At the Gates of the Priesthood: On Watching a Boy Turn Twelve

Jacob can run a mile in under six minutes. He can easily eat a half dozen pieces of pizza in a sitting. His pants are getting too short again. The writing is on the wall — he is growing up. Perhaps nothing underscores this reality more than the fact that he turned twelve this weekend.

Turning twelve has been the focus of much thought in our family. Both John and I have taught several Family Home Evening lessons on priesthood power, responsibility, and organization. We’ve all worked together on completing Jacob’s Faith in God award. In attempting to create meaningful family rituals that would be inclusive of all of our children, we came up with the idea for a special rite of passage. On your twelfth birthday, you get a trip by yourself with Mom and Dad to Salt Lake City. We will do baptisms in the Salt Lake Temple, see the sites, attend General Conference and just spend time giving some individual attention to the son or daughter who is making the transition out of childhood. This has been a huge undertaking, both in terms of finances and arranging care for our other children. We’ve been planning and saving for almost four years. Salt Lake City is almost two thousand miles away.

Last Sunday, the deacon’s quorum advisor came up to me and said, “I know I should be talking to your husband about this, but when is Jacob receiving the priesthood?” I have to confess, the wording of this question irritated me. I am his mother, even a woman, who stands outside the gates of the priesthood. However, I do know when the ordinance is planned to occur. It shouldn’t be, but perhaps it would be surprising to this leader to know that I have been intimately involved in preparing him to receive the priesthood.

Although we frequently acknowledge the role of mothers in teaching and preparing their children in general terms, priesthood preparation is usually described as falling within the sphere of father’s domain. Some scholars have pointed out that it is easy to overlook or misinterpret the involvement of the matriarchs — Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel — with the priesthood, especially when we read these stories through the traditional lens of scriptural interpretation. This week as I did my reading for Sunday School, my feelings about Rebekah and Jacob have been tender.

In some ways, as I watch Jacob enter the gates of the priesthood, my emotions are bittersweet. I should not be surprised — in a world of gender polarities, a son’s movement from mother to the masculine world of the priesthood has sometimes been complex. The scriptural account of Rebekah and Jacob seems confusing; the story of Hannah and Samuel heartrending.

But now, my focus turns outward. This moment belongs to me as much as to my husband. Like Rebekah, I have prepared my Jacob for the priesthood. Like Hannah before me, I will present him to the leading religious authority at the appointed time. I know of the power of my own teachings and the blessings that I have bestowed upon him as a mother in Israel. I will take my place outside the circle, and with a full heart, I will watch the dew of heaven distill upon the head of my first-born son.


  1. This is a very beautiful and moving piece. Thank you.

  2. Thank you! I dont even have kids but it is very moving. I had decided I don’t want girls because I don’t want them to have to sufer the gender inequalities I feel at church, but being on the outside of boys being let into the priesthood also has to be very difficult. Thanks for the insight!

  3. Kris, wonderful! Jacob is a very fortunate boy to have you as his mother.

  4. Kris — I was really moved by this post and the love & tension it represents. This is one worth printing out and tucking away; especially if we have a boy . . .

  5. Kris: My son is turning 12 next month and we are going through much of what you are in preparation for this event (sans the trip to SLC!).

    I am finding it hard to be completely thrilled for my son’s ordination when my next child, my daughter, will have no similar ritual to mark her 12th year.

    It’s funny to me that it didn’t really bother me that only men have the priesthood until I had a daughter and realized that she deserves every good thing that this world has to offer–just like her brother does.

  6. my daughter, will have no similar ritual to mark her 12th year…

    I don’t want girls because I don’t want them to have to sufer the gender inequalities…

    It pains me to see all the time, effort and energy many good women put into the young women’s program only to see it belittled here. Maybe we should be a little more considerate than to suggest that no matter how hard they try, these women will never be able to build a program to equal that of the Young Men’s. How offensive.

