Blessings

This past general conference was…fun. Change is generally exciting. Even though our stake still hasn’t reorganized the various Elders’ quorums yet, “Ministering” is on the move. Ecclesiology is fun for me, so as an observer as well as practitioner, I’m having a good time of this. However, perhaps the most interesting bit of conference to me was President Nelson’s concluding remarks at the Priesthood Session on liturgy:

I fear that too many of our brothers and sisters do not grasp the privileges that could be theirs. [n3] Some of our brethren, for example, act like they do not understand what the priesthood is and what it enables them to do. Let me give you some specific examples.

Not long ago, I attended a sacrament meeting in which a new baby was to be given a name and a father’s blessing. The young father held his precious infant in his arms, gave her a name, and then offered a beautiful prayer. But he did not give that child a blessing. That sweet baby girl got a name but no blessing! That dear elder did not know the difference between a prayer and a priesthood blessing. With his priesthood authority and power, he could have blessed his infant, but he did not. I thought, “What a missed opportunity!”

n3. See Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–22; 107:18–19; Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:30–31 (in the Bible appendix).

First the placement of footnote 3 is fascinating. Men and women do not grasp their priviledges. What priviledges are those? Let’s check the footnote…hmmm…everything having to do with the high priesthood. Okay. Still, “power of godliness” for the win. Would have loved to use this sermon in the conclusion of my book.

But it is the next exhortation that is the key. Similar to the way Elder Packer exhorted priesthood officers to bless, President Nelson is making a key argument: blessings are not the same thing as prayers. I think I’m sensitized to this rhetoric as it has been a key figure in debates over female ritual healing (TLDR: women used to bless as authorized administrators in the Mormon healing liturgy). From a Religious Studies perspective, there is a demonstrable difference between blessing and prayer. What work are they both doing? But also from the perspective of the believer…and let’s make no mistake: this is precarious ground. President Oaks discussed healing in the 2010 April GenCon, and he negotiated a similar problem as President Nelson, albeit landing in a different spot. He noted that in cases such as patriarchal blessing, the words spoken are the critical feature of the ritual. “But in a healing blessing it is the other parts of the blessing—the anointing, the sealing, faith, and the will of the Lord—that are the essential elements.” He continued:

Ideally, the elder who officiates will be so in tune with the Spirit of the Lord that he will know and declare the will of the Lord in the words of the blessing. Brigham Young taught priesthood holders, “It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you.” When that happens, the spoken blessing is fulfilled literally and miraculously. On some choice occasions I have experienced that certainty of inspiration in a healing blessing and have known that what I was saying was the will of the Lord. However, like most who officiate in healing blessings, I have often struggled with uncertainty on the words I should say. For a variety of causes, every elder experiences increases and decreases in his level of sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit. Every elder who gives a blessing is subject to influence by what he desires for the person afflicted. Each of these and other mortal imperfections can influence the words we speak.

Fortunately, the words spoken in a healing blessing are not essential to its healing effect. If faith is sufficient and if the Lord wills it, the afflicted person will be healed or blessed whether the officiator speaks those words or not. Conversely, if the officiator yields to personal desire or inexperience and gives commands or words of blessing in excess of what the Lord chooses to bestow according to the faith of the individual, those words will not be fulfilled.

Evangelizing elders in nineteenth-century Britain were similarly warned not to speak beyond their gifts. And it is clear that with the case of healing blessings, the outcomes are far more immediate than the hopeful blessing of a neonate. And yet, the predicament is very similar. Does one recognize the “difference between a prayer and a priesthood blessing” and then swing for the fences? Though deeply loyal to each other and dear friends, I think the contrasting resolution of both Oaks and Nelson is a demonstration of how sensitive the dilemma is.

Comments

  1. LatamGirl says:

    I didn’t understand what President Nelson was referring to. Was he referring to this strange practice I see sometimes during a baby blessing where the priesthood holder starts by addressing the baby in the second person and then switches at some point to speaking in the second person to God?

    Please elaborate because I’m confused about the example.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    LatamGirl, it is complicated. If it is something that you want to dig into deeply, I have a whole chapter on baby blessings in Power of Godliness. Baby blessings have sometimes been addressed to God for the duration of the ritual, something they have been addressed to the child, and sometimes they switch between. But the prayer/blessing dichotomy that President Nelson was invoking was the difference between “We bless this child to…/we bless you to…” and “Please bless this child to…/May you be blessed to…”. It is the difference between supplication and annunciation.

