For the first time in its history, the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has appointed a woman to lead the global faith of 250,000 members headquartered in Independence, Missouri.
Stassi D. Cramm, who currently serves in the governing First Presidency, has spent nearly a quarter of a century in full-time ministry for the faith that, like the much-larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traces its origins to Joseph Smith.
During that time, she has assembled a nearly unrivaled leadership portfolio as well as a reputation as a woman of action, according to apostle Lachlan Mackay, who was involved in issuing the trailblazing call.
“It’s about time,” he said of its historic nature, while also emphasizing Cramm’s unique qualifications for the job.
“Her capacity to get things done,” Mackay said, “exceeds anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Church historian David Howlett, who has served on committees with Cramm, echoed this praise, emphasizing that tried-and-tested leadership is critical for the position that is far from that of a figurehead.
Meanwhile, the fact that she is a woman “represents the promise,” he said, “that all are called, a value that Community of Christ embraces.”
Raised in Illinois and known for her one-word slogan “onward,” Cramm was set apart as a priest in 1987, three years after the Community of Christ began ordaining women — a step the LDS Church has not taken.
Since then, she has overseen the organization’s finances and properties as the presiding bishop, served as the dean of the church’s graduate seminary program, and traveled the world offering sermons as a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles.
“In retreats and leadership gatherings,” Cramm said in a news release, “my role was often as a facilitator.”
“I’ve seen her in a lot of meetings and she is a very good facilitator,” he said, “someone who balances out various perspectives.”
Cramm’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and two master’s — one in organizational management from the University of Phoenix and a second in religion from the church-owned Graceland University. She also holds a doctorate in organization and management from Capella University.
In 2000, she traded in a career as a flight-test engineer for the U.S. Air Force for one in full-time ministry for the church. But, Mackay said, she never really abandoned her training.
“She has the mind of an engineer,” he said with a chuckle. “That is the lens she sees the world through.”
How COC chooses a new prophet-president
Unlike the Utah-based church, the Community of Christ does not simply promote the most senior apostle to the position of president-prophet. Instead, presidents historically have hand-picked their successors, which until the 1990s sprang from direct descendants of Joseph Smith.
That changed with the 2005 appointment of the current prophet-president, Stephen M. Veazey, whose selection represented a joint decision by the Council of Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency. After a major health crisis limited Veazey’s ability to fulfill his calling (the faith’s apostles and prophets — unlike those in the LDS Church — do not serve for life), the current leadership followed this same process to land on Cramm’s name.
“It was very much,” Mackay said, an exercise in “gathering as much information from as many people as possible” to understand “what the church really needs in a leader at this time.”
The collaborative nature of her selection is key, Howlett added, because it signals “that everyone in the Council of Twelve believes they can work with her.”
Delegates to the 2025 World Conference from May 30 to June 6 will vote on her appointment, which Howlett and Mackay expect to win swift approval.
Cramm, Mackay said, has her work cut out for her.
Christianity in the Northern Hemisphere faces, he said, “very strong headwinds,” pointing toward recent studies revealing a decreased appetite for organized religion in the United States.
“The church in the Global South is growing but, of course, the funding for that growth has to come from basically North America,” Mackay explained. “Balancing supporting the growth of the church in the south with the needs of an aging church in North America will not be easy.”
If anyone can overcome these challenges, he said, it’s Stassi — and not only because of her administrative prowess. The future prophet-president has a rare gift, he said, of looking forward with faith while still honoring the past.
“I’ve come to understand we are empowered to move onward,” she said, “by the grace of God.”
Cramm added: “We can’t re-create the heyday of what was. We can learn from it and build upon it, but we must constantly be making the most of the gift of the present as we lean into what might be as we listen and respond to God’s call.”
Clarification • Jan. 18, 2024, 12:10 p.m.: The headline for this story has been updated to clarify the Community of Christ’s ties to Joseph Smith Jr.