A peculiar parlance: Origins of 13 unique Church terms

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Young women ages 12 and 13 in the Church are known as Beehives. Read below to find out why. (Photo courtesy LDS.org Media Library.)

Young women ages 12 and 13 in the Church are known as Beehives. Read below to find out why. (Photo courtesy LDS.org Media Library)

Unlike other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call the ordinance of eating bread and water in remembrance of Christ the “sacrament,” not “communion.” We also call our local congregations “wards,” our young men “priests” and even sometimes call ourselves “Mormons.”

When converts join the Church, the new vocabulary takes some time to master. But where did all these unusual terms come from? Here’s the origin of 13 commonly used terms unique to the LDS Church.

1. Stake

The word “stake” refers to an administrative unit in the Church comprised of several wards located near each other geographically. The term “stake” is a reference to the imagery in Isaiah 54:2 of a stake holding a tent (the Church) in place. The verse reads, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”

2. Branch

Branches, which are the smallest organized Church congregations, were known initially as “churches” (as referenced in D&C 24:3, for example). However, they became known as “branches” over time (see D&C 72:23). This is in reference to the way these small congregations were formed: as Church members shared the gospel with their neighbors, new “branches” formed off the main body of the Church.

3. Ward

Larger organized congregations are known as wards, several of which make up a stake. Joseph Smith borrowed the term “ward” from the term used for political districts of frontier municipalities when he created the first “wards” in Nauvoo. (The city was divided by 1844 into 10 wards with three more in the surrounding area.)

4. Beehive

Brigham Young loved the symbol of the beehive, which represented harmony, cooperation and work to the early pioneers. Because of this association, “Beehive” was the first name by which young women were known and is now the name for 12- and 13-year-old girls in the Church. According to the Church’s Young Women website, “Beehives today learn to work together in cooperation and harmony as they strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ and prepare to stand for truth and righteousness.”

5. Mia Maid

The term “Mia Maid” — the Church’s name for girls 14 and 15 years old — is a historical reference to the Mutual Improvement Association, a forerunner to today’s Young Men and Young Women organizations. The MIA emblem was a rose, which symbolized love, faith and purity. The Church’s Young Women website states that “Mia Maids today learn about love, faith, and purity as they strengthen their testimony and accept and act upon the Young Women values.”

6. Laurel

Laurels — the oldest girls in the young women program at 16 and 17 years of age — are so named in reference to the laurel wreath. The wreath is traditionally given as a symbol of significant achievement, honor and accomplishment. As Laurels grow to adulthood, they work toward finishing their preparation to make sacred covenants and receive temple ordinances.

7. Mutual

When the Mutual Improvement Association was discontinued to make way for the Young Men and Young Women organizations, the term “Mutual” remained as a name for the organizations’ regularly scheduled activity night. The term “Mutual” suggests shared experiences, mutual respect and mutual support for class members.

8. Melchizedek Priesthood

The Melchizedek Priesthood holds “the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” (see D&C 107:18). But the name “Melchizedek” is more of a nickname than the actual name of the priesthood. As stated in Doctrine and Covenants 107, “There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood. Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.”

9. Mormon

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are commonly known as “Mormons,” which is a nickname given to Church members because of our belief in the Book of Mormon. The book was named for Mormon, the prophet-historian in ancient America who compiled and abridged the book.

10. Pearl of Great Price

The smallest book of canonized scripture in the Church is entitled the “Pearl of Great Price,” which is a reference to a short parable found in Matthew 13:45-46: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” The name suggests that the teachings found in the book are of great worth.

11. Relief Society

The Church’s organization for women is known as the “Relief Society,” a name that refers to the organization’s purpose of administering relief to those in need. John Widtsoe, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, summarized the Relief Society’s purpose as pursuing the “relief of poverty, relief of illness; relief of doubt, relief of ignorance — relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.”

12. Tithing

The term “tithing” is not a term distinct to the Church but is a word that means to give one-tenth of one’s income annually to the Lord through His Church. The word is used in the Old Testament, where it is recorded that Saints as early as Abraham paid tithes.

13. Word of Wisdom

The phrase “Word of Wisdom” is, to the the untrained ear, unhelpfully nonspecific. The phrase, which has become the term for the Lord’s law of health outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 89, comes from the actual text of the revelation. There the Lord describes the health code as “A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion — To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” (emphasis added).

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Breanna Olaveson worked in the magazine industry before taking her writing from full-time to nap time with the birth of her first daughter. Her work has appeared in the Ensign, Liahona and New Era magazines, as well as Utah Valley Magazine, Utah Valley BusinessQ, Utah Valley Bride and the Provo Daily Herald. She lives in Utah county with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.breannaolaveson.com.

11 Comments

  1. Dasvid Valentine Reply

    Melchizedek is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible, the first in Genesis and the second in Psalms.

    And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine: and he was [is] the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, “Blessed be Abram to the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand”. And he gave him tithe from all.
    —Genesis 14:18-20

  2. Raman Job Reply

    You missed one that’s in common use among Church members. I hear “bruthren” all the time even though there’s no such word. Could it be the word “brethren” mispronounced? I’ve always wanted to know.

  3. Megan S Reply

    The article does state that the Laurels are 16 and 17 year old girls. Specifically, “…the oldest girls in the Young Women program at 16 and 17 years of age…”

    The word “bruthren” is, of course, brethren. It has become “bruthren” in our modern society as it is a way of encompassing a group of several “brothers” or “bruthers”.

  4. Bruce Young Reply

    Some great information. “Stake,” of course, comes from Isaiah (mainly 54:23), where Zion is compared to a tent that is supported or strengthened by stakes.

    As for the term “sacrament,” it is short for “sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Among other Christians, it is not the most common term for the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, but that is one of its meanings. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the following are among the meanings of the word “sacrament” (the first two from the 1200s to the present, the 3rd one since the 1500s):
    2.a. spec. (with “the”). The Lord’s Supper, Eucharist or Holy Communion. Often called “the sacrament of the altar,” “the Blessed Sacrament,” and (esp. formerly) “the Holy Sacrament.” Phr. “to receive, take the sacrament,” to communicate [i.e., to receive Holy Communion].
    b. The consecrated elements, esp. the bread or Host.
    c. ” to take or receive the sacrament” (“to do” something, or “upon” a matter) : to receive Holy Communion as a confirmation of one’s word.

  5. Noel Duerden Reply

    When a family investigating the church visited the meetinghouse they were told that it was called a Stake’ center. Going inside, they saw a basketball court. A teenage boy declared to his family that this was the church he wanted to join because besides steaks they had basketball.

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