LDS Church drops 'student' wards, stakes for 'YSA' units

Published: Thursday, June 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Fifty-five years after it created its first student wards and stakes at BYU, the LDS Church is doing away with its "student" unit designation.

And in its place are newly formed "young single adult" wards and stakes throughout Utah as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reorganizes, realigns and renames its congregational units for Mormons ages 18 to 30.

 The reorganization: Gone are the single student wards and stakes and the designated young single adult wards and branches in the conventional home stakes, being replaced by general, all-encompassing young single adult wards and stakes for any Latter-day Saint — student or not — in the 18-to-30 age group. And the average YSA ward, or congregation, will average between 100 and 150 members, with a YSA stake typically comprised of a half-dozen to 10 wards. Many student and current YSA wards try to have similar membership numbers, although some are larger.

 The realignment: Young single adult wards and stakes are being realigned geographically, in some cases ending up with a smaller area than previous student units. And the YSA stakes are aligned more closely with the conventional home stakes to enhance communication and coordination between the leaders of both when it comes to young single adult members, efforts and activities.

 And the renaming: Except in rare circumstances, young single adult wards stakes will not carry institutional names like BYU 5th Stake but rather city or other community-related names, such as Provo Utah 1st YSA Stake or Salt Lake City 10th YSA Ward.

Currently under way along the Wasatch Front, the changes could affect 90,000 such members in the Salt Lake and Davis counties and another 65,000 in Utah County.

"It's a transition to young single adult stakes — the distinction between student and non-student is gone because that's become more and more blurred as the years have gone on," said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy, who oversees the church's Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City and Utah South areas.

Previously, members ages 18 to 30 might have attended a conventional home ward, a student ward, a young single adult branch or ward in the home stake, or a cultural or language-specific unit (such as Tongan or Spanish).

Saying, "this age group tends to drift a little," Elder Snow said the result of the changes is that a young single adult simply has two options — either the home ward/stake where they live or the new, corresponding young single adult ward/stake.

"We hope it reduces confusion in their minds — where their priesthood leaders are, where they should go to church, where they should worship," Elder Snow said.

"We hope it will provide enhanced opportunities to serve in leadership positions and to teach and lead. We hope it enhances their opportunities to meet other people and to give opportunities. And we want to deliver this opportunities in a geographic area and not require them to travel clear across the valley to attend church."

Some of the YSA ward and stake composition may not change much in Utah County in the areas of high student residency surrounding the BYU and Utah Valley University campuses. However, with the University of Utah being more of a commuter campus, changes may be more obvious — with a young single LDS student in Herriman no longer having to drive close to the U. campus for church participation but instead able to attend a YSA ward much closer to home.

While Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties currently are in the throes of the restructuring and realignments, other parts of the stake have already made the change.

Early last year, the church's First Presidency asked that all student stakes in Utah — previously restricted to only enrolled college students — be opened up to all young single adults.

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