Emeritus general authorities welcome the chance to practice what they've preached

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Elder Marlin K. Jensen with his horses, Peaches and Cream, in Huntsville, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

During the Saturday afternoon session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this weekend, a member of the church's First Presidency will make it official: Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy will become an emeritus general authority.

It isn't a big surprise — for two reasons. First, it was announced in January that he would be released as LDS Church historian and recorder and as executive director of the church's Historical Department and replaced in those positions by Elder Steven E. Snow, who was then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy. A First Presidency letter at the time said Elder Jensen "will be released from the First Quorum of the Seventy and given emeritus status in October."

And second, Elder Jensen turned 70 in May, and the recent history of LDS Church general leadership has been that members of the Seventy are extended emeritus status the October conference following their 70th birthdays. Indeed, there are three other members of the First and Second quorums of the Seventy who have turned 70 this year, so it is likely that Elder Jensen’s name won’t be the only one added this conference to the list of 77 men who have been given emeritus status since Sept. 30, 1978, when Elders James A. Cullimore, Henry D. Taylor and S. Dilworth Young became the church’s first emeritus general authorities.

'Not released'

“These brethren are not being released but will be excused from active service,” said President N. Eldon Tanner, then first counselor in the First Presidency, in announcing during general conference the new emeritus designation. “It is out of consideration for the personal well-being of the individuals, and with deep appreciation for their devoted service, that this designation will be given from time to time to designated members of the general authorities.”

The LDS Church website indicates that "members of the First Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve until the age of 70, at which time they are given emeritus status (similar to being released). Members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy typically serve for three to five years; after this time, they are released."

Prior to 1978, general authorities served for the rest of their lives, according to Elder Bruce C. Hafen, who was given emeritus status in 2010.

“Having a designated age for retirement is a good way to bring new blood and fresh perspective into the quorums of the Seventies,” he said from his home in St. George, where he is currently serving as president of the St. George Temple. “It allows the brethren to experience the natural retirement years that happen to everyone eventually. And it is consistent with our experience elsewhere in the church, where you can be a bishop one week and Scoutmaster the next. That is the natural ebb and flow of church service that is familiar and comfortable to all Latter-day Saints.”

'Flow' to emeritus

So Elder Jensen’s “flow” to emeritus status comes as no surprise. But it is most welcome — at least as far as Elder Jensen is concerned.

"I've been looking forward to this," he said from his home in Huntsville, Weber County, during a recent telephone interview. "I'm excited for the opportunity to be less public. It will be refreshing."

A general authority since April 1989, Elder Jensen said he's been living the life of an emeritus general authority since early August.

"The church assignment year begins Aug. 1, so practically speaking I've been a free agent since then," he said, chuckling.

Looking back on the past two months of "free agency," he said "it's an interesting transition."

"You sort of have removed now all of the external trappings of your church life — 'defrocked' would be a good word if we were Catholic," he said. "Now you're just practicing what you've been preaching, and living as an ordinary Latter-day Saint."

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