  3. Loursat says:

    We put ourselves in a pickle with our conception of the priesthood blessing as something that is limited to the ritual invocation of divine powers, rather than something that also extends to our subsequent action. In other words, we often think our only part in the blessing is to say the words and hope for a miracle. Whether the miracle happens can’t really be explained by anything else that we do. This model of the priesthood blessing becomes problematic when the miracle doesn’t happen; that is, when the words spoken in the blessing fail. Pres. Nelson emphasizes the verbal form of the blessing and Pres. Oaks deemphasizes the verbal form, but the problem exists with either approach.

    This problem is most difficult in the case of healing blessings when healing is promised but fails to occur. (In other types of blessings, such as patriarchal blessings, it is often a lot harder to nail down a failed promise, because the possible timeframe for fulfillment of the promise is so long.) We usually attribute the failure to weak faith or poor judgment, but these explanations often give little comfort to those who are hurt by the failure.

    It’s worth thinking about what we really want to accomplish with priesthood blessings. It’s not clear to me exactly what opportunities Pres. Nelson believes we are missing when we don’t phrase a blessing properly. Are we missing the chance to perform miracles? I’m in favor of miracles, of course, and I treasure the miracles that I’ve experienced. But I also think that priesthood blessings can accomplish more than that when we understand them as opportunities to build faith, receive revelation, and strengthen community. The common conception (especially in connection with healing blessings) that we do the ritual by saying the right words and then dumping the problem in God’s lap works against those larger possibilities.

  4. Matthew Peterson says:

    I feel confident that our Father knows the blessing, it seems to me that the words are for our ears. The accurate way to voice a blessing in words is difficult at times and it seems I can only make a sketch of the message. Other times I know the blessing before the time arrives and the words are easier. When I was younger, I had a time where a brother and I were asked to go to the hospital and give a blessing to someone we didn’t know anything about but her name. We found her room, nobody else was there but her, and she was not concious as we tried to talk to her. We waited for a few minutes and wondered what to do. Mobile phones were not a thing, so we were on our own and after discussing it we blessed her and left. Not really sure if that was proper but we felt like it was the better choice.

    Interesting contrast between those talks. I am very familiar with the Oaks talk, but missed that excerpt from Nelson.

  5. jaxjensen says:

    Several times after giving blessings I’ve sat and talked to the person about what I felt. It might go something like this, “When I said you would be blessed to … (insert blessing)… I’m not sure that came out right. The prompting I was feeling was maybe closer to (explanation). That is more of what I was trying to convey/what message I was trying to give.” I’ve always found it to be a good experience to talk about them afterward when appropriate.

    Supporting Pres. Nelson, I grind my teeth anytime I hear an Elder say anything remotely close to, “I feel bad for Bro Jones, I hope God blesses him.” When ever I hear anyone say “I hope God blesses…” I want to scream at them that THEY are the instrument of the blessing, so go do it! You want someone to be blessed to be healthy, go bless them with such. Want them to be able to overcome some trial, go bless them. Ad infinitum! And after that (parroting Loursat) go do everything you can to help them. I think a lot more “miracles” would happen if we’d stop passively wishing for them but would rather go out and make them happen. Have your presence in someone else’s life BE the miracle that they needed.

  6. J. I love the way you dissected these sermons. As good as any Puritan auditor. And mean that in the best possible sense.

  7. Jenny Harrison says:

    “Fortunately, the words spoken in a healing blessing are not essential to its healing effect. If faith is sufficient and if the Lord wills it, the afflicted person will be healed or blessed whether the officiator speaks those words or not. ”

    Why give a blessing at all if the words are not essential and it is all about your faith and God’s will? I ask that because over the course of the last year or so I have changed my beliefs and left the church. As such I no longer believe that we need to call upon the ‘priesthood’ for blessings. I believe that I have as much access to God as anyone. So instead of asking for blessings from the ‘priesthood’, I have told God my needs and desires and left the outcome up to him. Following the example of our Savior, I have at times fallen to the ground, wept, and cried out, “Thy will be done.” Never before in my life have I had actual healing miracles occur until I began to do this. I feel that we all too often let middlemen come between us and our God.

