the United States and Canada, some local costs are still financed by voluntary contributions, although building rentals, maintenance, and some other expenses are reimbursed from central funds.

The ward budget continues to cover costs of general operations, materials, and activities of the wards and stakes. Each unit of the ward organization prepares annually a detailed estimate of needs, which the bishopric then uses to develop a ward budget proposal. The bishop presents this for a sustaining vote of the ward membership at a special meeting, and then submits the proposal to the stake, from which it goes to Church headquarters.

(See Financial Contributions)

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


Ward Council

by Dennis L. Thompson

The ward council (formerly known as the Ward Correlation Council) is the meeting of local leaders wherein the doctrines of the gospel are turned into plans of action. The shared activities that help turn ward members into a community of Saints are coordinated by the ward council. This council is composed of the ward priesthood executive committee and the presidents of the ward auxiliary organizations, and the chair of the Activities Committee. These leaders coordinate the efforts of all ward quorums and organizations to support the families of the Church, meet the needs of individuals from all age groups, and provide Christian service. The bishop presides in this monthly meeting, where ward programs are reviewed and activities are proposed. The bishop may invite other individuals to participate in the ward council as necessary. Approval of activities is based on such matters as their appropriateness, the ability to conduct them without additional cost to ward members (see tithing), and how well an activity will strengthen ward members. For example, if home teachers were to discover that a group of elderly members felt neglected, and if youth leaders reported that they were searching for a service project, an activity could be planned that would place the youth in the service of the elderly.

(See Meetings and Conferences)

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


Ward Organization

by L. Robert Webb

A ward is a geographically defined Church unit organized to provide every member the opportunity to find fellowship with the Saints and give service to others. The ward is led by a bishop and two counselors (see Bishopric). An executive secretary and ward clerks assist the bishopric with the tasks of record keeping and management. Priesthood and auxiliary presidencies (a president and two counselors) are assigned to attend to various needs of ward members. Other leaders supervise missionary activities, provide gospel instruction, and help ward members with temporal needs, such as searching for employment. Frequent social and service activities involve adults and youth.

Typically, the administration of the ward is carried out in a weekly bishopric meeting attended by the bishop, his two counselors, and his executive secretary. These same men hold a weekly ward priesthood executive committee meeting with the high priest group leader, the elders quorum president, the ward mission leader, and the young men president. They consider such matters as ward temple attendance, family history activity, missionary work, home teaching, and member activation. When the female Relief Society president attends this meeting (at least monthly) for a discussion of the temporal needs of ward members, it becomes the ward Welfare Services committee. The Relief Society president helps the bishop coordinate appropriate assistance and compassionate service to the sick, the aged, the lonely, and the needy. Under her direction, monthly home visits are made to each adult woman in the ward in which brief gospel instruction and encouragement are given (see Visiting Teaching). Once each month this ward Welfare Services group becomes the ward council when joined by the Sunday school president, the young women president, the primary president, and the activities committee chairman. The ward council discusses and plans all ward activities and correlates the services and programs of the Church in relation to individuals and families. Historically, youth usually have been given leadership roles in planning their own activities and in helping with events to which all ward members are invited. Since the mid-1970s, youth leadership has been nurtured on a monthly basis by the bishopric in the bishopric youth committee meeting, where youth activities and service projects are planned. Often members of a ward activities committee are called to supervise and carry out special wardwide events as requested by the bishopric.

