Presiding high council

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In the Latter Day Saint movement, there are two Presiding High Councils, one said to be "standing," and the other "traveling." The Traveling High Council is generally known as the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Both councils, at least in theory, preside over the church in general, although the apostles have tended to supersede the Standing High Council, both in the LDS Church and Community of Christ.

Both Presiding High Councils function as second presidencies to the church, the Apostles overseeing the mission field, and the Standing High Council overseeing the stakes of Zion (or areas where the church has been organized into sustained units).

Historically, the Standing High Council had oversight over all other high councils within the stakes of Zion and was equal in authority to the Twelve Apostles. As the Standing High Council oversaw stake high councils, the Apostles had oversight over the Seventy.

Types of High Councils[edit]

In the revelations of Joseph Smith, at least three types of high councils are mentioned:

  • Stake High Councils, with standing or authority in only one particular stake,
  • a Standing Presiding High Council, (also called the High Council in Zion or the High Council of Zion), with jurisdiction over all the stakes of Zion, and
  • a Traveling Presiding High Council (aka the Quorum of the Twelve), who oversaw the mission field outside of the established stakes.

The Standing Presiding High Council is historically located at the Center Place of Zion, or church headquarters. The Center Place itself is not considered a stake, but is the center of the church. Building upon Isaiah’s imagery of Zion as a tent (Isaiah 54:2), the church leadership is found at the center pole of the tent, with the stakes of Zion providing support and balance to the Center Place or church headquarters.

The Standing Presiding High Council in Zion acts a second presidency to the church, with similar authority to the Traveling High Council or Apostles. Both Presiding High Councils, standing and traveling, however, have different jurisdictions. A revelation of Joseph Smith Jr. states that “the high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.”[1]

According to Smith's revelations on priesthood, each presiding high council, standing or traveling, when combined, are equal in authority to the First Presidency. But both are subject to the First Presidency, which has undivided authority over all the church.

In addition to these two presiding councils, each of the several standing high councils in the stakes of Zion, when combined, are deemed to be equal in authority to Standing High Council in Zion.[2] As such, the combined stake high councils potentially form a third-tier presidency. The same is true of the Seventy, as a third presidency of the church, being equal in authority to the Twelve.

History of the Presiding High Council in the LDS Church[edit]

On February 17, 1834, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, created the church's first high council at church headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio. (See LDS D&C 102). This body consisted of twelve men, under the direction of the First Presidency. This High Council took on the role of chief judicial and legislative body of the church, except in areas where the church was not organized (which, beginning in 1835, was led by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), and handled such things as excommunication trials and approval of all church spending. When church headquarters moved to Jackson County, Missouri, the newly formed Missouri high council took on a presiding role as the High Council of Zion, and the Kirtland high council became subordinate. Later, when other high councils were established in newly formed stakes of the Church, the High Council of Zion took on the role of "presiding" over the lesser High Councils. For example, cases tried in the High Councils of outlying stakes were regularly appealed to the Presiding High Council. The president of this high council was the President of the Church, who at all relevant times was Joseph Smith, Jr..[3]

Originally, the Presiding High Council, under the direction of the First Presidency, was in a de facto supervisory role over the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which was a travelling high council with jurisdiction only outside of Zion or its stakes. For example, in 1838, when vacancies arose in the Traveling High Council, it was the Presiding High Council at Far West, Missouri that voted on and filled the vacancies. Later, as the Traveling High Council evolved and began to be known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, it acquired equal status with the Presiding High Council and both were subordinated to the First Presidency. When the High Council of Zion was dissolved after the Church was expelled from Missouri, the High Council organized at the new church headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois functioned as the Presiding High Council of the church, overseeing appeals from high councils in outlying stakes.

After the 1844 succession crisis, High Councils developed differently in the various denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which believed in the ascendancy of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presiding High Council diminished in authority and eventually disappeared. Post-exodus, the council was established in a limited capacity as part of the central Salt Lake Stake, but only served as a ratifying body for priesthood quorums in other stakes. The LDS Adult Sunday School Manual for 1980 states: “The Salt Lake Stake functioned more or less as a center stake that gave direction and guidance and had jurisdiction over other stakes. When quorum leaders in outlying areas needed new officers they sent a list of nominees to the Salt Lake Stake.” [4] Of this arrangement, the manual states that “the function of stake organizations … had not been adequately defined for the maximum strength of the overall Church organization.” [5]

In 1877, the First Presidency with Brigham Young as President sent out an epistle to the Church for the purpose of “setting in order the quorums of priesthood”; regarding the situation of the Salt Lake Stake having a "center place," supervisory role, the epistle states that “under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles the presidency of the various Stakes will have the general supervision of all matters pertaining to the church within the limits of their Stakes.”[6] With that, any remaining vestiges of a standing presiding high council within the LDS Church disappeared.

The Standing High Council of Community of Christ[edit]

Community of Christ, the former RLDS Church, has a functioning Standing High Council. Composed of twelve members, it retains some (but not all) of the duties detailed in Joseph Smith Jr's priesthood structure. One major difference is that its members are not general officers that are equal to the Twelve. As such, the Standing High Council is not part of the World Church Leadership Council. The Standing High Council, however, functions in an advisory role for the First Presidency. Its decisions may be landmark, usually overturned only through action of a World Conference. Major decisions include its 1982 statement on homosexuality.[7]

The Church Administrator's Handbook 2005 Edition states:

The Standing High Council meets at the request of the First Presidency to consider questions of moral and ethical significance, to provide general advice and counsel to the First Presidency, and to consider appeals from courts of field jurisdictions. The Standing High Council may also advice the Presiding Bishopric when requested by the First Presidency.[8]

The current members of the Standing High Council are:[9]

  • William M. Barnhard
  • Gwendolyn Hawks-Blue
  • Kent G. Bradford
  • Sharon M. Kirkpatrick
  • Valerie K. Brennan
  • Marilee A. Martens
  • David M. Byrn
  • Scott A. Roberson
  • Dennis R. Clinefelter
  • Kathy D. Robinson
  • Matthew J. Frizzell
  • Patricia K. Trachsel


  1. ^ LDS D&C 107:37
  2. ^ LDS D&C 107:36
  3. ^ LDS D&C 102:9
  4. ^ My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth, LDS Church Sunday School Manual (1980): 40.
  5. ^ My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth, 40.
  6. ^ My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth, 41.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Community of Christ Administrator's Handbook 2005," found online at [1], page 24. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  9. ^ General Councils, Quorums, and Orders of Community of Christ.