New YSA stakes reduce confusion, provide opportunities
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When Jamie Whatcott decided to move to a new apartment a few months ago, she knew that a change of her assigned ward would happen, despite only moving a few blocks.
For most, a change of ward is anticipated with a move, but for Jamie, the change brought to light how many options she had of where to attend church. She had not just one ward, but three legitimate options she was qualified to attend — the residential/family ward, the local singles ward or the university singles ward.
With recently announced changes from leaders of the Church, the option to choose from a few singles wards — mainly a Utah-area situation — will no longer be the case for young single adults.
Options for young single adults ages 18 to 30 up and down the Wasatch front will now be limited to two — a residential/family ward or a singles ward.
Stakes dedicated to "students only" in the past will no longer exist, turning student stakes into young single adult stakes. The wards will be dictated by a geographic area and will incorporate all young single adults within the age parameters who choose to go to a singles ward.
"We hope it reduces confusion in their minds — where their priesthood leaders are, where they should go to church, where they should worship," said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy. "We hope it will provide enhanced opportunities to serve in leadership positions and to teach and lead. We hope it enhances these opportunities to meet other people and to give opportunities. And we want to deliver these opportunities in a geographic area and not require them to travel clear across the valley to attend church."
More than 85,000 young single adult members of the Church in Davis and Salt Lake counties will be affected by the new changes in the coming weeks — and that doesn't include the more than 64,000 more young single adults living in Utah County.
"I think the accountability will be much better because the geographic area will be smaller," Elder Snow said. "The distinction between student and non-student is gone, because that has become more and more blurred as years have gone on."
In the new stakes, YSA wards will have a congregation of 100-150 members, with leaders usually coming from or near the same geographic area. Because the new stakes will be aligned more closely with the conventional home wards and stakes, Church leaders anticipate greater communication and coordination between leaders of both stakes on behalf of young single adults in the area.
Starting in April 2010, changes to other student stakes around Utah took place. Beginning in Ogden, then moving on to Cedar City, St. George, Ephraim and Cache Valley, stakes formally known as "student stakes" have become young single adult stakes.
The Salt Lake and Davis County areas and then Utah County will change in the coming weeks through the beginning of June.
These changes have been successful for many reasons, specifically in bringing many of the young single adults of the Church back to full activity, Elder Snow said.
"We've seen a lot of our young people who previously haven't been engaged with the Church for a long time start to come back," Elder Snow said. "We found our young people are better at reaching out to their peers than anyone else, so that rescue effort we've seen in place has been very, very rewarding. ...
"We have returned missionaries who come home and they love the opportunity to go out and try to rescue those who are in their geographic areas that they are now responsible for. ...
"I think the inclination to reach out and help others re-engage in the Church is enhanced. We have seen a lot of enthusiasm and our young people have honored the call of President Monson to go out and rescue those in our midst."
In addition to restructuring, many existing student stakes will have new names, boundaries and leadership. An additional 12 YSA stakes will be created with eight stakes in the Salt Lake City area, two in Davis County and two in Utah County.
"We are really trying to get everyone in the fold," said Elder Snow, who serves as the Church leader over the Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City and Utah South areas. "We'd like to reach out and include everyone."