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[This entry consists of two articles: Stake Patriarch and Patriarch to the Church. A patriarch is a Church priesthood calling. Each stake has one or more Patriarchs and their duties are given in the first article. The second article gives the History of the Church office Patriarch to the Church.]
by Ariel S. Ballif
Each stake in the Church has at least one patriarch ordained, as the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, "for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his sons" (WJS, p. 6). Age is not a factor, and the call, which is for voluntary service in giving patriarchal blessings to stake members, may come to any worthy, spiritually mature high priest.
The fathers from Adam to Jacob are seen as Patriarchs of this order. The word "patriarch" is often used in the Bible as a title of honor for the early leaders of the Israelites. It is perhaps in this sense that Peter spoke of "the patriarch David" (Acts 2:29). Stephen spoke of the sons of Jacob as "the Twelve Patriarchs" (Acts 7:8-9). These men may have been natural Patriarchs, being fathers, and some of them may also have been ordained to the patriarchal priesthood. By right of this priesthood and under inspiration, they could confer upon their sons and daughters promises, privileges, and duties like unto those of the family of Abraham.
The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of "evangelical ministers," which is understood to refer to Patriarchs. The Council of the Twelve Apostles has the responsibility of calling and ordaining stake Patriarchs "as they shall be designated unto them by revelation" (D&C 107:39). This responsibility is now generally delegated to stake presidents. A stake patriarch may also give patriarchal blessings outside his stake to members of his own family. If he moves to another stake, his jurisdiction there requires approval through the Council of the Twelve.
The training and preparation of Patriarchs includes spiritual enhancement through prayer and righteous living, constant study of the scriptural and historical heritage of the calling, and occasional meetings where they are instructed by their leaders.
Members of the Church receive a blessing from a stake patriarch only on a bishop's recommendation following an interview. Approval is based on a desire and readiness to receive the blessing, and on personal worthiness as shown by faithfulness in the gospel and Church service. The blessing is given in a quiet setting, usually a room in the stake center or the home of the patriarch. Parents, a spouse, or other immediate family members may be invited to witness the blessing. The recipient is seated. The patriarch lays his hands on the head of the person and invokes the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In the spirit of fasting and prayer all present are united in faith to seek inspired insight into the birthright blessings and destinies of the recipient. The patriarch also seeks inspiration to specify the dominant family line that leads back to Abraham. Then, as manifested by the Spirit, the patriarch gives admonitions, promises, and assurances.
The stake patriarch always records and transcribes the blessings he gives. The original copy is sent to the patriarchal division of the Church Historical Department. A copy given to the individual becomes a permanent record that is held sacred. It is usually available only to the recipient, or later to his family and descendants.
The appointment of stake Patriarchs does not preempt the calling and right of every father in the Church who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood also to give each of his children father's blessings. Both ordained Patriarchs and priesthood-bearing fathers have the power, through spiritual inspiration, to give a priesthood blessing that will look down the corridor of time and expand the vision, strengthen the faith, and clarify the life mission of the one receiving the blessing.
Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations, chap. 16, pp. 321-25. Salt Lake City, 1967.
Patriarch To the Church
by Calvin R. Stephens
Before 1979, Patriarch to the Church was a Church officer whose chief duty was to confer patriarchal blessings on Church members who generally did not have the service of stake Patriarchs readily available to them. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that an "evangelist" (as in Ephesians 4:11) is a "patriarch" (TPJS, p. 151); that is, he confers the blessings of a patriarch upon members of the Church. Patriarchs are currently ordained in individual stakes of the Church, but for many years there was a patriarch to the entire Church. He was considered one of the General Authorities.
On December 18, 1833, in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith, Sr., was ordained the first Patriarch to the Church (D&C 107:39-56), with jurisdiction throughout the Church. Upon his death, he was succeeded by his oldest living son, Hyrum Smith, who served until he was martyred on June 27, 1844. William Smith, a younger brother, was ordained Patriarch to the Church on May 24, 1845, by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but William was rejected by the Church on October 6, 1845, for misconduct. The office was vacant until January 1, 1849, when John Smith, brother of Joseph Smith, Sr., was called. He served until his death on May 23, 1854.
A second John Smith, son of Hyrum Smith, was Patriarch to the Church from February 18, 1855, until November 6, 1911. Hyrum Gibbs Smith, grandson of the second John Smith, then served from May 9, 1912, until February 4, 1932. For ten years Acting Patriarchs were called who were not in the direct hereditary line. They included Nicholas G. Smith (October 1932 to October 1934), Frank B. Woodbury (June 1935 to October 1937), and George F. Richards (October 1937 to October 1942).
The call returned to the hereditary line on October 3, 1942, with the call of Elder Joseph Fielding Smith (1899-1964), a great-grandson of Hyrum Smith. He was released at his own request on October 7, 1946, because of poor health. Eldred G. Smith, eldest son of Hyrum Gibbs Smith, was called in April 1947.
In 1979 the office of Patriarch to the Church was retired "because of the large increase in the number of stake Patriarchs and the availability of patriarchal service throughout the world." Eldred G. Smith was designated "a Patriarch Emeritus, which means that he is honorably relieved of all duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of Patriarch to the Church" (CR [Oct. 1979]:25).
Smith, Joseph Fielding. In Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Vol. 3, pp. 104-108, 162-72. Salt Lake City, 1956.
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Church Organization and Priesthood Authority home page; Priesthood Organization home page; Melchizedek Priesthood home page)
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Patriarch
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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