Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “What does it mean when a General Authority is released and granted emeritus status?”
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Most callings we receive in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are given for a brief period. Most ward callings are typically held from one to three years while bishops and stake presidents may respectively serve for five or ten years. There are some callings, however, that are held for a lifetime.
General Authority Seventies were among those who served in their callings until they died (as apostles and prophets) until a new designation was instituted on September 30, 1978.
“‘Out of consideration for the personal well-being of the individuals, and with deep appreciation for their devoted service,’ the First Presidency announced …the creation of a ‘new emeritus status’ … given ‘from time to time to designated members of the General Authorities.’”
This designation of emeritus status has been altered somewhat in the 44 years since then. While the first men granted emeritus status were aged 67–88, currently, “General Authority Seventies serve full-time in the Church. They are generally released in the year they turn 70 years old and are granted emeritus status. Although they retain the office of Seventy, they no longer preside in meetings.”
It should be noted that while Area Seventies hold the same office in the Melchizedek Priesthood as General Authority Seventies: “Area Seventies live at home and serve on a Church-service basis for a designated number of years, similar to a bishop or stake president. They maintain their non-religious vocations.” Area Authorities are released from their duties and responsibilities serving as Seventies, but they aren’t granted emeritus status.
A Seventy is an office of the Melchizedek Priesthood and as such, one is ordained to that office. President Boyd K. Packer stated, “If a man is set apart to an office in the Church, he will one day be released. But an ordination to an office in the priesthood is permanent unless it is lost through transgression.” All Seventies, therefore, Area Seventies or General Authority Seventies, maintain their office in the priesthood as Seventies, but once released no longer function in the capacity of that office. The man does not lose his ordination to his priesthood office, he just no longer serves in that role or capacity.
The word “emeritus” means “holding after retirement an honorary title corresponding to that held last during active service.” The title “emeritus” is granted to those who remain in their office but no longer serve in that office. Emeritus status for a Seventy, “means that he is honorably relieved of all duties and responsibilities pertaining to [his] office.” In the context of church service, the word means more than retired. An emeritus General Authority Seventy is still a Seventy. He just no longer participates in the functions of their ordinations.
While Bishop is also an office in the Aaronic priesthood, I have been unable to find evidence of the specific designation of “emeritus status” for either local or presiding bishops. They also have been released from their callings serving as bishops, but still hold the priesthood office of Bishop. As I understand it, the function is the same—being released from the calling without being released from the ordination—but I can find no evidence that this specific designation applies to bishops.
Similarly, a patriarch continues to hold the Melchizedek office of Patriarch all his life, but he may be released from actively giving patriarchal blessings. While each stake patriarch is appreciated and honored for his service, emeritus status has only been applied to one patriarch—Elder Eldred G. Smith—who was serving as Patriarch to the Church at the time of his release. The accessibility of stake patriarchs made having a general Patriarch no longer necessary. Prior to Eldred Smith, Patriarchs of the Church served until they passed away.
The designation as emeritus, then, is specific and finite. It honors General Authority Seventies’ years of dedicated service while allowing them to be relieved of the heavy load of their office.
Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.