In the last post on the Handbook, I noted that Church leadership seems to me to have emphasized collaborative leadership in recent decades. For the issues that face most Church members on a weekly basis, the Ward Council is where that collaborative leadership actually happens.
But as I look at what the handbook says, it often seems like there is some distance between it and what happens in wards and branches, or at least in some of the wards I’ve seen. But I suspect that wards and branches that actually read the handbook may be better.
Perhaps more importantly, there are concepts in this chapter that are significant and important. Here are those I thought were interesting and my comments on them:
- The initial section makes several interesting statements. For example, it implies that the has four levels, general, area, stake and ward. However, I think this may be somewhat simplistic, since missions don’t quite fit on any area — mission branches are at the ward level and mission districts at the stake level, but missions are not at the area level.
- The first section also indicates that councils operate at each level in the Church. At the ward level there are three: the bishopric, the priesthood executive committee and the ward council. As I understand it at the stake level there is a stake priesthood executive committee, the stake council, a stake Aaronic Priesthood-Young Women committee, the stake young single adult committee, and the stake single adult committee. Above that things are quite murky (at least to me). On the general level, I know that there is a council on the disposition of the tithes, a missionary committee and several others. I wonder if there is a complete list somewhere.
- I found another interesting statement in the first statement of section 4.2, which discusses the bishopric. The bishopric, it says, has responsibility for “all ward members, organizations and activities.” Do these three encompass all the objects of responsibility?
- In section 4.2 it also says, “the bishop does not share information that he should keep confidential.” This, of course, begs the question what information should he keep confidential? There is probably a whole blog post in this question, but off the top of my head it seems like much of what is confidential depends on the cultural environment. What is confidential in one culture isn’t necessarily confidential in another.
- In the discussion of the priesthood executive committee, the handbook tries to distinguish between that committee and the ward council, saying that the priesthood executive committee considers priesthood matters. So what matters are priesthood matters and what are not? I’m not at all clear about what the boundary is!
- In sub-section 4.5.1 the handbook talks about how ward council members “stay informed” about members, including those with “special challenges” (kind of an obtuse euphemism!). But given the earlier emphasis on privacy, I have to wonder where the balance is between “staying informed” and individual and family privacy.
- The last section looks at what happens in ward council meetings, starting with some general principles for the meetings. One of these is the idea that the meeting “spends minimal time on calendaring, activity planning, and other administrative business.” I assume this is prescriptive, and not descriptive?
- These principles also include the statement that “Both men and women should feel that their comments are valued as full participants.” This has been, I believe, a fairly common complaint from women—that their participation isn’t valued the same as men.
- Overall, these principles suggest that the bishop should be seeking “spiritual confirmation and unity” in decisions, but that once a bishop has made the decision, council members should support it “in a spirit of unity and harmony.”
- Sub-section 4.6.2 includes a sample agenda for ward council meetings which focuses on individual and family progression. The next sub-section goes on to say “The council’s focus is on helping people, not administering programs.” I think that could be a very useful quote.
- The handbook also addresses another common complaint, the burden on council members, saying “Each member’s first priority is to his or her family. The ward council ensures and appropriate balance between the member’s family obligations and his or her responsibilities in the Church.”
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