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From Adam and Eve to Nontraditional Families: 6 Takeaways from the New Church Handbook

Last week, the Church made its updated General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints public. With recent policy changes related to LGBT members and to ordinance witness guidelines, Church leadership felt the need to not only release a new handbook but to expedite the process, according to Church Newsroom.

 “Our original plan was to completely rewrite the handbook and then translate that. That gave us a delivery date of probably 2022,” said Elder Anthony D. Perkins, who serves as the executive director of the Church’s Correlation Department, which oversees the creation of the handbook. “But as those first chapters came out, the First Presidency and [Quorum of the] Twelve felt that the updates were important enough to release as soon as possible.”

What I found so powerful in this statement was that our leaders felt it important enough to get us these chapters now, not two years from now. What would prompt this urgency? For me, as I’ve studied the nine new chapters of the 38-chapter handbook, I learned more about what the Lord is revealing as the policies that should govern His church. But more than the rules, I found overall gospel truths. Here are six of my personal takeaways:

When It Comes to Families, One Size Doesn’t Fit All 

Chapter 2 centers on “Supporting Individuals and Families in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation,” and it shares that not all families look the same. Sure, they have some things in common, like, “No family is free from challenges, pain, and sorrow”1 and “The blessings of an eternal family are realized as members keep [temple] covenants and repent when they fall short, ”but the handbook also acknowledges some of the differences families may face.

  • For adoptive parents: “It is a sacred privilege and responsibility for a husband and wife to care for the children they are able to bear or adopt. Adoptive parents have the same blessings and responsibilities as biological parents.”3
  • • For divorced parents: “A loving husband and wife together provide the best setting for rearing and nurturing children. When parents are not rearing their children together, the Lord will bless them as they seek His help and strive to keep their covenants with Him.”4
  • • For single-mother families: “When there is not a husband or father in the home, the mother presides over the family.”5 I also love the definition of presiding, “Presiding in the family is the responsibility to help lead family members back to dwell in God’s presence. This is done by serving and teaching with gentleness, meekness, and pure love, following the example of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 20:26–28). Presiding in the family includes leading family members in regular prayer, gospel study, and other aspects of worship. Parents work in unity to fulfill these responsibilities.”6
  • • For singles: “In this life, many people have limited opportunities for loving family relationships.”7 It also details the number of roles in an eternal family. “All family roles are sacred and important. These roles may include mother and father, daughter and son, sister and brother, aunt and uncle, and grandmother and grandfather. Fulfilling these roles in love helps God’s children progress toward eternal life.”8

Reading these comments tells me that despite the differences in our mortal families, we all have a place in God's eternal family. As  President Boyd K. Packer said, "You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it."

Fathers Hold a Unique Role with Priesthood Blessings

In addition to adding videos to chapter 18 to explain how to perform certain ordinances,9 the chapter also gives unique emphasis to fathers’ role in priesthood blessings. Generally, those who participate in ordinances and blessings should have a temple recommend. “However, as guided by the Spirit and the instructions in this chapter, bishops and stake presidents may allow fathers and husbands who hold the necessary priesthood office to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings even if they are not fully temple worthy.”10

When it comes to blessings, father’s blessings have a special exception: “Father’s blessings may be recorded for personal use.”11

With this clarification, I picture people being able to listen to treasured blessings in their father’s voice both in times of trouble and during times when the veil separates father and child.

It’s not unheard of to have blessings like this recorded. This precedent is set by the prophets of the Book of Mormon, including Lehi giving his posterity a blessing prior to his passing (2 Nephi 4) and Alma leaving commandments with his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton (Alma 36–42).

Men and Women Have Access to Priesthood Authority and Priesthood Power

In alignment with recent teachings from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the changes in the handbook discusses how both men and women have access to priesthood authority. “All Church members who are set apart to serve are given divine authority and responsibility to act in their callings.”12 It gives examples of a woman set apart as Relief Society president having authority to direct the Relief Society and a man or woman set apart as a Primary teacher having authority to teach a Primary class.

In addition to priesthood authority, the handbook details out priesthood power and ways both genders can receive its blessings.13

Priesthood Power

Priesthood power is the power by which God blesses His children. God’s priesthood power flows to all members of the Church—female and male—as they keep the covenants they have made with Him. Members make these covenants as they receive priesthood ordinances (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–20).

  • • The blessings of priesthood power that members can receive include:
    • • Guidance for their lives.
    • • Inspiration to know how to serve family members and others.
    • •  Strength to endure and overcome challenges.
    • • Gifts of the Spirit to magnify their abilities.
    • • Revelation to know how to fulfill the work they are ordained, set apart, or assigned to do.
    • • Help and strength to become more like Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.

When I read these blessings of priesthood power, I reflect on ways I have received these blessings in my life and ways I could more fully access priesthood power. As President Nelson said last conference, “Every woman and every man who makes covenants with God and keeps those covenants, and who participates worthily in priesthood ordinances, has direct access to the power of God.”

