News Story

A Week in the Life of a Mormon Stake President

Being busy and actively engaged in the Lord’s work are synonymous with the calling of stake president in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). 

Ian Leneham, the president of the Newcastle Australia Stake (a geographic subdivision similar to a Catholic diocese) in New South Wales has served for ten years and, like all local Mormon religious leaders, has continued in his regular employment while so doing.  

Called to be president of the Newcastle stake on 9th March, 2003, President Leneham began a journey that, in his words, “has been filled with spiritual experiences and interactions with wonderful people.” 

 Ian Leneham presides over Church affairs in one of 37 Latter-day Saint stakes in Australia.  In the Newcastle Stake there are 10 wards (or congregations) and two (smaller) branches spread over hundreds of miles.

The Church functions with a lay ministry, which is one of the Church’s most defining characteristics.  In tens of thousands of local congregations around the world, members participate in voluntary “callings” or assignments that provide meaningful opportunities to serve one another.

It is common for Church members to spend 5-10 hours a week serving in their callings.  However, some callings, such as a bishop over a ward, women’s Relief Society president or stake president may require 15-30 hours per week and sometimes many more.  Bishops may serve for five years while stake presidents are generally released after 9-10 years.

“The amount of time devoted to the assignment on a weekly basis is one of the reasons heads of Mormon congregations are not in their roles for a life-time,” said President Leneham.  “Rotating the responsibility gives others the opportunity of growth through service but also shares the weight of office around a congregation.”

More often than not the work of a bishop is the most time-consuming of all priesthood offices in the Church.  However, when a stake president covers a larger geographical area, as is the case with President Leneham, the role can take just as many hours. 

“Bishops function at the coal-face and work with individual members on a daily basis,” he said. “While stake presidents are certainly involved in the lives of the members for whom they are responsible, they also have pastoral oversight responsibilities, including leadership training, that are significant.” 

The size of Mormon wards varies between 200 and 400 members, which is quite small when compared to those of some other faiths.  According to Ian Leneham, this makes it more possible for Mormon priesthood leaders to take an active interest in how their members are going in their employment, in their roles as homemakers and parents, and in their personal social, emotional and spiritual strength.

President Leneham recalls wondering how he would be able to fulfil such an assignment.  Looking at his predecessor, Brian Hill, he asked himself, “How can I do what he has done?”

At the time of his call, President Leneham and his wife Bridget had three children aged five, three and three months. Two more children have joined the family since that time.  Not only has it been a busy 10 years for him, Bridget has also seen her life become increasingly busy, overseeing family and home responsibilities.

“Whenever my husband Ian is busy doing something with his calling, it means I am very busy looking after the children and our home.  Piano lessons, basketball games, and bedtime routines all go on while he is fulfilling his responsibilities and is away at various commitments,” said Bridget.

The couple maintain many daily religious habits such as family prayer, family scripture study and always devote time to individual prayer and study.  Somewhere Ian Leneham is able to fit in his full-time employment as a psychologist.

Bridget said, “I usually take Caleb, our eldest son, to 6am seminary (a religious class for students in the last four years of high school) and then go for a run.  My husband watches our other children till I return.  Then he gets ready for his busy day as a psychologist, involving counselling sessions with various clients and business-related issues.”

“After I return home at around 6pm, we have a delicious family dinner,” said President Leneham.  “On Monday, after dinner, the family gathers around for FHE (family home evening), with lessons and then treats afterwards.  The kids love that part!”  To Mormons, Monday evening is sacrosanct - it’s just for the family – and no Church administrative meetings are held.

One week, recently, President Leneham had a shorter working Tuesday than normal.  Trying to fit in all his counselling sessions before 3pm, he left work to pick up Bridget and drive to Sydney to meet with the political representatives of the state electorates that roughly align with his stake’s boundaries.

Heading into State Parliament house for dinner with Minister Chris Hartcher and members of parliament, Chris Holstein, Darren Webber and Chris Spence, was an exciting opportunity. 

“It was very reassuring to hear they shared the same family values as we do.  We spoke at length about our shared commitment to the importance of the roles of mothers and fathers,” said President Leneham.

“Darren Webber asked about those Latter-day Saint doctrines that set us apart from other churches. I was able to talk about the restoration of the Church, and our belief in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  We then went on a tour of Parliament house.  We arrived home late at 11.30 pm.”

This was well outside the normal routine of a stake president but reflects the broader duties of a Latter-day Saint stake president – including encouraging political leaders in their role as defenders of good religious values.

Here is a snap-shot of the remainder of this recent week for President Leneham:

Wednesday – a normal working day and, then, after returning from home just after 6pm and eating a hurried dinner, Church meetings began at 7pm.  President Leneham met with his two counsellors in the stake presidency, followed by an interview with a young missionary sister who had just returned home after 18 months away from home.  Finally, there were leadership meetings with other senior priesthood officers who help administer the stake.

Thursday – another fairly standard work day.  After the usual return home at 6pm, President Leneham  had some “home teaching” appointments.  Each adult male member of a congregation, whether in a senior role or otherwise, is assigned to a few families to assist with their temporal, spiritual and other needs.  Female members of congregations undertake similar visiting amongst the women of a ward.

Friday – after work, President Leneham played basketball at a Church building with his son and other young men from Charlestown Ward.   He then cleaned a portion of the Church building as part of a periodical assignment that each Church member has in a typical congregation.

Saturday – the first day President Leneham was able to mow his lawn “in a long time”.  After a long period of rain, the grass wasn’t wet this time and he was able to work in his yard.

Sunday –President Leneham would normally attend the Church’s three-hour Sabbath services, which includes a Sacrament meeting (similar to worship services in other faiths), a Sunday School class for adults and a priesthood meeting for male members above the age of 12.  Women have a similar meeting.  Around these meetings he slots in interviews with members of his stake.

However, this week, President Leneham attended leadership meetings in Sydney with his fellow stake presidents from New South Wales.  This required a departure at 6.30am for the lengthy drive to Church Offices in Carlingford.  He returned home by 4pm and went to his “wonderful in-laws who had invited us over to their home for Sunday evening dinner.”

When asked how he manages such a large stake with geographical boundaries as far west as Tamworth and north as Taree, President Leneham said, “You just do what you have to do. This is the calling I hold and I do what the Lord requires. I know the Lord qualifies whom he calls.

“I’m inspired by the examples of many others throughout our stake.  They are anxiously engaged in this, the Lord’s work,” said President Leneham.  “Yet the best moments in my calling are meeting with people individually. The ‘one-on-one’ interviews are the best times for me. Sometimes I'll get to the end of an 8am to 4pm day where there have been many interviews and yet I've just loved talking to each of those people.

“Sometimes in the course of the discussion I feel inspiration and I know it's from the Lord. The inspiration comes very often in impressions and thoughts and feelings that make sense in the context of the situation, and I can see how he has guided me in what I have said to those with whom I have met.  If we are keeping the commandments and acting correctly in our Church roles, we can be assured that the promptings we get are from the Lord.”

When asked how his family feels about his calling, President Leneham shared the following:  “Bridget has remarked that she is anxious about what life will be like once I am released from my calling as stake president because we know we are blessed so much because of it.

“Many of the sweet and strengthening blessings that have come to us relate to the capacity to love others.  It has involved deepening our ability to see who needs our guidance and love and how to help others in a myriad of ways.   Our assignments have taken us across the very large geographical boundaries of our stake on a regular basis.  It has been so rewarding to travel to those many cities and towns to embrace the people there.”

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.