Sunday, November 14, 2010

I've Been Worldwide Leadership Trained

My husband said he felt a little like we were going to a Harry Potter book release, getting up early and getting dressed up and heading to the stake center to get the new Church Handbook of Instructions (and turn in the old ones, presumably for an autumn bonfire somewhere).

The broadcast is already up on the interwebs for your edification; we both took a lot of notes. I really like the new emphasis on integrative ward governance, to use a smattering of higher-ed speak. Things which had only one purpose (Welfare Meeting, Activities Committee) will now be brought more into the life of the ward; Ward Council will get much greater attention and everyone in it will have the *whole* handbook and not just their little chapter, so that everyone will share a common vision of what we're about and be able to contribute. Ward Council is not the place for calendaring and event planning, those will happen "off site," as it were, in presidencies.

On my campus this fall I've been part of a discussion series in our Center for Teaching and Learning about the concept of "integrative learning" as distinct from interdisciplinary learning. Integrative learning diagnoses a common problem on college campuses: the fragmentation of knowledge into disciplinary silos, with the basic unit of learning a 16-week "course" building towards a final exam where you spill your brain onto paper and then file the stuff away forever. The new direction in higher ed best practices is towards helping students find deliberate, intentional pathways through their learning and to see ways that knowledge is connected and self-created.

Similarly, I felt very hopeful about the broadcast's stress on a shared grounding in the new first 6 doctrinal chapters of the handbook, and their hope that Ward Councils will not be "meetings" but "revelatory experiences" among the constituent members, in which revelation emerges from spiritual preparation, focused questions, full and equal participation (instead of the model of "reports from" the various auxiliaries/quorums), and open-minded listening. I was very happy to see Presidents Ballard and Holland basically say "let's just GET OVER" not having women speak in Councils: they should, period. Move on. I was also encouraged by the phrase "quorums AND auxiliaries" being used throughout the broadcast - putting them on the same level as equal partners in the work of the congregation.

The broadcast included a rather stilted "mock Ward Council" - those things are a bit awkward as role-playing exercises always are (although I agree with Mormanity - the bishop rocked) - but it was a starting point for a panel discussion that followed, and I bet that it will open up opportunities for a changed/changing culture in Ward Councils and other leadership discussions across the church, which could only be a good thing.

I did want to comment just briefly on my recollection of the YW president in that pretend Ward Council - super-styled blonde hair and hot pink jacket identified her as the forthright one among the 3 auxiliary leaders, and I noticed she advocated for her young women at several points, notably when she spoke up about a planned YM car repair activity and pointed out that young women needed those skills too. Two joint youth activities emerged from the meeting, rather than two separate gender-stereotyped ones (boys repair cars, girls help inside a member's home). It was obvious in that meeting that no one else would have thought to bring that up; if she hadn't said anything, nothing would have changed. A very instructive moment!

In the panel, Elder Bednar emphasized that point again several times - that everyone in the council should be empowered to speak by the Spirit, that ALL were COLLECTIVELY voice to the will of the Lord, which emerged only through the PROCESS of discussion. In other words, that so-called meetings are (another of the many) mechanisms or methods for the Spirit to reveal God's will in a ward. When people counsel together & no one person dominates (because dominion makes the Spirit depart - D&C 121:36-37), the spirit of revelation can flow "without regard to person" and anyone--male or female--could be the conduit for its voice.

I'll bet that small step would be a big change in some units of the church depending on local culture & personalities of leaders. If it ruffles feathers and disrupts patterns that have silenced women in councils, I say: hallelujah. Bring it on.

PS - More bloggernacle thoughts on the broadcast & new handbooks: here, here, and here.


  1. I thought the training and handbook are great. What I don't get, though, is why the Church doesn't post the handbook on its website. If 80% of the members' questions could be answered by understanding the handbook, as Elder Oaks said, why limit access? If we have to go ask the bishop questions that could be answered by checking the handbook, that adds to his load.

  2. I particularly loved Elder Bednar's comments about people over programs! Sister Beck added to this with her closing comments.

    I must have really lucked out over the years as I have never been in a ward council where women were not encouraged to speak up and be heard. RS Pres on the east coast, Primary pres in the midwest and currently YW pres in the NW - and every time, I have felt just as valued and "heard" as my priesthood holders in the room.

  3. As "the" priesthood holders, not "my"...

  4. Thanks for the report--I'm looking forward to watching the training.

  5. Thanks for the link to my post, Jeans.

    And FYI Commenter #1, the handbook *IS* online here:

    I am a little confused about what Elder Oaks was talking about when he suggested limiting access by not photocopying it for people who weren't supposed to have it. At any rate, access is universal.

  6. What is up with "anonymous" making the exact same copy-and-paste comment on every blog under the sun? Geez.

    Great post, jeans.

  7. Thanks to the link for the handbook online.

    I loved the broadcast too. (And I always love Sister Beck - so focused and right on, every time) It seemed to me that most everything in it wasn't "new," but it was a way to reemphasize the perspective and way of functioning in the church. I thought it was a cool broadcast, and I'm excited to learn and see how things unfold.

  8. Jeans, I found your comment, "Things which had only one purpose (Welfare Meeting, Activities Committee) will now be brought more into the life of the ward" interesting.

    I reacted quite negatively to the disbanding of the ward activities committee. I agree it has a certain philosophical appeal, kind of a correlation of committees into the grand ward council, but I don't think that appeal translates into real life for two reasons.

    First, the members of the ward council already have plenty to do without adding more responsibilities to their duties.
    What is more likely, that this change will enhance ward activities or that this change will degrade them because the new supervisors just have too much else to do already? I'm afraid it will be the latter.

    Second, every ward has solid members who aren't up to the responsibility of a weekly calling as a teacher or leader but who want to contribute. The activities committee is a place for them to do that. The new handbook says that people may be called to help out with activities but that shouldn't be permanent. That isn't a calling that is just an assignment. I think there's a real difference between the two.


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