  8. I’m always hesitant to speak for God when I’m not sure what God intends. I don’t necessarily need God to actually place words into my mouth (although that does sometimes happen), but if I’m going to bless a man near death to be healed, I need at least an inkling from God that God doesn’t intend for the man to die.

    I have mixed feelings about baby blessings. Too often they seem to all follow the same pattern (“your name, as it shall be known in the records of the church…,bless you that when the time is right you should serve a mission and get married and have children and…”) The baby blessing I heard yesterday was spoken in front of a crowd so big that the chairs went all the way back to the stage in the cultural hall. I wonder if a smaller, more private setting might be more conducive to allowing the spirit to influence the words of the blessing. I think back to when I’ve been most receptive to the spirit, and the most significant experiences have always been when I’m either alone or when I’m in a very small group.

  9. words can hurt says:

    The words spoken in a priesthood blessing can have significant unintended results, though less likely in a baby blessing – the words of which are unrecorded and often not remembered, certainly not by the baby. E.g., on a tangent prompted by Loursat’s insightful comment — A stake patriarch included purported statements of fact in a teenager’s patriarchal blessing: “you have been blessed to live in a home where the principles of the gospel are understood and obeyed.” What the patriarch didn’t know was that parental anger and emotional and verbal abuse were common in that home, however, unintended, and that the parent was never observed to apologize for anything. The patriarch’s words convinced the teenager that the patriarch was clueless and the entire “blessing” valueless. That was not the result desired by anyone.
    When without the “certainty of inspiration” it can be wise to be careful with what is said. When with “certainty of inspiration” it is well sometimes to remember that “Every [person] who gives a blessing is subject to influence by what he desires [and that] mortal imperfections can influence the words we speak.”
    The common LDS talk of being “entitled” to revelation, promotes misplaced certainty. Some opportunities to bless by speaking beyond what the Lord chooses to reveal should be missed.

  10. What WVS said. Great work here, J.

  11. I keep imagining the poor proud father who was telling and re-telling the epic story of when Pres. Nelson attended his daughter’s baby blessing, until this talk….lol!

  12. Rachel E O says:

    I like what Loursat said: “priesthood blessings can accomplish more than that” — while I appreciate the points Jonathan makes in the OP, I wonder if the difference between the Nelson and Oaks approaches is so significant. I think when President Nelson says he wants us to claim our privileges, he is calling upon us to see ourselves as agents of God’s power on the earth… not primarily because more miracles will happen as a result, but because that corrects our understanding of our relationship to deity and our own divine destiny and authority. And such a correction can enhance our sense of efficacy, empowering us to be more proactive and assertive in taking initiative to effect positive change in our families, local congregations, and the world. (And that doesn’t seem to be something that President Oaks was directly addressing in his talk… i.e. I suspect that Nelson and Oaks would agree with each other’s perspectives, though I do think the difference of emphasis is interesting.)

    Also, Jonathan, thank you for drawing attention to this passage… I hadn’t heard it before, but I’m delighted to see that it provides another example of the theme that has been emerging from the Brethren over the past several years that women, too, are living beneath their *priesthood* privileges. With both President Nelson and President Oaks in the top quorum now, I’m sort of on tenterhooks waiting to see if they’ll flesh out their statements on this subject with more specifics beyond our (meaning women’s) ability to use priesthood keys in callings. I try not to get my hopes up, but I do pray for it anyway… and then they go and make big changes like they did last month, and I’m like, hey, just maybe, you know? (In my dream world, we at least get official sanction for women blessing their children and/or husbands and wives doing so jointly, by the laying on of hands and by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood with which they are endowed in the temple. In healing blessings and parental blessings [i.e. instead of just father’s blessings], but also baby blessings. Though in another sense, I’d rather we all would just give healing blessings by the power of faith… but I digress.)

  13. Rachel E O says:

    Also, re: Tim’s comment, I agree that in some ways it would be nice to do baby blessings in a more intimate setting, more like how baptisms can be (though I realize baptismal services in many large heartland stakes are more like assembly lines… so that comparison may not work for everyone). If it were in my home, it would also probably create less controversy if/when I insisted on holding my baby during the blessing. Though part of me likes to stir things up a bit, so maybe that’s a reason to stick with the ward setting, haha.

