When Wilford Woodruff, as a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, served a mission to Arkansas and Tennessee in 1834, his life was spared dramatically by divine power, and he was frequently blessed with the administration of angels. Testifying later of the magnitude of Aaronic Priesthood power, he said:
“A man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood. … It does not make any difference whether a man is a priest or an apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A priest holds the key of the ministering of angels. Never in my life, as an apostle, as a seventy, or as an elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office as a priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, pp. 298, 300.)
The Aaronic Priesthood, generally held by young men from twelve to eighteen years of age, is still in force today. The majesty of the office and the dignity of the priesthood power remain unchanged.
As young men use their priesthood, they perform an important service within the Church. But perhaps more importantly, they learn the value of priesthood power.
For example, when Kenneth Miklya was converted to the gospel, the priests quorum in the St. Paul Minnesota First Ward took care of all the baptismal arrangements, under the bishop’s direction. One seventeen-year-old priest conducted the service, another presented an appropriate spiritual message, and a third baptized him. During the following months Ken received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon, a teacher, and a priest—all at the hands of his fellow priests quorum members. “It was a meaningful experience for all the young men involved,” says Thomas A. Holt of the St. Paul Minnesota Stake. “The priesthood became a reality to them. Most of these young men are currently serving missions.”
In the neighboring St. Paul Minnesota Second Ward, deacons quorum adviser Kent Crookston regularly reviews the atonement, the role of the Savior, and the plan of salvation to help the deacons better understand the sacredness of the sacrament. “Passing the sacrament can become just a weekly habit unless we help the young men realize their responsibility,” he says. “Then every six months, our deacons instruct the elders how to pass the sacrament efficiently so that they can do it reverently when asked to do so. This helps the deacons realize that they have a responsibility to assist the higher priesthood.”
The Aaronic Priesthood also helps young men prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Valuable in-service leadership training is offered to deacons, teachers, and priests. The Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Guidebook, used in twenty- to thirty-minute training sessions during weekly quorum presidency meetings, gives helpful information on such topics as presiding in a quorum, delegating and following through, teaching and activating quorum members, and preparing them for missions.
Are these training sessions effective?
Yes, say the young men and their priesthood leaders. Randy Beddes, a priest from Lovell, Wyoming, remembers that when he was deacons quorum president, he tried to do everything himself—planning all the special activities, making all the arrangements, running the whole program. “But I’ve learned that there’s a better way to do things,” he says. Now, as the bishop’s first assistant in the priests quorum, he makes a lot of assignments to others, giving clear instructions on what is expected, and providing an opportunity for following up. “We get a lot more done,” says Randy, “and a lot more guys get involved.”
A member of the Young Men General Board tells of attending a priests quorum meeting in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Stake—without notifying the local leaders that he was going to be there. “The quorum couldn’t have been better prepared if they were anticipating a visitor,” he says. “All seven young men wore ties and suits or sports coats, and almost all had missionary haircuts. The bishop sat in the back seat for the full meeting while his assistant (one of the young men) took charge with as much dignity as any bishop or stake president I have ever seen. And he did a superb job of making assignments—no horse play. It was obvious that they had had a quorum presidency meeting.”
This kind of leadership training is so valuable, says Brother Neil D. Schaerrer, general president of the Young Men organization, that he would like to see every young man have the opportunity to serve in each of the Aaronic Priesthood leadership positions. President Schaerrer tried implementing this when he served in a bishopric, and found that attendance increased and that the young men accepted these leadership opportunities with dignity.
“Of course,” he says, “presidencies should be called through inspiration. But if all boys could be prepared to serve in these offices, they would have several consecutive months of leadership experience before leaving each quorum. They learn more about leadership, service, and testimony—all things that will help them as they set forth as Melchizedek Priesthood holders on their missions.”
As President Schaerrer notes, missionary preparation begins early in the Aaronic Priesthood, and leaders all over the Church are doing their part to increase the missionary ranks. For example, Bishop Willard R. Phillips of the Clovis Ward, Roswell New Mexico Stake, fills out a missionary application form as he interviews each deacon for the first time. He lets the boys know that he, the prophet, and the Lord expect them to prepare for a mission. Then annually (twice a year for the priests) he reviews the form with them and discusses the requirements.
Bishop Don A. Florian, Southington Ward, Hartford Connecticut Stake, keeps a card file to be sure that each youth speaks in sacrament meeting at least twice a year, and he encourages the young men to earn their own missionary funds.
He also keeps his priests in close contact with the full-time missionaries assigned to the ward. Observing missionary dress standards, the priests teach and baptize converts.
Monte Carlson occasionally asks returned missionaries to instruct his teachers quorum in the Twin Falls Idaho Seventh Ward on how to be missionaries. They discuss topics ranging from scripture study and prayer to preparing meals and adjusting to different cultures.
When a young lady in the St. Paul Minnesota Second Ward married a nonmember who is a safety engineer, the deacons made arrangements with him to go on a safety tour as part of a merit badge requirement. Quorum adviser Brother Kent Crookston urged them to look upon the tour not only as a chance to earn a merit badge, but also as a missionary opportunity to be a good example of LDS youth.
