On January 13, 1935, members of the Boise Idaho Stake sustained 35-year-old Ezra Taft Benson as first counselor in their stake presidency. Under the direction of President Scott S. Brown, President Benson received many opportunities to serve, lead, and teach. For example, he was instrumental in helping a Melchizedek Priesthood holder return to activity in the Church,1 and he helped lead the stake’s efforts to implement the Church’s welfare program.2
In 1938 the stake had grown to more than 8,000 members, so the First Presidency directed that it be divided into three stakes. President Benson said he was “shocked” when, on November 27, 1938, he was called to preside over one of those stakes. His wife, Flora, told their children that it was a blessing for their father to receive this call.3
President Benson’s service as stake president was a blessing for the entire stake. He continued to teach principles of welfare, and he gave special attention to the youth. Before a session of one stake conference, he noticed a group of young men trying to sneak away from the meetinghouse. “They started slowly down the hall toward the back door, keeping their eyes on the foyer to be sure their exit wasn’t being detected. About then [he] stepped out of his office, sized up the situation, and stretched his arms across the hall so that the boys fell right into them. ‘I’m so glad to see you boys,’ he said. ‘Let’s go to conference together.’ He led them to the front bench, and later called upon them to bear their testimonies.”4
Less than two months after President Benson began serving as stake president, another surprise came to him. He was offered a job as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, which would require him to work in Washington, D.C. At first he declined the offer, but after consulting with Flora and the First Presidency, he decided to accept it.5 When he was released as stake president on March 26, 1939, he wrote that it was “the most difficult day I have ever experienced. … In my remarks [to the members of the stake] I was greatly blessed of the Lord but had great difficulty controlling my feelings. There are no finer people in all the world [and] I love every one.”6
The Bensons moved to Bethesda, Maryland, close to Washington, D.C. A little more than a year later, President Rudger Clawson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Albert E. Bowen, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited the area to organize a new stake. President Clawson met Ezra Taft Benson and said, “Brother Benson, the Lord wants you to be president of this stake. What have you got to say about that?” Again President Benson was surprised. He commented, “I don’t know these people. I’ve scarcely lived here a year.”7 But he humbly accepted the call and presided over about 2,000 stake members in a geographically large stake. Flora commented on his service as stake president: “He loves it so. It isn’t the title that counts with him but it’s the joy of being able to help as many as possible see the truth of the gospel.”8
Later, as an Apostle, President Benson visited stakes throughout the world. He commented: “I have sometimes said to my wife, as I returned from visiting in the stakes, that I do not know exactly what heaven is going to be like, but I could ask nothing finer over there than to have the pleasure and joy of associating with the type of men and women I meet in the leadership of the stakes and wards of Zion and the missions of the earth. Truly we are richly blessed.”9
Nonmembers sometimes inquire, “What is a stake?” Members likewise inquire, “What is the significance of a stake? What does it mean to us as members?”
To nonmembers, a stake is similar to a diocese in other churches. A stake is a geographical area comprising a number of wards (local congregations) and presided over by a presidency.
To members, the term stake is a symbolic expression. Picture in your mind a great tent held up by cords extended to many stakes that are firmly secured in the ground. The prophets likened latter-day Zion to a great tent encompassing the earth [see Isaiah 54:2; 3 Nephi 22:2]. That tent was supported by cords fastened to stakes. Those stakes, of course, are various geographical organizations spread out over the earth. Presently Israel is being gathered to the various stakes of Zion.10
A stake has at least four purposes:
1. Each stake, presided over by three high priests, and supported by twelve men known as a high council, becomes a miniature church to the Saints in a specific geographic area. The purpose is to unify and perfect the members who live in those boundaries by extending to them the Church programs, ordinances, and gospel instruction.
2. Members of stakes are to be models or standards of righteousness.
3. Stakes are to be a defense. The members do this as they unify under their local priesthood officers and consecrate themselves to do their duty and keep their covenants. Those covenants, if kept, become a protection from error, evil, or calamity.