    Is it in the Handbook that baby blessings have to be done during sacrament meeting? Also, is it in the Handbook that the man has to hold the child and/or that a woman *can’t* (at least help) hold the child?

    On this subject, I loved what Neylan McBaine had to say in her recent podcast interview with the Salt Lake Tribune’s MormonLand: “If the blessing is being performed by a man, there’s no, like, contaminating force that this woman is going to be bringing to the circle by physically holding this baby. I mean, to think that is absurd and insulting.” Lol, #preach, Neylan. Actually, that whole interview was really interesting from the perspective of women’s role in the LDS liturgy (and the evolution therein that’s taking place at this very moment), for anyone interested: https://player.fm/series/mormon-land/author-neylan-mcbaine-discusses-feminism-ordain-women-and-the-mormon-metoo-moment-episode-31 (For those interested in hearing the part of the podcast about women and baby blessings, check out Peggy Fletcher Stack’s question and Neylan’s response at 20:48–23:20.)

  14. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks all. Certainly there is a lot going on in these blessings. I’ve got an essay imagined up on what the healing liturgy is actually doing; it just hasn’t been materialized yet.

    These issues play out in several places…but life and death are biggies. The deathbed.

    Rachel, and I hate to do this, but you seem keenly interested in ideas that run central to my book on Mormon liturgy. Wish I could just give out free. I get into some discussion of women blessing, and in the chapter on baby blessings, the relevant documentation of both women holding babies, but also non-priesthood holding (or non-member) dads participating in the circle for the bulk of the 20th century.

  15. Regarding Rachel’s question “Is it in the Handbook that baby blessings have to be done during sacrament meeting?”: Handbook 2 chapter 20.2.1 says “normally” but not that it is required.

    I received permission to our first child blessed at my in-laws home, I don’t even think it was a Sunday (we live far from both my in-laws and my parents). We were considering the same for our third child and discussing with our Bishop when he pointed out that the wording of D&C 20:70 (the foundation of this practice) suggests it is intended to be a community event, specifically the instruction that children are to be brought “before the church” to be blessed.

    Interesting post, thanks for the careful reading and enlightening comments.

  16. Rachel E O says:

    I am very excited to read your book, Jonathan! (Your article with Kristine Wright on female ritual healing in Mormonism in JMH back in 2011 was really influential in my spiritual development.) I enjoyed your podcast with the Maxwell Institute about it, and it’s very much at the top of my list of to-read Mormon Studies books. But I’m living abroad right now and international book shipping to where I am takes FOREVER (like 2-3 months). So I would go for the Kindle edition, but I also want the book on my shelf. So basically I’ve been sort of paralyzed with indecision and putting off the reading until I get back stateside in January (also finishing another Mormon Studies book right now anyway). But I’ll probably just break down and buy the Kindle edition before then. :) (It would be awesome if your book had MatchBook pricing… so I could order the hard copy shipped to my parents’ house in the US for when I return and buy the Kindle for a couple bucks extra.)

    JonD, thanks for answering my question, and sharing your experiences too.

    Jonathan, if those practices in baby blessings were common for the bulk of the 20th century, how did they end up getting phased out? Sounds like they lasted beyond correlation? (Incidentally, if I remember the story correctly, my mother-in-law was invited by her stake president in California to participate in a healing blessing for her infant son with her husband in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and I’ve heard of other such stories, including many gathered by a friend of mine who wrote her undergraduate thesis on the subject at Princeton a decade or so ago, but I’m excited to read the accounts and documentation in your book to get some more context on all this!)

  17. kimchuro says:

    Is there a difference in the spiritual efficacy of a male priesthood holder giving someone a blessing and a faithful sister speaking a prayer given to her through the Spirit on behalf of another? I want to believe that there is no difference, but I doubt that many in the church would agree, certainly not President Nelson according to the quote above. The overwhelming acceptance of this clear female disadvantage in access to spiritual power rankles. I agree with President Nelson that most of us, male and female, do not seize our spiritual privileges to the extent we could or should. But by emphasizing the distinction between blessings and prayers, and the “missed opportunity” of offering a prayer rather than a more powerful blessing, he perpetuates the second-class spiritual status of women in the church.

