This article is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s New to Utah series. For more articles on Utah’s food, culture, history, outdoors and more, sign up for the newsletter at https://www.sltrib.com/new-to-utah/.
This updated guide from a story originally published in 2013 provides an alphabetical listing — spanning from Aaronic Priesthood to Zion — of terms commonly associated with members of Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Learn this lingo (along with further guides we will be providing) and you’ll be talking like a local before you know it — or at least you’ll know what those locals are yammering on and on about.
Aaronic • Think 11- and 12-year-old boys in dress shirts and ties passing Communion (sacrament, in member-speak) to Latter-day Saint congregations every Sunday. Think 14-year-old boys, dressed much the same, preparing the bread and water for that ordinance. And think 16-year-old boys, similarly decked out, offering set blessings of the sacrament. These deacons, teachers and priests, ages 11 to 18, belong to the Aaronic Priesthood, a proving ground of sorts for young Latter-day Saint males before they go on missions (at least many of them) and receive more responsibilities in the faith’s higher Melchizedek Priesthood.
Bible • Yes, Latter-day Saints have their signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, which they believe is a translated work from gold plates regarding God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere. And, yes, they have two other canonized books, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. But they also read, revere and believe the Bible — both the Old and New Testaments — as scripture. They use the King James Version and, as a Latter-day Saint tenet teaches, “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”
Celestial Kingdom • When members speak of heaven, they usually mean the Celestial Kingdom. It is the highest of three “degrees of glory” in the hereafter, above the Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms. Within the Celestial sphere are three levels, the top being reserved for those who are wedded or “sealed” to an eternal spouse. That’s why Latter-day Saint couples (excluding same-sex partners) marry in temples, so they can receive this sealing and qualify, if they live righteously, for the highest heaven. So, for members, marriages aren’t so much matches made in heaven but rather matches made for heaven. Worthy members who are single and never have the chance to marry in mortality are promised that the opportunity will come to them after death.
Deseret • There’s Deseret Industries (a church-owned thrift store). There’s the Deseret News (a church-owned newspaper). There’s Deseret Book (a church-owned bookstore chain and publishing house). There also are dozens of other Deseret-dubbed businesses. But what does the word mean? Well, its roots date back to the Book of Mormon, in which the word is defined as “honeybee.” The beehive, representing work and industry, is found on Utah’s state flag and seal. Church leaders originally sought admission to the union as the State of Deseret. Latter-day Saint pioneer-prophet Brigham Young even envisioned a Deseret Alphabet, with 38 characters. If it had taken hold, this list might read much differently.
Endowment • Latter-day Saints go to temples to take part in “endowment” ordinances for themselves and for people who have died. The symbolic ceremony includes ritual reenactments of the creation, Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden and humankind’s mortal journey and ultimate return to God’s presence. During the ceremony, templegoers make promises to the Almighty to act, speak and think according to heaven’s commands.
First Presidency • The governing body in the worldwide church of 17 million members. It consists of the church’s president (the faith’s longest-tenured apostle) and, usually, two counselors (although more can serve and have served). Today, the Big Three consists of church President Russell M. Nelson along with a first counselor, Dallin H. Oaks, and a second counselor, Henry B. Eyring. All are referred to as presidents.
Godhead • Latter-day Saints see themselves as Christians, but that doesn’t mean they heed all traditional Christian beliefs. As the church’s name implies, Jesus Christ is the center of their devotion. He is their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is seen as the Son of God, the Savior of all humanity. But Latter-day Saint theology differs from historic Christianity. Most Christians preach a Trinity in which God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one substance. Latter-day Saints believe God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, are separate beings with glorified bodies. The third member of the Latter-day Saint godhead, the Holy Ghost, is a spirit.
Home teaching • Although the term officially has been replaced, the principle, if not the practice, remains. Now it’s called “ministering.” Members of the faith’s all-male priesthood and women’s Relief Society are assigned households in their congregation. They make contact with these families and individuals, ideally at least once a month, to attend to their spiritual and physical needs.
Infant baptism • In short, Latter-day Saints don’t perform them. The earliest age at which children can be baptized into the faith is 8. Members do, however, bless babies, and those little ones are counted on the rolls.
Joseph • As in Smith. Mormonism’s founder had a common name but lived an uncommon life. Latter-day Saints believe his path to prophet began at age 14, when a young Joseph, confused about the competing doctrines of the day, prayed to know which church to join. Latter-day Saints teach that God and Jesus then appeared to him — in what is referred to as the “First Vision” — and told the boy to align with no religion and that the true gospel taught by Christ would be “restored” to the Earth through him. For the next 24 years, Smith reported numerous revelations — establishing a church, founding cities, expanding and expounding scriptures, even running for president — before his murder at the hands of a mob in Illinois in 1844.
Kirtland • For much of the 1830s, this northeastern Ohio town near the banks of Lake Erie, was the faith’s principal headquarters. It is here that members erected their first temple. Today, that edifice is a national historic landmark and is owned by the Community of Christ, the largest cousin to the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Liahona • In the Book of Mormon, this compass helped a principal prophet and his family find their way in the wilderness. This instrument worked according to the faith and faithfulness of its holders. In Latter-day Saint lore, it rested with the gold plates — from which Joseph Smith is said to have translated the Book of Mormon. The plates and Lehi’s Liahona, according to church history, were returned to Angel Moroni, the last prophet in the Book of Mormon. Today, the church publishes a magazine called the Liahona.
