This weekend is a special one for the 5500 Mormons in the Los Angeles Stake, or diocese, which stretches from West LA to downtown. A stake president is chosen about once a decade, and Sunday we’ll find out who it is. Outgoing stake president Mark Bragg has served faithfully for 9 years, and he’ll be leaving some pretty big shoes to fill.
His successor will preside over 12 wards, or congregations, which worship in three languages (English, Spanish, and Korean). He’ll be helped by two counselors, or assistants, and together they’ll form a stake presidency. Since we have a lay ministry, the new stake president will not be compensated for the many hours of church service that he will give every week. Needless to say, we are already praying for the new president.
The method of choosing a new stake president is both interesting and unique. A senior church officer comes from LDS Church headquarters to interview the current stake presidency, bishops and other senior officials in the stake. Tomorrow (Saturday) each bishop in the stake has a 7-minute interview with the officer. During the conversations, they will discuss three men whom the bishop feels would be worthy candidates to be called as the new stake president. There are no set criteria, but serious candidates in our stake for most people would be successful professionals who own their own homes, are well-established in the community, and plan on staying here for a while.
After all of the interviews are concluded, at around 12:30 the new stake president and his wife will be summoned, interviewed, and called to serve. We believe that the visiting church officer is guided by divine revelation to make the choice. After the new president accepts, he will be asked to call his new counselors. [Our current stake president had 15 minutes to make his picks.] The counselors are then called to serve. The three men will then be presented at a Sunday morning conference for a sustaining vote by the congregation, after which they will immediately begin their service.
Given the transient nature of our stake, the new president will likely have to participate in the calling of dozens of bishops during his tenure. Bishops head congregations, like rabbis, but their calls to serve are extended in a very different way. When the stake president feels the need to call a new bishop for a congregation, he sends the name to the top three leaders of the church (the First Presidency) in Salt Lake City. Once their approval is granted, the stake president invites the unsuspecting man and his wife to come to his office, where he is called to serve as a bishop. After the members of his congregation vote to sustain him as their bishop, he is ordained. Bishops typically serve for five years, stake presidents for about a decade.
I look forward to working with the new stake presidency, and hope that interfaith relations – especially with the Jewish community – will be on its busy agenda.