2013 is already shaping up to be a momentous year for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Victoria.
Due to increasing membership, last month the Church created four new congregations (known by Mormons as ‘wards’). These individual congregations are grouped together by location into stakes, somewhat like a diocese in other denominations.
To accommodate the new wards, two new stakes, the Craigieburn and Gippsland stakes, were formed over two weekends in January, bringing the total in Victoria to eight. The first Victorian stake was created 50 years ago.
Elder Kevin W. Pearson, first counsellor in the Pacific Area Presidency of the Church, presided over the changes in western and northern Melbourne where the new Craigieburn stake was formed. "There is great power in the expanding kingdom of God," said Elder Pearson. "It is truly wonderful and thrilling to see so much rapid change in the Church."
South east of Melbourne, a week earlier, Elder F. Michael Watson, second counsellor in the Pacific Area Presidency, presided over the conference where the new Gippsland stake was formed.
Melbourne-born, Andrew O’Riordan, recently ordained a ‘Seventy’ (this priesthood office makes him one of the Church’s senior leaders in Australia) was heavily involved in the creation of the new stakes and wards.
“This is a mark of the growth of the Church in Victoria and the strength of the members and priesthood leadership," said Elder O'Riordan at the Craigieburn conference. "The changes will allow for the continued care of Church members and for greater opportunities for them to serve within their local communities.”
He said that this unprecedented growth had been made possible as members of the Church more faithfully aligned their lives to the Saviour’s gospel and assisted others to do likewise.
A significant benefit from the changes in Victoria last month was further support for those who speak different languages. Mormons come from a very diverse range of cultural backgrounds and new Samoan, Tongan and Mandarin speaking units were created so that people could worship in their native tongues.
Mormons have a lay leadership so these congregations function due to the significant efforts of volunteers. With the changes, many men and women would now be invited to take up leadership positions in the new wards and stakes where otherwise they may not have experienced these personal growth opportunities.
Manuel Valdes, Sitivi Vaivai and Conway Brady are some of those volunteers. With support from their wives, Presidents Valdes, Vaivai and Brady, as they will now be known, will administer the Church as president, first counsellor and second counsellor of the newly-formed Gippsland stake. All three are immigrants to Australia. Taking on the equivalent roles in the newly-formed Craigieburn stake are Clayton Williams, Anthony Lawless and Ray David.
Elder O'Riordan said there was a direct correlation with the growth in Victoria to the fact that more young Mormons are serving full-time missions than ever before. "As our sons and daughters have answered the prophet’s call to serve, it has brought the blessings of heaven not only down into our homes, but also into our wards and stakes," he said.
Elder O'Riordan was referring to the announcement during the October 2012 General Conference of the Church, held in Salt Lake City, Utah, of an expansion in the opportunities for young members of the Church to serve full-time missions. Church president, Thomas S. Monson, announced that men may now begin serving at the age of 18 and women at age 19. Previously the ages were 19 and 21 respectively.