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This article is written from a Mormon POV
Father of the Ward
Bishops in the Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are the ward (congregation) leaders. The leaders of the Church, including bishops, are lay ministers, or men who are not paid for the service that they render. A bishop has many responsibilities. He is often referred to as the “father of the ward” because he is responsible for seeing that the needs of the individuals in his ward, both temporal and spiritual, are met. Two other men,the first and second counselors, are called to assist the bishop in his duties. The duties of a bishop are numerous and varied but may be broken down into five areas of responsibility; President of the Aaronic Priesthood, Presiding High Priest, Judge in Isreal, Welfare, and Record Keeping.
President of the Aaronic Priesthood
This is probably the foremost responsibility of the Bishop. In this role the bishop is responsible for the young men and women of his ward. In a news release sent out by the Church entitled Latter-day Saint Bishops: Lay Ministers Who Know Something About Service it states,
- One of his important priorities is helping parents meet the spiritual needs of their young people — ages 12 through 18. He regularly meets with these teenagers, one on one, helping them resolve personal difficulties and set goals that encourage them to live in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Because his role with youth supplements the efforts of their parents, he encourages youth to be open with and seek advice from parents in all aspects of their lives. He helps young people and adults prepare and live worthily to enter Latter-day Saint temples. He also approves and helps plan all youth activities in the ward, teaching leadership skills to youth and training them to serve and reach out to others.
Presiding High Priest
In this capacity the bishop is given the keys to spiritually lead his ward. His authority remains within the bounds of his ward. He has no presiding authority over any other part of the Church. In this position the bishop presides over ward council meetings, priesthood executive committee meetings, bishop's youth council, and welfare committee meeting (these groups include members in various callings and help the bishop know the needs of the members and thus allows him to make decisions based on those needs). Another part of the bishop's role as the presiding high priest is to preside over funerals and where legal he may also conduct civil marriages.
Judge In Israel
In Doctrine and Covenants 107:73-74 it says,
- This is the duty of a bishop who is not a literal descendant of Aaron, but has been ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. Thus shall he be a judge, even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion, or in a stake of Zion, or in any branch of the church where he shall be set apart unto this ministry, until the borders of Zion are enlarged and it becomes necessary to have other bishops or judges in Zion or elsewhere.
In this capacity, the bishop conducts interviews to determine worthiness for such things as temple recommends, priesthood ordination (for the men), and missionary calls. He is also the person to whom people who have committed serious sins confess. He then determines how to best deal with these sins. In this role a bishop is also a counselor and is able to give spiritual as well as temporal advice.
Doctrine and Covenants 107:68 reads, “For the office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things.” In this area, the bishop is responsible for the ward's finances and records. He receives members tithes and offerings, and coordinates the ward's budget. (See also Doctrine & Covenants 85:1)
“And the bishop ... should travel round about ... searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud” (D&C 84:112).
Apostle J. Reuben Clark said this about the role of bishops:
- To the bishop is given all the powers and responsibilities which the Lord has specifically prescribed in the Doctrine and Covenants for the caring of the poor. … No one else is charged with this duty and responsibility, no one else is endowed with the power and functions necessary for this work. …
- By the word of the Lord the sole mandate to care for, and the sole discretion in caring for the poor of the Church is lodged in the bishop.... It is his duty and his only to determine to whom, when, how, and how much shall be given to any member of his ward from Church funds and as ward help.
- This is his high and solemn obligation, imposed by the Lord Himself. The bishop cannot escape this duty; he cannot shirk it; he cannot pass it on to someone else, and so relieve himself. Whatever help he calls in, he is still responsible”
- (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., as quoted by Marion G. Romney, “The Role of Bishops in Welfare Services,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 79).
From this passage by J. Reuben Clark it is obvious that welfare is an important role of a bishop. When families are in financial trouble the bishop is responsible for making sure that their basic needs are met. He can do this by helping them create a budget and debt reduction plan, providing temporary assistance or simply giving them advice.
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