Newly sustained LDS President Russell M. Nelson stunned the Mormon men and boys at Saturday evening’s priesthood session of General Conference with a seismic announcement: the Utah-based faith is combining Melchizedek Priesthood quorums for adult men from ages 18 on up into a single group.

High priest groups will be dissolved and combined into elders quorums in Mormon congregations around the world.

Stake presidencies (regional LDS leaders) will release both high priest group leaderships and elders quorum presidencies and call new three-man elders presidencies.

“These modifications have been under study for many months,” the energetic 93-year-old Mormon prophet said. “We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for his Saints.”

He declared that these adjustments “are inspired of the Lord.”

Nelson was followed by two apostles, who spelled out how the new organization will work in LDS congregations. This move will unify “priesthood holders to accomplish all aspects of the work of salvation, including the temple and family history work previously coordinated by the high priest groups,” apostle D. Todd Christofferson said. “It allows quorum members of all ages and backgrounds to benefit from the perspective and experience of one another and of those in different stages of life.”

The collective gifts of these new quorums, Christofferson said, including “wisdom, experience, capacity and strength,” point to “a new day and a new standard of priesthood service across the church.”

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband said it will be a “joy... for all Melchizedek Priesthood holders to have the blessing of teaching, learning and serving shoulder to shoulder with all the members in their ward.”

The new system will provide “a greater diversity of gifts and capacities within the quorum,” Rasband said, and will allow “more flexibility and availability to meet current and urgent needs within the ward and quorum, and in fulfilling our various ministering assignments.”

Some Mormon congregations are small, and high priests and elders already meet together, sometimes with only a handful of attendees. Others, especially in LDS-dominated areas in Utah, are large and already have multiple elders quorums.

“Can a ward have more than one elders quorum? The answer is ‘yes,’” Rasband said. “ ... When a ward has an unusually large number of active Melchizedek Priesthood bearers, leaders may organize more than one elders quorum. In such cases, each quorum should have a reasonable balance in terms of age, experience and priesthood office strength.”

Social media lit up about the change throughout the session, with members across the globe trying to assess what it would mean to them.

“I can see consolidated priesthood quorums being a blessing in a ward like mine,” said Siobhán Downing of San Diego. “We are small in number, so the logistics of leadership and splitting up are difficult anyway. With a disparity in ages, it will serve us well to have some of the younger men observe more closely what the older, established, stalwart men do.”

Combining priesthood quorums “will really help us,” said Stacey Anderson, recalling a former elders quorum president in her Chicago-area ward who left the church because of the burdens of the calling. “Our elders … need these high priests’ help so much.”

On Saturday night, it fell to Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor, to lay out the religious underpinnings of Mormon priesthood.

The keys of the priesthood are the powers to direct the exercise of priesthood authority, Oaks said.

That authority “is not a status or a label,” he said. “It is a divine power held in trust to use for the benefit of God’s work for his children.”

Members should not confuse the men who hold the priesthood with the power itself.

“It is not appropriate to refer to ‘the priesthood and the women,’” Oaks said. “We should refer to “the holders of the priesthood and the women.”

The men who hold the priesthood, he said, “have the divine power that even governs entrance into the celestial kingdom of God.”

The former Utah Supreme Court justice then offered an example of an elders quorum president in Idaho, who learned that a student in his group was planning to quit college.

The quorum president went to the young man’s house and said, “As your elders quorum president, I counsel you not to drop out of college. That is a message to you from the Lord.”

The young man stayed in school, Oaks said, and told the LDS authority that it had made “made all the difference in [his] life.”

Nelson, in his first full-length General Conference sermon as the new Mormon prophet, closed the session by proclaiming his profound appreciation for LDS teachings about priesthood.

“The restoration of the priesthood of God, including the keys of the priesthood, opens to worthy Latter-day Saints the greatest of all spiritual blessings,” Nelson said. “We see those blessings flowing to women, men and children throughout the world.”

Faithful Mormon women, he said, “understand the power inherent in their callings and in the endowment and other temple ordinances…[and] know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen their husbands, children and others they love.”

They are “spiritually strong women,” Nelson said, “who lead, teach and minister fearlessly in their callings with the power and authority of God.”

Too many LDS men and women, he said, “do not fully understand the concept of priesthood power and authority. “

Through a lifetime of service in the LDS Church, the Mormon president has learned that “it really doesn’t matter where one serves. What the Lord cares about most is how one serves.”

At the conclusion, Nelson had all the boys and men rise in their separate priesthood groups and sing the hymn “Rise Up, O Men of God.”

Reporter-editor Cathy Reese Newton contributed to this report.