    Tangentially, a couple months ago our ward’s executive secretary gave a generally fine talk that unfortunately included platitudes about men only blessing others with the priesthood. I am sick of hearing that men cannot bless themselves with the priesthood as if they are not blessed by exercising the priesthood. To priesthood holders making that claim, I ask, how do you feel as you prepare to give a blessing? What do you learn about God, people, and how the Spirit works as you give a blessing? How does your relationship with the person to whom you gave the blessing change? How many of your profound spiritual experiences have come while giving a blessing? How can you claim that you are not blessed by providing priesthood blessings to others?

    I hope that all members of the church will someday have equal opportunities to use priesthood power and that men and women will someday recognize and be able to bless each other as spiritual equals. Sorry for the rant, I rarely comment, and I have no idea why this post set me off. Also, I am enjoying your book. That is a very impressive and ambitious side hustle.

  18. “I fear that too many of our brothers and sisters do not grasp the privileges that could be theirs.”

    Pray tell what privileges the sisters should grasp?

  19. Mary B says:

    DS, I once encountered an LDS woman who was upset because, some time before, she had been at the bedside of her hospitalized child and had felt thwarted and frustrated and angry because she thought she could not bless her child and no priesthood holders were available to do that then. Since I had personally been a witness to an LDS woman’s prayer at the beside of her ill younger brother, and had seen that prayer be, very clearly, the direct catalyst for his relief and healing, I realized that I felt dreadfully sad for the first woman. Not only had she gone through a terrifically difficult experience with her ill child, but she had also not understood her power to call down the powers of heaven to provide relief and/or healing for him.

    She did not grasp the privileges that were hers.

    Yes, the details of the action taken by the latter woman was not the same as the details of the action that might have been taken by a man holding a priesthood responsibility, so, in fact, they are different in form. And that difference in form can be a source of frustration. But my experience is that the power is the same.

    Certainly one could use Nelson’s words to inimate that prayer is somehow less powerful than pronouncing blessings, but I think that that is not the point he is trying to make. I think rather that he is seeing men’s reticence to “pronounce” blessings as a sign of lack of confidence and uncertainty about their ability to call down the blessings of heaven. I think he thinks men are not doing what they need to do to “approach the throne of God” in order bless, or pray, with confidence.

    On the other hand, the second woman I referred to above prayed with full confidence.

    It is the confidence in and reality of one’s connection to God that is the key in Nelson’s message, and which he finds wanting. The description of the wording used in a blessing is not the focus of his message. I beleve that his description is simply his (imperfect) attempt to illustrate the lack of confidence that he senses.

    But then, we as a people in general tend to focus on form and miss the substance of many different things on a regular basis, so I can see how his words would easily be read that way.

  20. predicament . . . sensitive . . . dilemma . . .
    That’s a lesson in itself, in a tradition that has become quick with answers.

  21. Paul Ritchey says:

    The blessing/prayer problem arises from a longstanding ambiguity in the Handbook: that baby blessings are addressed to Heavenly Father, but contain priesthood blessings.

    This causes confusion because some brethren assume that the entire blessing must be addressed to God. That, of course, precludes the “blessing” President Nelson implores, which is just another way of saying that it’s awkward to speak to God in the imperative. Clever fathers realize that one can address God initially, declare a name, and then pivot to a direct address (in the imperative, perhaps) of the child itself.

    So my take is that, while President Nelson is correct to note the distinction, he ought to have been far more charitable, given that the Church itself seems to be the source of the error. The Handbook should be re-written to clarify that God need be addressed only initially.

  22. Eric Facer says:

    Is the priesthood a prerequisite to blessing someone? Are the blessings invoked and conferred by the Pope and other religious leaders of no efficacy in the sight of God? I believe the answer to each question is a resounding “NO.”

    A few years ago, I toured Israel with a guide who is a member of the church and formerly of the Jewish faith. One day, while we were walking through the Old City, he fell behind us to greet an old friend, a man who is not of the Mormon faith. While facing, they briefly placed one arm around each other and exchanged a few quiet words.