We build temples only where we have stakes. The blessings and ordinances of the temple prepare one for exaltation. Of course, it is not possible for every stake to have a temple, but we are presently witnessing some remarkable, yes, miraculous developments, in the building of temples in different parts of the world. Such a program permits members of the Church to receive the full blessings of the Lord.
4. Stakes are a refuge from the storm to be poured out over the earth.11
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:
“Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.” (68:25–26; italics added.)
Here you see one of the major purposes of stakes. They are organized to help parents “who have children in Zion” to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation. Stakes are formed to perfect the Saints, and that development begins in the home with effective gospel instruction.12
The Lord states: “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:14.)
Here the Lord declares another great purpose of a stake: to be a beautiful emblem for all the world to see. The phrase “put on her beautiful garments” refers, of course, to the inner sanctity that must be attained by every member who calls himself or herself a Saint. Zion is “the pure in heart.” (Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.)
Stakes of Zion are strengthened and Zion’s borders enlarged as members reflect the standard of holiness that the Lord expects of His chosen people.13
Yet another revelation from the Lord gives this explanation of the purpose of stakes: “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations; and that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:5–6.)
In this revelation is a command to let our light so shine that it becomes a standard for the nations. A standard is a rule of measure by which one determines exactness or perfection. The Saints are to be a standard of holiness for the world to see. That is the beauty of Zion.
The Lord then reveals that the stakes of Zion are to be “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” Stakes are a defense for the Saints from enemies both seen and unseen. The defense is direction provided through priesthood channels that strengthens testimony and promotes family solidarity and individual righteousness.
In His preface to His revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord warned: “The day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion” [Doctrine and Covenants 1:35].
Today … we see the fulfillment of this prediction where Satan, in undiminished fury, is displaying power over “his own dominion”—the earth. Never has his influence been so great, and only those who have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide—and followed counsel from priesthood leaders—will be spared from the havoc of his evil influence.
The Lord also states in that prefatory revelation that He will have power over His Saints, “and shall reign in their midst” [Doctrine and Covenants 1:36]. He does this as He works through His chosen servants and stake and ward authorities.14
As the Church grows, it is very important that we build solidly and well, and that our prospective stakes have the basic ingredients that are necessary for success and that existing stakes work tirelessly for full stakehood in the sense of spiritual achievement. These stakes are to be the gathering spots for the Zion of today, and they need to be spiritual sanctuaries and to be self-sufficient in as many ways as is possible.15
The stakes and districts of Zion are symbolic of the holy places spoken of by the Lord where His Saints are to gather in the last days as a refuge from the storm. You and your children will gather here to worship, to do sacred ordinances, to socialize, to learn, to perform in music, dance, drama, athletics, and to generally improve yourselves and one another. It is often thought significant that our chapels have on them a steeple, with spires toward the heavens symbolic of how our lives ought to be ever moving upward toward God.16
The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi foresaw the day when the Saints would be scattered in stakes all over the world. He saw the time when the Lord would extend His protection to them when menaced by storms of destruction that threatened their existence. Nephi prophesied: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14:14.)
Through revelation we know that there will be perils, calamities, and persecution in the latter days, but through righteousness the Saints may be spared. The promise of the Lord in the Book of Mormon is sure: “He will preserve the righteous by his power.” (1 Nephi 22:17.)17
After reading section 1, how would you respond to someone who asks why Church members are organized in stakes?
President Benson reminded us that stakes help parents teach the gospel to their children and provide priesthood ordinances for them (see section 2). In what ways has your stake strengthened your efforts at home?
When have you seen members of a stake come together to set an example “for all the world to see”? (See section 3.) How have you benefited from these activities?
In what ways does a stake provide protection “from enemies both seen and unseen”? (See section 4.) What opportunities do we have to participate in our stake? What are some blessings we can receive as we do so?
“A skilled teacher doesn’t think, ‘What shall I do in class today?’ but asks, ‘What will my students do in class today?’; not, ‘What will I teach today?’ but rather, ‘How will I help my students discover what they need to know?’” (Virginia H. Pearce, “The Ordinary Classroom—a Powerful Place for Steady and Continued Growth,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 12; quoting Teaching the Gospel: A Handbook for CES Teachers and Leaders , 13).