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The Presiding Bishopric in 1947 (from left): first counselor Joseph L. Wirthlin, presiding bishop LeGrand Richards, and second counselor Thorpe B. Isaacson. Under the energetic leadership of Richards, the Presiding Bishopric improved record-keeping, youth programs, ward teaching, and management of Church properties and temporal affairs.
by H. David Burton and Wm. Gibb Dyer, Jr.
Also see Presiding Bishopric: Present Members
The Presiding Bishopric consists of three men, the Presiding Bishop and his two counselors, who comprise one of the presiding councils of THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints. These General Authorities, who each hold the office of bishop, serve in their positions under the direct supervision of the First Presidency. Since its formation, the Presiding Bishopric has been responsible for many of the temporal affairs of the Church. These have included involvement in receiving, distributing, and accounting for member tithes, offerings, and contributions; administration of programs to assist the poor and needy; design, construction, and maintenance of places of worship; and auditing and transferring records of membership (see Bishop, History of the Office; Financial Contributions; Record Keeping; Welfare). Men chosen to be Presiding Bishops have been recognized for their business and management skills as well as their religious commitment. Historically, the Presiding Bishopric has presided over the Aaronic Priesthood. As General Authorities, members of the Presiding Bishopric regularly speak at general conferences, often specifically addressing the young men of the Church.
The Presiding Bishop is selected by the First Presidency and then approved by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He chooses two men to serve as his counselors, who are also approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and they are all then sustained by the Church membership. The Presiding Bishop and his counselors are set apart and empowered by the First Presidency and given the priesthood keys and authority to act in their respective offices. At first, Presiding Bishops held office for life, but in the twentieth century they have been released and replaced as circumstances and Church needs have dictated.
On February 4, 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith called Edward Partridge to serve as the first bishop of the Church. Bishop Partridge was to spend the majority of his time managing the receipt, control, and disposition of the consecrated properties and of donations received by the Church (see Consecration; Fast Offerings; Tithing). He was to care for the poor and needy and to store surplus items for the future needs of the Church. After Bishop Partridge was called, it was revealed to Joseph Smith that other bishops would be chosen. On December 4, 1831, Newel K. Whitney was also called, by revelation (D&C 72:8), to serve as a bishop. The two bishops had different jurisdictions, Whitney in Ohio and Partridge in Missouri. In Nauvoo they both had a general jurisdiction but also supervised donations and the caring for the poor in a particular city ward. In 1847, Newel K. Whitney was designated the first Presiding Bishop.
Throughout the History of the Church, the First Presidency has assigned Presiding Bishoprics extensive but varying responsibilities with the Aaronic Priesthood and the youth of the Church. In 1873 President Brigham Young assigned the Presiding Bishopric to organize full Aaronic Priesthood quorums of priests, teachers, and deacons throughout the Church. In 1876 he clarified the Presiding Bishop's position as general president of the Aaronic Priesthood. In 1937 the Presiding Bishopric was assigned responsibility for the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association, and in 1946 for the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association. These programs were designed to provide a balance of religious study, social skills, community awareness, and physical development for LDS youth (see Young Men; Young Women). Since 1977 the First Presidency has administered the Aaronic Priesthood programs directly through a Young Men's presidency called from the Quorums of the Seventy.
Prior to 1847, Bishops Partridge, Whitney, and Partridge's replacement, George Miller, served as general bishops to the Church. Presiding Bishops and their terms of service after 1847 have been Newel K. Whitney (1847-1851), Edward Hunter (1851-1883), William B. Preston (1884-1908), Charles W. Nibley (1907-1925), Sylvester Q. Cannon (1925-1938), LeGrand Richards (1938-1952), Joseph B. Wirthlin (1952-1961), John H. Vandenberg (1961-1972), Victor L. Brown (1972-1985), and Robert D. Hales (from 1985).
Until recent times, these men visited wards and stakes, conducted training sessions for bishops at general conferences, and published bulletins and training materials for bishops and local priesthood quorums. At the present time the Presiding Bishopric does not directly supervise other bishops or preside over local wards of the Church.
By scriptural designation the Presiding Bishopric, the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles constitute the Council on the Disposition of Tithes (D&C 120). This council monitors receipt of tithes and controls expenditure of funds. It meets periodically to consider matters of financial importance and to authorize budgets for Church organizations and departments (see Finances of the Church). Members of the Presiding Bishopric, as appointed by the First Presidency, additionally serve on various other administrative, executive, and policy-determining committees and councils, such as the Appropriations Committee, General Welfare Services Committee, Priesthood Executive Council, Temple and Family History Executive Council, and the Missionary Executive Council (see Organization: Contemporary).
In 1977 a major organizational restructuring took place within the Church under the direction of the First Presidency. With the significant growth in Church membership the Presiding Bishopric was assigned much broader responsibilities for temporal administration throughout the world. Under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric, directors for temporal affairs were sent to a number of international locations to supervise the administration of the construction of meetinghouses and temples, the maintenance of membership records, and the preparation and distribution of scriptures and other curriculum materials. Departments at Church headquarters responsible for temporal operations were also assigned to the Presiding Bishopric for their direction. Since that time, the Presiding Bishopric has appointed managing directors for the various departments that support activities of the directors of temporal affairs, which include finance and records, LDS foundation, printing services, distribution of curriculum materials, purchasing, scripture and curriculum translation, temple clothing production, transportation, information systems and communications, security, investments, temples and special project construction and remodeling, real estate acquisitions and sales, meetinghouse construction, Welfare production and processing, LDS Social Services, and property management.
In 1986 the First Presidency called area presidencies to give supervision to ecclesiastical activities within defined geographical areas of the world. These area presidencies presently give direct supervision to directors for temporal affairs in international areas and to Welfare and physical facilities activities in the United States and Canada. The Presiding Bishopric, along with headquarters departments, provides training, evaluation, manpower planning, technical support, and program design to assist area presidencies in their roles.
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Church Organization and Priesthood Authority home page; Priesthood Organization home page)
Cowan, Richard O. The Church in the Twentieth Century, pp. 140, 270, 297, 406-407, 420. Salt Lake City, 1985.
Palmer, Lee A. Aaronic Priesthood through the Ages, pp. 321-31. Salt Lake City, 1964.
Widtsoe, John A. Priesthood and Church Government, rev. ed., pp. 277-79. Salt Lake City, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Presiding Bishop
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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