    When he rejoined us he explained that his friend always confers a blessing upon him when they meet, and he reciprocates. He doesn’t invoke the priesthood or declare “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Rather, he simply blesses his friend.

    I personally believe there is nothing wrong with a sister laying her hands on her child—or anyone else, for that matter—and blessing them through prayerful supplication to the Lord. Yes, it would not be accurate or appropriate for them preface that blessing with “by the power of the priesthood which I hold . . . ,” but I do not think God would be offended by her actions or not take them seriously.

    Thanks for the post, Jonathan. I have your book, which I will read soon, since I am just about finished with Walton’s book on Genesis 2 & 3.

  23. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, Rachel! It is pretty complicated, but the provision for non-priesthood holding dads lasted so long, I argue, because of how Priesthood and fatherhood were conflate in the 20th century.

    Christian, I agree.

    Paul, addressing the blessing to God goes back to our earliest records, and it is still feasible to bless the child. But you are right that there is a lot of uncertainty here.

  24. words can hurt says:

    Mary B: Thanks for your insightful thoughts: “I think rather that he is seeing men’s reticence to ‘pronounce’ blessings as a sign of lack of confidence and uncertainty about their ability to call down the blessings of heaven. I think he thinks men are not doing what they need to do to ‘approach the throne of God’ in order bless, or pray, with confidence.” “It is the confidence in and reality of one’s connection to God that is the key in Nelson’s message, and which he finds wanting.” That may well be what Nelson had in mind.
    It is possible, however, to have confidence in God and a real connection to God without having confidence that one yet knows God’s will or has any right to “call down the blessings of heaven” through any means other than supplication through prayer. While I have experienced valuable, confident healing blessings, participated in ordinances where the power and blessings of heaven were strongly felt, and have experienced (rarely) undeniable clarity in revelation of God’s will or concurrence, I have also seen enough mis-placed confidence and wrong statements and wrong decisions on the part of individuals, bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, regional representatives, and general authorities (as well as reading more about misplaced confidence of the latter group), that they have well-trained me into a lack of confidence in discerning and declaring God’s will which has nothing to do with “approaching the throne of God” and a great deal to do with remembering that “mortal imperfections can influence the words we speak.” There are times when it seems wise to be more careful than confident with words.

  25. EnglishTeacher says:

    It occurred to me while reading this, and hearing Nelson’s talk, that blessings in the context he describes them are speech acts. This little branch of linguistic study is a fun one, and one we often apply to marriage, but I’d never considered it applied to the power of priesthood blessings. The point of utterance and choice of words change the state of something; the layer of priesthood authority and power to pronounce those words in a speech act suggests that the language is the vehicle for the invisible (priesthood) to manifest in a particular outcome. Not being an expert on priesthood practices, I wonder if the symbolism of anointing for the sick and placement of hands on head are features of an accompanying practice to the speech act of the pronouncement itself. Thank you for this insightful post; must ruminate more.

  26. I spent a few hours once looking through Michael Marquardt’s compilation of early patriarchal blessings. The book included blessings from Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, William Smith, and even a few nonpatriarchal blessings by Joseph Jr. I found it interesting that Joseph Jr.’s “blessings” were not addressed to the person being blessed. They were third person, along the lines of “The Lord loves so-and-so . . . may He bless her with whatever.” So apparently Joseph didn’t understand what a blessing was either.

  27. eternal graduate student says:

    “Some of our brethren, for example, act like they do not understand what the priesthood is and what it enables them to do.”

    Missing from the talk is a discussion of the cause of this apparent lack of understanding, and in the case of naming and blessing, Paul makes a great point in saying “the Church itself seems to be the source of the error. The Handbook should be re-written to clarify that God need be addressed only initially.”

    Currently, the steps in Handbook 2 for naming and blessing a child are that “The person who gives the blessing: (1) Addresses Heavenly Father. (2) States that the blessing is performed by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood. (3) Gives the child a name. (4) Gives words of blessing as the Spirit directs. (5) Closes in the name of Jesus Christ.

    With no further guidance, the experience Pres. Nelson observed is hardly surprising. A small change could ensure people use the “We bless this child to…/we bless you to…” formulation. And in comparison to the organizational changes of the past conference, this would be minor.

