Encyclopaedia of Mormonism
Stake by Stan L. Albrecht
are an intermediate unit of organization between Church headquarters and the local wards.
A stake ordinarily comprises between five and twelve wards, totaling at least 3,000
members. Depending on LDS population density, a stake may cover only a small part of one
city or include many towns or cities spread over hundreds of miles. Where there are not
sufficient Latter-day Saints to organize functioning wards, members belong to branches,
which are supervised by missions or stakes. The stake is "a miniature Church to the
Saints in a specific geographic area" (Benson, p. 4); the stake presidency is fully
charged and authorized to implement all the programs of the Church within the stake
boundaries and directly supervises the bishops of wards. Stake presidents are supervised
by area presidencies, who report directly to the presiding quorums of the Church. For the
sake of administrative convenience, training and support are provided to geographically
proximate stakes by regional representatives.
THE SCRIPTURAL CONCEPT
OF STAKES. When the resurrected Jesus visited the Nephites in the Western
Hemisphere, he taught them the words of Isaiah: "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and
let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords and
strengthen thy stakes...and make the desolate cities to be inhabited" (3 Ne. 22:2-5;
cf. Isa. 54:2-3). He promised to reveal to them his new covenant of priestly sacrifices
and ordinances, including those of the temple (3 Ne. 9:19-20 ; 10:6-7 ; WJS, pp. 212-13).
The rich imagery of Isaiah chapter 54 associates the concept of "stake" with the
tent pegs that firmly held the curtains around the tabernacle that Moses built, the
central Israelite sanctuary and seat of the Lord. In Doctrine and Covenants 101:43-62,
this imagery is expanded: the stakes of Zion are represented as twelve thriving olive
trees nurtured in peace (WJS, p. 415); in the redemption of Zion, they will never "be
removed" (Isa. 33:20).
Stakes are gathering places for the Saints,
"the curtains or the strength of Zion" (D&C 101:21 ). They are established
as protected enclaves of spiritual strength and righteousness around the globe,
symbolically holding the curtains around God's presence in the Church and among his
people, in preparation for the establishment of the New Jerusalem (D&C 115:6 ; Isa.
4:6) and the rebuilding of the "old" Jerusalem in the Holy Land.
The portable tabernacle of Moses with its
sustaining cords and stakes eventually came to rest in Shiloh, and was replaced centuries
later with the construction of the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. In all ages, "the
main object" of the gathering of people is to construct a temple, "to build unto
the Lord an house whereby he [can] reveal unto his people the ordinances of his house and
glories of his kingdom and teach the people the ways of salvation" (WJS, p. 212; cf.
Benson, p. 4). In the modern Church, stake presidents hold the keys to issue temple
recommends, and stake high priests quorums coordinate temple participation to strengthen
Zion: "Put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes
and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the
covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be
fulfilled" (Moro. 10:31 ; cf. Isa. 52:1 ).
President Ezra Taft Benson listed four purposes
that stakes serve in the Church: (1) "to unify and perfect the members...by extending
to them the Church programs, the ordinances, and gospel instruction"; (2) to be
models or standards of righteousness to the world; (3) to provide a defense from error,
evil, or calamity; and (4) to be "a refuge from the storm" prophesied to come
upon the earth in the last days (pp. 4-5).
HISTORY OF STAKES. For the first several months following its organization,
the Church had no need for a complex organizational structure. In response to increasing
membership, the first stake was organized in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1832. The Kirtland Stake
was presided over by Joseph Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency. Most affairs
of this original stake that did not fall under their direct purview were handled by a
council of high priests who operated under the direction of the bishop (Allen and Leonard,
In 1834 the Kirtland high council was organized and
became the official judicial body for the stake. The First Presidency continued to
function as the presidency of the stake until Kirtland was abandoned, but as new stakes
were organized, these roles changed. In July 1834, a stake was organized in Clay County,
Missouri, with its own presidency and high council (Allen and Leonard, p. 79). From that
time forward, stakes were presided over by a president with two counselors, who were
assisted by a high council comprised of twelve high priests residing within the stake's
For several decades, stake organization tended to
be less emphasized and often quite haphazard in comparison with the ward. While there was
a functioning stake in Salt Lake City following the migration westward, most other areas
of the Church had none. Where stakes existed, they filled two major functions: they held
conferences designed to bring together members of several wards for instruction and
spiritual guidance, and they had responsibility for many disciplinary actions that were
brought before the stake high councils. However, much direction from the top proceeded
directly between general Church authorities and the local ward bishops (Arrington and
Bitton, p. 212).