Since 1980, when the Church adopted the consolidated meeting schedule, each ward holds three general meetings during a three-hour block of time on Sunday. In Sacrament meeting family members worship together, renew covenants through partaking of the Sacrament, and listen to talks and sermons based on the scriptures. During a second hour, Sunday School classes are held in age groups from twelve to adult. Each year in the adult classes, one of the standard works of scripture is studied: Old Testament, New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. During a third hour Priesthood quorums, Young Women, and Relief Society meet separately, where youth, men, and women are taught how to put gospel principles into action in everyday life. Priesthood quorums and the Relief Society are the service arms of the ward. Their members provide the volunteer help necessary to implement the plans made by the bishopric and auxiliary leaders. Adult holders of the priesthood attend quorum meetings according to whether they are high priests or elders. Young men (ages twelve to eighteen) meet in Aaronic Priesthood quorums for deacons (ages twelve and thirteen), teachers (ages fourteen and fifteen), and priests (ages sixteen to eighteen). The Young Women are organized in age groups similar to the Young Men: Beehives (ages twelve and thirteen), Mia Maids (ages fourteen and fifteen), and Laurels (ages sixteen and seventeen). From age eighteen, women are members of the Relief Society, a benevolent society dedicated to caring for the needy and to assisting in spiritual, social, and personal development. Relief Society lessons focus on spiritual living, home and family education, compassionate service, and social relations.

Concurrent with the Sunday School and the men's and women's activities, the primary organization holds a nursery for children from ages eighteen months to three years, and classes for those three through eleven years of age, where children are taught lessons about Jesus Christ and the scriptures and are involved in singing and speaking.

Special activities (service projects and socials) are held for the women and youth on a day other than Sunday. The Relief Society holds a monthly evening meeting in which the sisters are taught home management techniques and skills.

The bishop is responsible for the finances of the ward, and is assisted in this matter by a financial clerk. Ward activities are either financed locally by individual contributions of ward members, or by a system wherein each ward receives an operating budget from general tithing funds based on the number and level of activity of its members. There are to be no other fund-raising activities.

The ward organization is a tool to help assure that Church activities complement, rather than compete with, family activities; that social activities are inclusive, rather than exclusive; and to nurture those who feel that geographic boundaries are artificial and thus exclude them from Sabbath day association with longtime Church friends.

Ideally, the ward organization becomes the means of creating an intimate religious community where the work of the kingdom of God on earth is carried out by every member in a lay ministry. Through the ward organization members teach the gospel, perform the ordinances, provide fellowship with the saints, and in all ways nurture one another in the faith.

Bibliography

Alder, Douglas D. "The Mormon Ward: Congregation or Community?" Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978):61-78.

Arrington, Leonard J., and Davis Bitton. "The Nineteenth Century Ward." In The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 206-219. New York, 1979.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


Ward Welfare Committee

by John H. Cox

Certain officers of each ward form the ward Welfare committee, headed by the bishop. Through his priesthood calling, the bishop is entrusted with the sacred responsibility to know the temporal circumstances of his ward members and to ensure that proper care is given to those in need (D&C 84:112).

The bishop is assisted in these efforts by his two counselors, the high priests quorum group leader, the elders quorum president, the young men president, the Relief Society presidency, the ward executive secretary, the ward clerk, and others. The bishop convenes the ward Welfare committee at least monthly. These leaders report and confidentially discuss any Welfare needs in the ward that they have become aware of, either personally or by reports from home teachers and visiting teachers. Where possible, the priesthood quorums and the Relief Society serve as the first Church source of assistance to members who need help beyond what the family can provide (D&C 52:39-40). When these ward resources have been exhausted, the committee may suggest that additional help be sought from the "Lord's storehouse" (D&C 51:13; 83:5-6) or from other people or services.

In addition, the committee may also help ward members in learning to provide for themselves and their families, to live the principle of the monthly fast, and to contribute a generous monetary fast offering, and in preparing for unexpected adversity, rendering service in return for Church assistance, and preparing for emergencies in the community.

(See Welfare and Humanitarian Assistance home page)

Bibliography

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Caring for the Needy, pp. 4-5. Salt Lake City, 1986.

Romney, Marion G. "The Role of Bishops in Welfare Services." Ensign 7 (Nov. 1977):79-81.

Welfare Services Resource Handbook, pp. 8-10. Salt Lake City, 1980.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


(See Basic Beliefs home page; Church Organization and Priesthood Authority home page)

All About Mormons