Ask Us: Top Five Reference Questions about Church Administration

by the Consultation Team
31 March 2020

In this post, the first in a new series, discover the answers to some of the most common questions that come to our consultation team through Ask Us.

Last year we featured a post about the Ask Us service provided by the consultation team at the Church History Library. Our team of qualified archivists, librarians, and historians is here to assist you with your research. We want to show you more.

What kinds of questions are people asking? What kinds of library resources are available to answer your questions? In a new blog series called Ask Us Top Five, the consultation team will share questions and answers on key Church history topics with you. Maybe we’ll answer one of your burning questions or get you started down a new research path, but if we don’t . . . just Ask Us!

1. When were mission expenses equalized so that all missionaries paid the same amount?

The policy went into effect January 1, 1991.

Before 1991 the cost of missionary service was determined by location. Some missions were more expensive than others. In order to place all missionaries on equal footing, the policy was changed so that all would pay the same amount each month, regardless of where they were serving. The money would be pooled and distributed to missions and missionaries according to need.1

2. When did it become Church policy that there should be two witnesses at a baptism?

In 1976 Church leaders instituted the requirement that all baptisms include two witnesses who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood.

There is no clear documentation for the early inclusion of witnesses for baptisms for the living. The practice appears to have begun between 1842 and 1850 as an extension of a requirement designated for baptisms for the dead. As Joseph Smith explained, two or three witnesses were required to complete the ordinance of baptisms for the dead (see Doctrine and Covenants 128:3). Through the early years of the Church, and for most of the 20th century, liturgical witnesses for baptisms for the living were not uncommon and did not have to be ordained (some were even women), but nothing indicates that witnesses were required for living baptism ordinances. In fact, in a 1908 article titled “Seventy’s Council Table” in the Improvement Era, B. H. Roberts stated, “We know of nothing in the written word that positively asserts that it is necessary to have witnesses to ordinary baptisms of the living.”2 This position on the practice changed in 1976.

On October 2, 2019, the First Presidency announced the policy change that “any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.”3

3. When did the Church start the three-hour meeting schedule?

In February 1980 the First Presidency announced the new consolidated meeting schedule. Previously tested by 15 stakes in a pilot program, the consolidated meeting schedule began on March 2, 1980, in the United States and Canada and May 4, 1980, in the remaining areas of the world. There were several purposes for the change, which called for all priesthood, Sunday School, sacrament, and former weekday organization meetings to be held within a three-hour time block on Sunday. President Kimball stated that the change was made “so that the Latter-day Saints can give greater attention to family life, can focus more on certain simple and basic things, can render more Christian service, and can have greater effectiveness in all these things.”4 The change also helped support energy-saving efforts and helped members reduce costs of traveling to and from meetings.

The shift to a two-hour Sunday schedule was announced at the October general conference in 2018. A First Presidency letter detailing the change was sent to Church membership on October 6, 2018. The schedule was officially implemented in January 2019.

4. When did family home evening start?

The First Presidency issued a letter on April 27, 1915, to local leaders advocating and encouraging the implementation of a Churchwide practice of holding a weekly “family home evening.” The focus of the evening was to include prayer, hymns, family discussion, and “specific instruction on the principles of the Gospel.”5

In general conference in October 1970, President Joseph Fielding Smith designated Monday evening as the preferred time to hold family home evening.

5. Did congregations used to kneel during sacrament prayers?

For many years Church members knelt during the sacrament prayers, but the practice was discouraged in the late 1800s for a variety of reasons, some of which President Joseph F. Smith addressed at the Weber Stake conference in Ogden on July 19, 1893:

“I would like to call the attention of the congregation, especially of the bishops, to the mode of administering the sacrament. The book of Doctrine and Covenants teaches us that the elder or priest who administers the sacrament ‘shall kneel with the Church’ [see Doctrine and Covenants 20:76]. Of course, it is quite difficult, and probably inappropriate, for a whole congregation to kneel while the blessing is being asked upon the bread and upon the water. The confusion and noise incident to kneeling and rising again would be inappropriate. Besides, the construction of our meeting houses, and the size of the congregations generally, would make that practice rather impracticable. But there is nothing, that I know of, that would make it inappropriate for the Elder who asks the blessing to kneel, as the word of the Lord requires.”6

In 1978 James Allen, then assistant Church historian, made the following statement:

“The practice of having the whole congregation kneel during the sacrament prayer was not uncommon during the nineteenth century, though it was not required, either. In 1902, President Joseph F. Smith approved an Improvement Era editorial that observed that it had been the custom ‘when the congregations were not so large as they are now’ for the whole congregation to kneel, and that it was still not improper. This was in response to a question about whether more than one of the brethren administering the sacrament should kneel during the prayer. ‘This matter, however,’ the editorial concluded, ‘may be regulated by the presiding authority, according to local surroundings, circumstances and conditions.’ (Improvement Era, 1902, 5:473–74.) The custom of all kneeling together was clearly disappearing at that time, though we do not know when the practice finally ended. The important thing is that the sacred meaning of the sacrament and the essential elements of the sacrament service—that is, the purpose, the prayer, and the authority of the priesthood—have remained constant.”7