When President Brigham Young began a major
restructuring of Church organization in 1877, changes were made that significantly
affected the role of the stake (Hartley, p. 3). Earlier, President Young had declared that
the Salt Lake Stake held no authority over other stakes of the Church, all stakes being
equal and autonomous relative to each other (Hartley, p. 5). He also released members of
the quorum of the Twelve from their callings as stake presidents so that they could assume
more fully their general Church leadership assignments. New stake presidencies were called
for most of the stakes, and several new stakes were organized by dividing those that had
become too large.
As part of the organizational change instituted by
Brigham Young, stake presidencies were given responsibility for all Church matters within
their stake boundaries. Stake presidencies were instructed to hold quarterly conferences,
which would be visited and presided over by General Authorities. Stake presidencies were
also instructed to visit the wards in their stake on a regular basis and to call local
priesthood leaders as home missionaries to help them preach in the wards.
Other changes in stake organization were designed
to improve administrative efficiency. Stakes were made into more manageable units to give
stake presidents more time for their private commitments and to create smaller and more
cohesive units with which members could more readily identify (Alexander, pp. 95, 107).
During this same period, financial accounting procedures were regularized and Church
membership records systematized, and the newly streamlined stakes were given greater
oversight responsibility in both areas.
Following these important organizational changes,
the stake assumed its role as the major governing unit between the wards and Church
headquarters. Stakes were now expected to have responsibility for every person and every
program within their boundaries. Decentralization by the transference of more priesthood
responsibility to the stakes has continued as Church membership has expanded. Stake
presidents and bishops have been clearly identified as the links in the organizational
chain between the General Authorities and local Church members.
The historical importance of stakes in the Church
is exemplified by the stake-level innovations that have been adopted throughout the
Church. Family home evenings and the Welfare program began as programs of the Granite
Stake in Salt Lake City in the early 1900s. The "Home Evening" program was
designed to help parents develop closer relationships with their children. The suggested
format for these weekly family meetings included prayer, music, scripture reading and
gospel instruction, discussion of family concerns, recreational and cultural activities,
and refreshments. The Granite Stake Welfare plan was designed to promote temporal
well-being by stressing home industry and cooperation. Stake committees were appointed to
promote gardening, the development of canneries, livestock raising, and the establishment
of new industries. This program foreshadowed the work of President Harold B. Lee as
president of the Pioneer Stake during the Great Depression, which led to the establishment
of a Churchwide Welfare program. Other Church programs that originated in stakes include
the seminary program for high school students, stake missionary work, systematic stake
supervision of temple and genealogical work, and a variety of youth programs.
STAKE. The continuing centrality of stakes in the Church's organizational
structure is emphasized by additional recent expansions of the responsibilities assigned
to stakes. Stake conferences are held semiannually, with stake presidents responsible for
presiding when Regional Representatives or General Authorities are not present. Other
functions formerly performed by General Authorities but now assigned to stake presidents
include issuing temple recommends, setting apart counselors in the stake presidency and
missionaries, ordaining bishops and stake Patriarchs, and giving special temple recommend
Stake officers have primary responsibility for
training ward priesthood and auxiliary officers. Stake presidencies recommend new bishops
to the General Authorities and, with their high councils, train ward bishoprics and quorum
leaders. Under the direction of the stake presidency and the high council, stake auxiliary
leaders hold regular leadership meetings to train their counterparts at the ward level
(see Leadership Training ). Stake presidencies and high councils continue to serve as the
major judicial organization of the Church and conduct disciplinary councils for members
who have committed serious sins.
New stakes are created when the membership of an
existing stake becomes too large or when Church numbers and leadership strength in a
mission district where a stake has not previously existed reach a level that justifies its
organization (Kimball, p. 11). This process has accelerated greatly since the
mid-twentieth century, with stakes being organized in many nations. Before 1840, 11 stakes
had been established in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. In 1870 there were 12, all located
in Utah. By 1882 the number had grown to 27, and by 1940, to 177. The 321 stakes in 1960
included one in Mexico and 19 in English-speaking countries outside the United States. In
1991 there were over 1,800 stakes worldwide, with almost weekly additions.
Stake presidents are called by revelation and set
apart by a General Authority under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
They are sustained by the membership of the stake in the stake conference following their
call. After a period of service (often about ten years), they are released from their
assignment and a replacement is selected in the same manner.