Missionaries • Surely you’ve seen them. They travel two by two — men as young as 18 in dress shirts and ties and women as young as 19 in dresses, skirts or slacks — with scriptures in hand, planners in pockets and high hopes in their hearts. They walk, bike, bus and drive. They wake at 6:30 a.m. and go to sleep at 10:30 p.m. In between, there are hours of studying, prayer and proselytizing. They get no salary. Full-time missionaries number about 63,000, serving in more than 400 missions around the world. The men go out for two years; the women for 18 months. Retired couples also don missionary name badges and serve for varying lengths of time.
Nauvoo • This western Illinois city on the banks of the Mississippi River blossomed into the church’s headquarters from 1839 to 1846. There, Latter-day Saints built a fast-growing community that almost rivaled Chicago. There, they established a militia with Joseph Smith as commander. There, they built their second temple, before abandoning it for the trek to Utah. (It was torched in 1848 and rebuilt in 2002.) And there, they buried their beloved prophet, Joseph, and his brother Hyrum after they were murdered in nearby Carthage.
Oil • Latter-day Saint men ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood use olive oil, which they have consecrated with a special prayer, to bless the sick. They often carry small vials of this oil in their pockets or on key chains.
Polygamy • At one time, polygamy played a central role in Mormonism. Now, any Latter-day Saints participating in it are removed from the church. The Utah-based faith officially swore off plural marriage in 1890, when then-President Wilford Woodruff issued his “Manifesto.” Some offshoots still practice polygamy. And even mainstream Mormon scriptures describe and defend it. In fact, Latter-day Saint men can be “sealed,” or married for eternity, in temples to multiple women, but a woman can be sealed to only one man.
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles • Together, these men, each one ordained as “prophets, seers and revelators,” rank as the second-highest governing body (after the First Presidency) in the church. Members of the Twelve serve for life and are seen as “special witnesses” of Christ. When a church president dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the longest-tenured apostle becomes the global church’s next leader.
Relief Society • All adult women in the church belong to this organization, which Joseph Smith began in 1842. Each ward, or congregation, has a Relief Society, which provides, among other offerings, compassionate service such as meals to the grieving, homebound and heartbroken. Each ward also has a Relief Society president and she, in turn, has two female counselors. Same goes for Latter-day Saint stakes, which oversee regional clusters of congregations. Churchwide, the general Relief Society president is Camille N. Johnson, with counselors J. Anette Dennis and Kristin M. Yee.
Saints • No St. Peter. No St. Francis. No St. Catherine. You won’t find any patron saints in Mormon theology. But you’ll find plenty of Saints. In fact, every member is seen as one — thus the name Latter-day Saint. It is a title earned not through saintly deeds but rather through a singular act: joining the church.
Tithing • Devout members donate a tenth of their income to the church as tithing. This money helps pay for the chapels, temples, universities, welfare operations and more. The faith’s ruling councils — the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Presiding Bishopric — oversee how the funds are spent. How much money are we talking about? Well, amid all the news stories about the church’s vast wealth, estimates have surfaced that the global church amasses about $7 billion a year in tithing.
Urim and Thummim • Huh? These instruments are mentioned in Hebrew and Latter-day Saint scriptures. Many members believe Joseph Smith, following in the footsteps of ancient prophets, used the Urim and Thummim to translate much of the Book of Mormon from inscriptions on gold plates. At one point, the church founder described them as “two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Modern historians, though, increasingly believe Smith viewed a “seer stone” in a hat, where the words somehow appeared on the revelatory rock.
Virgin birth • Like many Christians, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a virgin when he was born. Unlike Catholics, though, Latter-day Saints teach that Mary was not a perpetual virgin. They believe she later had children by her earthly husband, Joseph.
Word of Wisdom • Devout Latter-day Saints don’t drink or smoke. They don’t consume coffee or tea either. Perhaps no other teaching can so visibly “out” Latter-day Saints. At cocktail parties, they’re downing Sprite. At restaurants, they do the “Mormon flip,” turning over their coffee cups. These behaviors are rooted in the Word of Wisdom, the faith’s health code. Issued by Joseph Smith in 1833, it teaches members to eschew alcohol, tobacco and “hot drinks,” which church leaders have subsequently defined as “coffee and tea.” Many members presume the ban on coffee and tea is because both beverages contain caffeine, so they avoid, say, Mountain Dew or Pepsi or Coke. But Latter-day Saint leaders have reaffirmed their longtime stance that the only prohibited drinks are alcohol, coffee and tea. So caffeinated colas are kosher.
Young • As in Brigham. He is called the Mormon Moses because he led the exodus of Latter-day Saints from Illinois to a promised land: the Salt Lake Valley. He became the faith’s second president after Joseph Smith’s murder. In Utah, he rose to territorial governor and colonized much of the West — establishing settlements stretching from San Bernardino, Calif., to Las Vegas to Logan and points in between and beyond. He died in 1877 at age 76 after leading the church for nearly 30 years as president, the longest tenure of any Latter-day Saint prophet.
Zion • For Latter-day Saints, Zion can be a particular place where the Saints live. At various times in church history, for instance, Zion has been Kirtland, Ohio; Jackson County, Mo.; Nauvoo, Ill.; and Salt Lake City. Zion also can be anywhere the Saints live — from Tokyo to Tooele, Albania to Zimbabwe. And Zion can be an attitudinal place because Latter-day Saint scripture describes it as the “pure in heart.”
Sources • Encyclopedia of Mormonism, churchofjesuschrist.org, Salt Lake Tribune archives.