Latter-day Saint boys can enter priesthood before they turn 12 under new rules for youths

Time to suit up, 11-year-old Latter-day Saint boys, you may be passing the sacrament at Sunday services as soon as next month.

Under new rules unveiled Friday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will allow boys to be ordained to the all-male priesthood the year they turn 12 instead of waiting for their actual birthday to become “deacons.”

The same will apply for girls, who will move from the children’s Primary to the Beehive level of the faith’s Young Women program the year they turn 12.

Also, boys will move up to “teacher” quorums in the Aaronic Priesthood in January the year they turn 14 and become “priests” the year they turn 16. In short, that means there can be 11-year-old deacons, 13-year-old teachers and 15-year-old priests.

Girls will progress in their Young Women classes the same way, advancing in the years they turn 14 for Mia Maids and 16 for Laurels.

“Our youth and children are among the best the Lord has ever sent into this world," church President Russell M. Nelson said in a Facebook post. "They have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation! We must do our part to help them realize their potential.”

Emily Jensen, a Latter-day Saint writer and editor in Utah, called the move “one more step in a long history of priesthood development in the church and how it affects procedures.”

Jensen has a son who turns 12 in April, and he will now get the priesthood in two weeks rather than four months. He then can become one of the suited or dress-shirt-and-tie-wearing deacons who distribute the sacrament, or communion, to members.

“My son is excited and curious about how it will work for him with priesthood ordination," Jensen said, “and my daughter feels trepidation about now moving ahead with her entire class into Mia Maids in just a few weeks."

(Courtesy Photo of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Priesthood-holding Latter-day Saint boys in Africa prepare to pass the sacrament.

The move, according to a letter from the church’s governing First Presidency that is to be read in sacrament meetings this Sunday, is meant to “strengthen our beloved children and youth through increased faith in Jesus Christ, deeper understanding of his gospel, and greater unity with his church and its members.”

It also will allow Latter-day Saint girls and boys to obtain limited-use temple recommends in January of the year they turn 12.

“I am particularly excited that these changes will make it possible for younger children to be involved in temple work,” Joy D. Jones, general president of the Primary, said in a news release. “They are typically counting the days until they turn 12 to receive a limited-use recommend and perform ordinances in the temple.”

As for younger boys entering the priesthood, that age has varied throughout church history. Before 1877, the Utah-based faith noted, some boys as young as 8 were ordained.

“This means that my son, who just turned 11, could be ordained to the LDS priesthood in about three weeks," Exponent II blogger April Young Bennett said. "When he is ordained, he will be my first child to exceed my rank in the church, as a mere woman.”

Stephen W. Owen, general president of the Young Men program, said having the male and female youths advance as groups — instead of on their separate birthdays — will help boost “unity” as well.

“They progress together. This change helps in the process of conversion. It creates belonging," he said in a news release. "Youth are part of a battalion, as President Nelson taught; no one needs to feel alone. We are together.”

That means Beehives and deacons will be able to attend church camps before their 12th birthdays. And Mia Maids and teachers can go to youth conferences and dances before they turn 14.

The First Presidency is encouraging local lay leaders to make these changes throughout the month of January. The date may be different in places where January isn’t the natural transition month to a new year.

Reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this article.