The Preparatory Priesthood

By Marvin K. Gardner

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    It specializes in doing.

    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 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.

    Priesthood Training

    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 by 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.”

    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 meetings, 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 priest 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 priests get involved.”

    This kind of leadership training is so valuable, says Brother Nell 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.”

    Preparation for Missionary Service

    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 number of missionaries. For example, Bishop Willard R. Phillips of the Clovis Ward, Roswell New Mexico Stake, fills 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 speak in sacrament meeting at least twice a year, and he encourages the young men to earn the money to pay for their own mission.

    He also keeps his priests in close contact with the full-time missionaries assigned to the ward. Following missionary dress standards, the priests teach and baptize converts.

    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. “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.”

    Opportunities for Service

    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: “The Grandview Ward Phantoms.”

    They also baked bread and pies—with help from mothers—and left them on neighbor’s doorsteps. They dug out snowbound driveways and sent cards to those who were sick. 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 regular service to people unable to leave their homes. On Sundays, they visit the people who are unable to leave their homes and conduct a short sacrament service, also making social contact. “It has .helped the young men realize the seriousness of their responsibility,” says Bishop Moeller, “and has been beneficial for the older people.”

    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, like the rewards of sacrifice. “It’s wonderful,” he says, “to get the feeling that you’re working for the Lord.”

    Additional Benefits

    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.

    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 grow through 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 is effective 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.”

    (“Boys Need Heroes Close By,” International Magazines, August 1976 for the Orients, Latin America, and French; October 1976 for the rest of Europe and the Pacific; paragraphs 10 and 11.)