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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Some Mormon men can go on missions at age 18

The LDS Church has lowered the missionary age for young men in Germany, the United Kingdom, Albania, Cape Verde, Spain and Italy from 19 to 18.

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The move was announced three months ago in a letter to LDS stake presidents, bishops and mission presidents, LDS spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed Thursday.

It was prompted, Trotter said, by educational or military requirements in those countries.

In Britain, from about [age] 14 or 15, children are "placed on a conveyor belt which will lead relatively seamlessly through school and off to college (vocational) or university (academic)," Ronan Head, a Mormon who teaches religion and philosophy at a private boys school in England, wrote in March. "By 16, they have largely focused their interests and at 17 will be choosing, if they are interested in university, their major field of study. Sometimes a 'gap year' is taken after school; most often, students glide straight into three years of a degree and then into work."

If a British Mormon male wants to serve a mission, he will have "to withdraw from the university applications process," Head writes. "If he is at an academic school, he will likely be one of only a few who are similarly sidelined. ... His extreme Otherness will be confirmed."

These countries now join most South American countries is sending Mormon missionaries out a year earlier than their counterparts in North America, who generally must wait until 19.

There are always exceptions, however, such as the offspring of Mormon mission presidents. Such anomalies mostly affect males, but even females are occasionally sent before the required age for Mormon women of 21.

"My niece, who is now serving a mission, was able to go when she was 20. Prior to her mission, she went to the Air Force Academy for two years. If she had waited until she was 21, she would not have been able to go on a mission because of academy rules," a poster named JM writes at bycommonconsent.com. "My understanding is that, prior to third year of the academy, a cadet has to make a commitment to the military, and can’t take two years off after making that commitment."

Whether the Utah-based faith uses this opportunity to lower the missionary age for all Mormon women remains to be seen.

But one thing is clear: If it did, "sister missionaries" could greatly increase number of available full-time proselytizers at a time when the pool of available and willing young Mormon men is shrinking.

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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