Tuesday, February 9, 2010


There was only one thing on the wall in the priesthood room of our suburban California chapel. A large poster proclaimed "The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood" in bold black letters, with a bullet point for each Purpose to succinctly impress the minds of our young men.

I was still a visitor during my first opening exercises in the new ward when the priesthood brethren arose in unison to recite the Purposes. There we were, young men, new men (who still lived in apartments), and real men alike, all of us pretending not to read off the poster as we recited each way station in the ideal young Mormon man's life. Education, mission, marriage, fatherhood ... an admonition to treat women and children with respect tacked on at the end, rather oddly.

Our bland priesthood room witnessed this little ritual every week, high priests and elders pulling and hoisting up the young men with invisible ropes to the sheltered ledges of BYU, leadership in the mission field, and temple marriage, lest they stray and fall into the abyss. One could imagine that each of the men who had passed at least some of these milestones could, by standing with the young men and giving voice to their Purposes, assure them that these abstract ideals would someday harden into reality and, when they did, difficult decisions would need to be made. A preparatory priesthood, indeed.

The priesthood room hosted gospel doctrine class during the second hour. Once a bedrock sister raised her hand with a comment. "We emphasize education too much to our youth; there's such a thing as too much education with all of these eternal students wasting their time." Surely she couldn't have known that from my seat her outstretched fingertips were silhouetted on the poster just under the sixth Purpose - "OBTAIN as much education as possible."

Our combined priesthood always recited one extra word in addition to what was written on the poster. "The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood include:" - include. A hint of ambiguity or perhaps uncertainty. Were these bullet points just a transient power point slide from the church office building, or were they really the living essence of the Aaronic priesthood?

I went out of town for a week and when I came back the little ritual was already gone. At first I thought maybe it was an oversight, but no deacon since then has stood up to lead us in reciting the Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. I asked another quorum member what had happened. It seems a member of the Stake Presidency had come through and, apparently, that's just not the way we do things in the church. The poster remains, but the Purposes are silent now.