  7. Kris,

    Thanks for your comments. I know in my ward growing up, there was special attention and recognition (nigh ceremoniously) paid to the mothers. I remember at almost all of my ordinations/setting apart my own mother simultaneously beaming and shedding tears as the bishop took a special moment to thank her for all she had done to make the occasion possible. Most tenderly when I was set apart as a missionary. It is sad to know that this may be an exception.

  8. This was lovely – thanks Kris.

  9. JA Benson says:

    Thanks Kris for the wonderful post. I will have a Deacon in my family for a few more months until he turns fourteen in May and will be ordained a Teacher.
    I love Deacons they are like toddlers full of enthusiasm and mischief. Their awkwardness is engaging; still a little kid and not fully a teenager. I warms my heart to see them take their Priesthood responsibilities serious as they pass the Sacrament.
    In May we won’t have a Deacon at our house for another six more years. I dread having a Teacher. I greatly dislike climbing into the car late for Church on a Sunday morning and hearing from the back seat, “Uh Mom, Uh I think I am supposed to bring the bread.”

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Beautiful post, Kris.

    People who are not familiar with this might enjoy reading William Hartley’s seminal article “From Men to Boys” in the Journal of Mormon History, on why priesthood responsibilities were eventually given to boys as young as 12 years old rather than just mature men. It’s a great article.

  11. jwright says:

    Very well done Hawk!!! Really tugged on my heart strings, especially the last paragraph.
    I have a few thoughts to share on this subject.
    Kris and I have three sons and one daughter. And although our culture, both inside and outside the church, can cause pain where gender is concerned there is absolutely no way I would not want to have a daughter.
    I think there are several issues here. Let me comment on two questions that come to mind.
    How do the mothers feel?
    How do the young women feel?
    It was never meant as a token gesture, but before we laid hands on any young man to confer the priesthood or ordain him to an office in the priesthood, I would always invite the mother to open with prayer. It was my way of including her.
    With the many beehives I have interviewed over the years, few were thinking about this type of issue as beehives. However, the young women are beginning to think about these issues at a younger and younger age which I think is a good thing.

    What can we as community members and leaders do to help young women feel more cared about as they transition from primary to Young Womens, as they participate in Young Womens in general? There must be things we can do. Those of us that have had our consciousness raised in this area are pioneers. In an unconfrontational but unapologetic way, we must continue to raise questions relating to gender. And although it may be frustating and painful at times, it is not right for us or others “to take no thought” and just do things because that is that way we have always done things. If we do not persist in discussing these issues then sadly we may have more people who don’t want to raise daughters in the church.

    Kris, thanks for helping me see much more than I would have ever seen on my own.

  12. Kristine says:

    “What can we as community members and leaders do to help young women feel more cared about as they transition from primary to Young Womens, as they participate in Young Womens in general?”

    I know of one bishop who would give a “Bishop’s blessing” to each young woman in his ward on her 12th, 14th, and 16th birthdays. Her family was invited and it was a big deal (if she wanted it to be–some girls preferred to have it with just one or two friends or a YW leader present).

    I thought that was a lovely way of acknowledging a girl’s growing up, and giving her a chance to have God’s love and concern expressed to her in a somewhat formal way by a priesthood leader. I wish this practice could become widespread.

  13. Thanks for all the kind comments.

    A few responses:
    would agree with pilgrimgirl that I was more unaware of these issues until I had my daughter. And I’m not sure what we will do to try to ritualize the event for her more specifically. If I’m still blogging in seven years, I’ll write about it. But I’m really excited about Kristine’s idea — I think this could be a wonderful way of formally recognizing a young woman’s progression. I have just recently become part of a YW Presidency and will be taking it with me to church on Sunday for discussion. Ryan is right that there is alot of energy and enthusiasm put into YW, but I think it lacks ritual, particularly in comparison to the YM’s program, that empoweres girls.

    Thanks for the reference Kevin, I will look forward to reading it.

    John, welcome to BCC. I knew it would only be a matter of time. :)

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