We Can Look to Adam and Eve as an Example

The handbook also shares important teachings on the principle of marriage, “God has commanded husbands and wives to cleave to each other (see Genesis 2:24; Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). In this context, the word cleave means to be completely devoted and faithful to someone. Married couples cleave together by loving and serving each other.”14

This definition of cleaving is powerful.

The handbook also points us to our first parents as a couple to emulate. “Adam and Eve set an example for husbands and wives. They worked, prayed, and worshipped together (see Moses 5:1, 4). They taught their children the gospel and mourned together over their trials (see Moses 5:12, 27). They were united with each other and with God.”15

The example set by our first parents wasn’t necessarily that they were always happy, but eventually through working, praying, worshipping, teaching, and mourning, I think they found their "happily ever after." And the way they found it? By being “united with each other and with God.”

The Home Should Be the Center

When President Nelson announced the change to our meeting schedule, he said it would strengthen individuals and families through a “home-centered and Church-supported plan.” The handbook echoes this sentiment. “Much of the work of salvation and exaltation is accomplished through the family. For all Church members, this work is centered in the home.”16

But the way it fits into each individual home? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan there either. What used to be known as “family home evening” is now known as “home evening.” The day of the week “. . . is flexible according to members’ circumstances. It may be held on the Sabbath or other days and times.” However, it is still asked that Monday nights remain free of Church meetings and activities.17

And while service in the Lord’s kingdom is essential, there is also a need for balance. The handbook notes, “The amount of time given to Church service should not detract from members’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities at home, at work, and elsewhere. Leaders and members should not be overwhelmed with too many Church responsibilities. Nor should they be asked to make excessive sacrifices to support Church programs or activities.”18

Service Transforms the Giver and the Receiver

I also really enjoyed the principles of leadership found in chapter 4, “Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ.” Some of the teachings include:

  • Every calling in the Church strengthens discipleship. “Being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples is the purpose behind every calling in the Church. Each calling includes opportunities to lead, serve, and strengthen others.”19
  • Delegation increases productivity. “Delegating will make your service more effective. If you try to do too much, you will ‘surely wear away’ (Exodus 18:18). Seek the Spirit’s guidance about what to delegate so you can focus on your highest priorities.”20
  • People should be given an opportunity to serve, regardless of abilities. “When prayerfully considering who could serve in Church callings or assignments, remember that the Lord will qualify those He calls. What is most important is that they are willing to serve, will humbly seek the Lord’s help, and are striving to be worthy.”21
  • Success is measured by personal commitment. “Your success as a leader is measured primarily by your commitment to helping God’s children become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Because all people have agency, some may choose to depart from the covenant path. At times this may discourage you, but as you turn to the Lord, He will lift and comfort you (see Alma 26:27). You can know that the Lord is pleased with your efforts as you feel the Spirit working through you.”22

Throughout the chapter, leaders are encouraged to lead as the Savior would. In President Spencer W. Kimball's "Jesus: The Perfect Leader" we read, "Jesus trusts his followers enough to share his work with them so that they can grow." What a sacred trust for a sacred work.  

There Is More to Learn

These are just some of my takeaways from reading the handbook. Some others include:

  • • Chapter 1 clearly outlines four aspects of God’s work: living the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for those in need, inviting all to receive the gospel, and uniting families for eternity.23 
  • • The passing of the sacrament is defined in beautiful, yet simplistic, ways in chapter 18.24 
  • • Chapter 32 brings a more ministerial approach and voice with Church discipline.25 
  • • The part of me that loves numbers and statistics was fascinated to know that it takes at least 300 members to create a ward, with 1 in every 20 members being “an active, full-tithe-paying Melchizedek Priesthood holder capable of serving in leadership positions.”26 

And there’s more to come. Of the chapters, 31 of the 38 chapters will still be reworked. Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency who helped to create the new handbook, explained its use.

“It is so important for members to understand—both men and women—that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” Sister Aburto said. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”

It thrills me to know that the Lord is alongside us “every step of the way.”

Lead image: Shutterstock

Notes

  1. Section 2.1
  2. Section 2.1.1
  3. Section 2.1.3
  4. Section 2.1.3
  5. Section 2.1.3
  6. Section 2.1.3
  7. Section 2.1
  8. Section 2.1
  9. See Section 18.12.2 and Section 18.13.2
  10. Section 18.3
  11. Section 18.14.1
  12. Section 3.4.3.1
  13. Section 3.5
  14. Section 2.1.2
  15. Section 2.1.2
  16. Section 2.0
  17. Section 2.2.4
  18. Section 2.3
  19. Section 4.1
  20. Section 4.2.6
  21. Section 4.2.7
  22. Section 4.3
  23. Section 1.2
  24. Section 18.9
  25. Chapter 32
  26. Section 36.2
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Lindsey Williams

Lindsey Williams joined the LDS Living team with a passion to find the stories that matter most. Previous stops in her career include BYU-Pathway Worldwide, the Special Projects Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah Valley Magazine. When she's not searching for stories to write, the Colorado Springs native is most likely on a hiking trail. 

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