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January 15, 2009
In The Village
Quorum or Posse? - Priesthood Meeting Part 1
by Orson Scott Card

It has happened more than once with young men that I know. They were doing fine in the Young Men's program and Aaronic priesthood. Then they turned eighteen, moved into the elders quorum, and within weeks or months they were completely inactive.

No, it wasn't going to the university that did it. They weren't drawn into sinful lives -- far from it. As near as we can determine, they had simply lost any sense of belonging to something.

In our ward, the Aaronic priesthood quorums have been a powerful social force. The boys are fiercely loyal to each other and many become close friends. Most of them go to seminary faithfully. They do activities together beyond the regularly scheduled ones.

So it's likely that part of what disappoints them in transitioning to the elders quorum is that "quorum" no longer means anything like what it meant before.

Our elders quorum leadership is working on the problem. The whole quorum can't stop being who they are: The needs and interests and available time of young married men are not at all similar to those of unmarried fresh-out-of-high-school pre-mission boys.

Besides, the idea is for the boys to leave the Aaronic priesthood and join the men, who are leading men's lives and doing manly things. Career, marriage, family -- it's good for boys to be among the men and accepted by them.

They can still play basketball. It should be perfectly easy, within the existing elders quorums, to create activities that will interest the younger men of the quorum.

And it would help if the rule that absolutely forbids kids over 18 to take part in dances and activities of the youth were relaxed. Let that cut-off line be 19 or 20, and let them stay in the same dating and socializing pools they have been in for the past six years.

Then, instead of being socially lost among older guys whom they do not know and with whose lives they don't overlap at all, they could have the best of both worlds.

They could hold on to their friendships with other young men who haven't hit the age of 18, and continue to see and socialize with the Young Women.

But on Sunday, during that third hour, they would be among the men.

Which brings us to a problem that I think affects far more than our young prospective elders:

Churchwide, on average, elders quorums may have the absolute worst teaching anywhere.

Of course there are wonderful exceptions. But by and large, the standards of teaching are astonishingly low.

When I was elders quorum president in South Bend, Indiana, back in the 1980s, I was already aware of the problem. I had a serious case of Relief Society envy.

I knew that the women took lesson preparation seriously. Four different teachers had plenty of time to prepare, and each of them knew that the respect of her sisters depended on her having an excellent lesson every month.

But the men were almost proud of how unprepared they were.

I wish I had a dollar for every elders quorum lesson that begins like this:

"I completely forgot I was supposed to teach this week until I got to church this morning, so I read the lesson during sacrament meeting and ..."

Or: "Who's got the lesson this week? Is there anyone who prepared a lesson? OK, I guess I'm doing it."

I remember a high priests group meeting, years ago, in which we almost gasped with shock when Rick Anderson actually brought a cd player into the room so he could get us to listen to something. It's not that we're averse to audiovisual aids -- in fact, showing a church video instead of having a lesson is a frequent way to put quorums to sleep when nobody prepared a lesson -- it's that Rick had actually prepared something.

It's some kind of macho pose, I think, that we Melchizedek priesthood holders don't actually have to prepare. Preparing a lesson is somehow womanly.

We men can just delve into our vast knowledge of the gospel (our personal assortment of faith-promoting rumors, vague memories of seminary and institute classes, missionary stories, and web weepers) and out will come ... incoherency.

It's as if every lesson has to be an emergency. As if we didn't have regularly scheduled meetings, but rather were thrown together on an emergency basis, week after week, and had to wing it as best we could.

When we act that way, we're not a quorum, we're a posse. The leaders call out to whatever men happen to be standing around. "Quick! Mount your horses, we've got to head 'em off at the pass! Anybody have bullets?"

I'm only half joking. I know my ward's elders quorum presidency take teaching very seriously, and the chaotic emergency scenario almost never happens.

But even in quorums that are trying to do it right, quorum members still find, far too often, that their hour in priesthood meeting is the least interesting, least useful hour of the week. Just behind falling asleep watching TV while holding a semi-fussy baby -- because at home the chair is more comfortable.

What can we do about this? How can we change elders quorum to what it should be -- the best hour of the week for the men of the Church? A vibrant, exciting place for Young Men to graduate to?

That's what my next column will attempt to answer.


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