  28. I agree with Paul Ritchey. When I held a church calling and oversaw many baby blessings, a lot of fathers came to me to ask for clarification, “Is this a prayer or a blessing?” The ordinance starts like a prayer but is a blessing. Based on the blessings of which I was a part, the transition from directing words to God and then to the baby is often an awkward one. I think President Nelson is slicing the bread a little thin using the baby blessing he references as an example to make his point.

    I know many priesthood holders for whom blessings of any kind are difficult simply because not everyone is as eloquent as they would like to be. We often think thoughts clearly enough, but then putting those thoughts into organized speech expressions…and…well…something else comes out. I agree that a clarification in the handbook would do much to clean this up and give the ordinance greater expressive strength.

    And while we are talking about maximizing the experience, let mother’s hold the child. I’m not sure why we are still fussing about the appropriateness of that.

  29. Paul Ritchey says:

    With all this agreement that a written clarification is necessary, does anyone know how one might make a formal suggestion to the Brethren? Don’t worry – I’ve already installed my Ark-Steady-ER® lighting rod.

  30. Mary B says:

    words can hurt:
    Thoughtful response.
    Thanks.

  31. eternal graduate student says:

    RE: Mothers holding the child.

    This should be encouraged, and I don’t think there is any written prohibition, but it isn’t allowed in my New England area stake. Two years ago a family asked for this to happen, and the question moved up from the ward, to the stake president, to someone above the stake president, who said no.

  32. Jacob H. says:

    “President Nelson is making a key argument: blessings are not the same thing as prayers”

    So when the children of gay men and women are excluded, it’s not just preventing a membership record from being triggered..

  33. To me, there were two powerful points made regarding women and the priesthood:

    “We see faithful women who understand the power inherent in their callings and in their endowment and other temple ordinances. These women know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen their husbands, their children, and others they love. These are spiritually strong women who ***lead, teach, and minister fearlessly in their callings with the power and authority of God!***” -Russell M. Nelson
    •What is most powerful about this, to me, is that in this conference we were CALLED to minister to ANYONE IN NEED.

    Also, of note to me:
    “The principle that priesthood authority can be exercised only under the direction of the one who holds the **keys** for that function is fundamental in the Church but **does not apply** to the exercise of priesthood authority **in the family…** Fathers, function as **equal partners** of your wives, as the family proclamation teaches. -Dallin H. Oaks

  34. I am reminded again and again whenever this topic comes up (and it has in Church history) that Joseph Smith specifically told the men of his day to stop laying hands upon the heads of people to heal them without first obtaining the power to do so. So I believe he understood the concept. Elder Packer told the men something similar when he said the Church had been successful in disseminating the authority of the Priesthood but less successful in disseminating its power.
    In the few really powerful spiritual experiences I have received in my life, I have seen this power. It may not have occurred often, but it has often enough to recognize the difference.
    One story I want to share. I faced a real dilemma a few years ago. I needed answers and what I was being told by priesthood leaders did not agree with what I had experienced. I went to my bishop for counsel. He gave excellent advice that simply was wrong. I told him what he said did not match what had happened and I asked for a blessing. The blessing was different from the advice he had offered. In it I was told to seek for the truth and I would find it. Friend after friend assured me I would never discover the answers in this life. But I reminded them the Lord had told me exactly the opposite, that I should seek. For two weeks I practically lived at the bookstore, pulling down hundreds of books having anything to do with the topic. I interviewed people who had knowledge of the situation, gathering information. Finally, one conversation pointed me in the correct direction. I went to the bookstore again and within two days I found it. I will never forget the feeling of turning the page of the book and saying, “This is what I saw. This is what others reported seeing. This is what was happening.” For over 25 years, we all had been operating on incorrect information. Of course the treatments had not worked. We were treating the wrong illness.
    When my bishop counseled me, he spoke out of his own wisdom, well meaning but not accurate in this case. When he put his hands on my head, he blessed me, offering words that came from God, that provided real direction and truth. I believe that is what President Nelson meant, real power in the priesthood, still requiring my faith to complete, but directed by truthful words because faith is belief in things that are true. And so long as we acted out of belief in ideas that were false, we could exercise no real faith and had no real power. But until the bishop actually blessed me, not offered a prayer in my behalf, I had nothing to direct my faith.