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SALT LAKE CITY — Fifty-five years after it created its first student wards and stakes at Brigham Young University, the LDS Church is doing away with its "student" unit designation.
In its place are newly formed "young single adult" wards and stakes throughout the state of Utah as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reorganizes, realigns and renames its congregational units for Mormons ages 18 to 30.
"We've seen a lot of young people who previously haven't been engaged with the church for a long time start to come back. We found our young people are better at reaching out to their peers than anyone else, so that rescue effort we've seen in place has been very, very rewarding."
- Reorganization: Gone are the student wards and stakes and the designated young single adult (YSA) wards and branches in the conventional home stakes. They're being replaced by all-encompassing young single adult wards and stakes for any Latter-day Saint — student or not — in the 18-to-30 age group. The average YSA ward, or congregation, will average between 100 and 150 members, with a YSA stake typically comprised of a half-dozen to 10 wards.
- Realignment: Young single adult wards and stakes are being realigned geographically. The YSA stakes are aligned more closely with the conventional home stakes to enhance communication and coordination between the leaders of both when it comes to young single adult members, efforts and activities.
- Renaming: Except in rare circumstances, young single adult wards stakes will not carry institutional names like BYU 5th Stake but rather city or other community-related names, such as Provo Utah 1st YSA Stake or Salt Lake City 10th YSA Ward.
Along the Wasatch Front, the changes could affect 90,000 such members in the Salt Lake and Davis counties and another 65,000 in Utah County.
"Distinction between student and non-students is gone"
"It's a transition to young single adult stakes. The distinction between student and non-student is gone, because that's become more and more blurred as the years have gone on," said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy, who oversees the church's Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City and Utah South areas.
Previously, members ages 18 to 30 might attend a conventional home ward, a student ward, a young single adult branch or ward in the home stake, a cultural or language-specific unit (such as Tongan or Spanish).
Saying, "this age group tends to drift a little," Elder Snow said the result of the changes is that a young single adult simply has two options: either the home ward/stake where they live or the new, corresponding young single adult ward/stake.
"We hope it reduces confusion in their minds — where their priesthood leaders are, where they should go to church, where they should worship," Elder Snow said. "We hope it will provide enhanced opportunities to serve in leadership positions and to teach and lead. We hope it enhances their opportunities to meet other people and to give opportunities. And we want to deliver these opportunities in a geographic area and not require them to travel clear across the valley to attend church."
Various areas in stages of change
Some of the YSA ward and stake composition may not change much in Utah County in the areas of high student residency surrounding the BYU and Utah Valley University campuses. However, with the University of Utah being more of a commuter campus, changes may be more obvious.
While Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties currently are in the throes of the restructuring and realignments, other parts of the state have already made the change.
Early last year, the church's First Presidency asked that all student stakes in Utah — previously restricted to only enrolled college students — be opened up to all young single adults.
The transitioning began a year ago this month with Weber State University units becoming Ogden young single adult wards and stakes, simultaneously folding in any conventional young single adult wards created by regular, neighborhood stakes in the Ogden area.
Similar transitions followed in Cedar City, St. George and Ephraim with student church units at Southern Utah University, Dixie State College and Snow College, respectively.
In August, it was Cache County's turn with the half-dozen student stakes predominantly comprised of Utah State University students. After the changes, an additional two YSA stakes were added in Cache Valley.
With 4,300 attending a special January 1956 conference meeting in the BYU Smith Fieldhouse, the LDS Church created its first student units: the Brigham Young University Stake and its 12 student wards, named B.Y.U. Campus 1st Ward and so forth. Each ward had between 300 and 700 members.
"Then we just kind of watched for a few months, to see how that was going and what we could learn, and it's been very successful," said Elder Snow. "We've seen a lot of young people who previously haven't been engaged with the church for a long time start to come back. We found our young people are better at reaching out to their peers than anyone else, so that rescue effort we've seen in place has been very, very rewarding.
Snow added, "And it creates a lot of synergy and social interaction among our young people, which we encourage as well."
New stakes created
Even after the realignment and geographic reshuffling, the restructuring still will result in an additional dozen new YSA stakes between Farmington and Santaquin — two new stakes in Davis County, eight in Salt Lake City and two in northern Utah County.
The creation of the new YSA units already has begun in Utah County and will continue the next couple of weeks. YSA units in Salt Lake City will be created through the first of May, with a series of special informational meetings scheduled for later this month at the LDS Conference Center.
Bishops and other YSA leadership will still come from conventional home stakes, but the callings for a YSA stake will better align with a more geographical-corresponding neighborhood stake.
Restructuring to provide new opportunities
Elder Snow noted the new YSA unit restructuring does provide enhanced social opportunities for the young adults, acknowledging the emphasis on pursuing marriage and family as a key topic from the church's recent general conference.
"We'd like to see them happily married and creating families," he said, adding, "We had some pretty direct messages in conference — they weren't sugar-coated."