Was Mitt Romney the 'quintessential' Mormon stake president?

A look at volunteer LDS leaders

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Douglas L. Talley is the president of the Akron, Ohio Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Phil Masturzo, MCT

By most accounts, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was effective as a stake president in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One blogger refers to him as "the quintessential example" of an LDS stake president.

However, a recent study by the Brookings Institution indicated that even after all of the publicity and coverage of what has been called "the Mormon moment," fully 82 percent of Americans say they know "little" or "nothing" about the LDS Church. So the complexities of the church's organizational structure are likely lost on most people, who probably think a stake president is the guy in charge of the rib eye at Sizzler.

The LDS Church understands that, and has recently released a detailed discussion of the church's lay ministry — complete with infographic.

"In a church with lay leadership," the web document states, "the work of the individual congregations depends wholly on the volunteer efforts of the local members."

And in Boston, Mass., during the 1980s and early 1990s, that included significant, time-consuming volunteer efforts from Romney.

As a stake president, Romney served in an administrative position similar to that of bishop in other Christian churches. He was the spiritual leader for a number of LDS congregations in the Boston area. Those individual congregations are called "wards" and are led by a lay minister called a "bishop." Romney served as a bishop of a Boston-area ward from 1981-86. When Romney was president of what is called the Boston Massachusetts Stake, from 1986-94, all of the bishops in the stake as well as all of the members of the church who lived in that geographical area were within his jurisdiction.

If Romney was indeed the "quintessential" stake president, he spent anywhere between 20-30 hours a week — sometimes more — in his ecclesiastical responsibilites, which included administrative, ministerial, organizational and financial oversight for the entire stake. He might spend one evening conducting personal, one-on-one interviews with stake members seeking spiritual advice, financial counsel or personal guidance. Another night might find him playing volleyball with teenagers during a stake youth activity. Sundays usually began early with meetings with other ecclesiastical leaders in the stake, then extended through worship services in several different wards, and then concluded with more of those personal interviews. And twice each year he was in charge of stake conferences, during which all members of the stake gathered to hear him and other church leaders teach, instruct, inspire and motivate.

As with all lay ministers of the LDS Church, Romney invested all of his time in this church assignment without financial compensation, performing his professional responsibilities during the day and filling his evenings and weekends with duties in his church ministry.

"These are volunteers in the sense that they are not paid, but they are not volunteers in that they don't volunteer for the position," said Elder L. Whitney Clayton, a member of the LDS Church's Presidency of the Seventy, who oversees the work of stake presidents all around the world. "No one ever campaigns to be a stake president. I've never received letters, or seen any sort of organized effort to promote someone to be a stake president."

Instead, Elder Clayton said, the calling of a stake president "is a very private and inspiring process."

Unlike ministers from other faiths who feel they receive their call to the ministry directly through the inspiration of God, the calling of an LDS stake president is a formal, official invitation to serve from church leaders who extend the call after study, prayer and inspiration from God.

Process of revelation

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