Was Mitt Romney the 'quintessential' Mormon stake president?

A look at volunteer LDS leaders

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

The process to which Elder Clayton refers includes at least two general or area church leaders, who travel to the stake as part of a weekend of semi-annual "stake conference" meetings with stake leaders and members. In between regularly scheduled Saturday conference leadership training meetings, the two authorities schedule a series of seven-10-minute interviews with 20-30 men who are already leaders in the stake or whose insights would be valuable in determining the next stake president.

Despite the fact that the visiting authorities rarely know anyone in the stake, Elder Clayton said that by the time the interviews are over "we usually have a tremendous clarity of vision" with regard to who the new president should be. Occasionally there is some discomfort, and additional interviews are conducted until the new stake president is found.

"Keep in mind, we are not there to choose a new stake president," Elder Clayton said. "We are there to FIND the stake president the Lord has chosen for that particular stake at that particular time. That distinction makes all the difference."

The process that Elder Clayton describes happened 365 times last year, according to the announcements of new stake leaders published by the LDS Church News each week. With nearly 3,000 LDS stakes in existence around the world and with the lay leadership of those stakes being rotated regularly, new presidents are called for existing stakes, or new stakes are created throughout the world wherever the church is officially recognized and organized at a rate of about one per day.

Like Mitt?

So if Romney is indeed "the quintessential example" of an LDS stake president, how many of the new stake presidents called last year are like Mitt?

Quite a few, if you look at the occupation of the new stake leaders. While it would be an extraordinarily rare thing for a stake president to hold high political office, of the 365 new stake presidents called during the past year, 147 of them — or 40 percent — are involved in business as managers or executives, as Romney was at the time of his call to be a stake president. Other professions represented among the new stake presidents include educators (36), lawyers (22) and sales professionals (20). Fifteen of the new presidents are self-employed, while another 15 are employed by the LDS Church.

There are also new stake presidents who are police officers, firefighters, auto mechanics, plumbers, farmers, dentists and interior designers.

"There is no financial qualification for being a stake president," Elder Clayton said. "The only qualifications are that they are honest in their business and financial dealings and that they pay a full tithing. We have some stake presidents who are men of great wealth, and others whose lifestyle is anything but luxurious.

"The main thing we look at," he continued, "is that the new stake president's profession — whatever it is — allows him the time and flexibility he will need to be able to give the amount of time it requires to be effective in his calling."

Elder Clayton explained that the calling to be a stake president is time intensive, requiring even more time than what bishops give to their congregations. That time is spent in administrative meetings, attending worship services with the various wards in the stake, participating in service projects and youth activities and individual counseling sessions with stake members.

As far as age is concerned, 14 of the new stake presidents called last year were the same age Romney was — 39 — when he was called to be a stake president. The average age of a new stake president last year was 46.6 years old. The youngest stake president called was 26-year-old Vaianu Bruno Jon Tupai of the Papeari Tahiti Stake, and the eldest was Richard B. Kinnersley, who at age 68 was called to lead the Salt Lake Pioneer YSA Stake, a special stake for young single adults.

"In some parts of the world where the church has been established for years, there are so many men who can serve as stake president, men with such experience and capacity that it is rare that you'd find a very young stake president," Elder Clayton said. "On the other hand, you can go to some places where the church is much less established and the people with the most leadership experience are relatively young men who have served full-time missions for the church. In such areas, it's not at all unusual to find men who are quite young serving as stake presidents."

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