On another occasion, a canoeing trip for a merit badge became a day of fellowshipping—the boys used the home of a nonmember father as their point of departure and included the father in their activities.
Home teaching also inspires young men to serve missions. For example, before his mission, Paul Nielsen of Provo, Utah, served with his dad as home teacher to three inactive families. After receiving his call and entering the Missionary Training Center, Paul learned that one of the families had gone to the temple and been sealed together. “That was my greatest motivation to work hard and really learn Spanish and the discussions,” he says. “My first taste of missionary work was so great that I was more determined than ever to be a successful missionary.”
When Tim Berger of Rapid City, South Dakota, began preparing for a mission, he told his inactive parents that he wanted them to go to the temple with him. They accepted his challenge and did accompany him as he received his endowments.
Also anticipating a mission, sixteen-year-old Bill Ennis from a small dependent branch in Yoakum, Texas, stood up for the Church when anti-Mormon literature was spread throughout the neighborhood. The person responsible was a member of another church which sponsored the Scout troop that Bill belonged to. Bill explained to his Scout leaders that he was a Mormon, that he intended to live his religion, and that the stories being circulated were false. When the leaders took the matter to their minister, the person who initiated the campaign was released from his church position.
But that wasn’t all. The Scout leaders were so impressed with Bill that they invited his LDS mother to be a member of their Scout committee.
Aaronic Priesthood quorums are successfully preparing young men for missionary service—and it is obvious that the evidence isn’t to be found only in missionary statistics, but also in the good missionary work being done right at home.
A major goal of Aaronic Priesthood quorums is to offer opportunity for significant service. The Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Guidebook helps train presidencies to plan and carry out such quorum activities.
For example, the teachers quorum in the Grandview First Ward, Salt Lake Wilford Stake, had a project to serve others anonymously—an idea that excited even normally uninvolved quorum members. On one occasion when the ward Young Men president was digging a root cellar, the boys finished the job in the middle of the night and then left their calling cards: a silhouette of a man, coat collar turned up and hat brim turned down, signed “The Grandview Ward Phantoms.”
They also baked bread and pies—with help from mothers—and left them on neighborhood doorsteps. They dug out driveways and sent get-well cards. Tangible rewards of service were immediately apparent to the busy teachers quorum president when one of his quorum members secretly repaired his bicycle for him, leaving only the “Phantom” calling card as explanation.
Bishop Michael Moeller of the Tucson Arizona Eleventh Ward says his priests enjoy giving service on a regular basis to shut-ins. On Sundays, they visit the shut-ins and conduct a short sacrament service, also making social contact. “It’s sobering for the young men,” says Bishop Moeller, “and beneficial for the older people.”
On a cold afternoon, after a new snowfall of six or seven inches, Phillip Kunz of Provo, Utah, was putting on his coat and boots to shovel the snow from his sidewalk when he caught sight of a group of boys with snow shovels over their shoulders. As they came down the street, several of them dropped off by each driveway.
“Within a short time,” he says, “they had cleared each driveway and had gone on to the next group of houses. Without adult instigation, coercion, or supervision, this group of Aaronic Priesthood boys cleared every driveway in the ward.” Three of the boys had come up with the idea, and almost spontaneously several of their friends joined them. Little by little, the group of boys grew larger, and soon the project was completed.
“Such a project may be rather unique among the youth of the world,” says Brother Kunz, “but it’s certainly not without precedent among Mormon youth. Aaronic Priesthood quorums have been chopping firewood, cutting weeds, and shingling houses for many, many years.”
And as they participate in significant service experiences, they learn how to give of themselves unselfishly. Dale Draper, a fourteen-year-old teacher from Payson, Utah, likes the rewards of sacrifice. “It’s neat,” he says, “to get the feeling that you’re working for the Lord.”
The Aaronic Priesthood can also affect other areas of a young man’s life. Bart McKnight, a seventeen-year-old priest from Nampa, Idaho, finds that the priesthood adds something to his relationship with his dad. “We talk a lot about the priesthood,” he says, “about how to put temptation out of our lives and how to trust the Lord. And then it’s easier to discuss other things. … He’s my friend,” he adds.
Kent Fife, another priest from Nampa, likes the feeling he gets as he honors his priesthood. It started when he first became a deacon. “I still remember how I felt,” he says. “I knew I was doing the right thing. And it still gives me something to work toward.”
Randy Beddes attributes his feelings about the Savior to experiences he’s had in the Aaronic Priesthood. “When I think of his sacrifice during the sacrament, I can really feel its importance.”
Aaronic Priesthood experiences can also help young men prepare for marriage and fatherhood. Indeed, as a young man learns leadership, missionary, and service skills, he learns unselfishness, how to work well with others, how to be responsible and accountable—all of which are vital for his future patriarchal role.
Is all this too much to ask of young men and of Aaronic Priesthood quorums?
No, says President Spencer W. Kimball. We “need to provide continually significant opportunities for our young men to stretch their souls in service. Young men do not usually become inactive in the Church because they are given too many significant things to do. No young man who has really witnessed for himself that the gospel works in the lives of the people will walk away from his duties in the kingdom and leave them undone. …
“We are rearing a royal generation … who have special things to do.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 45.)