The Calling of an Apostle

On the 26 December 1973, President Harold B. Lee died. This was somewhat unexpected—he had come to the presidency of the Church at the relatively young age of 73 almost eighteen months earlier. It has been though that he would live and lead the Church for at least a decade, but such was not to be. What was more unexpected was that a frail, small man who had been expected to die for a fair amount of time would take his place and serve as one of the most influential presidents of the Church for an extended period of time—a man by the name of Spencer W. Kimball. In the midst of all this, however, there was a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve apostles that needed to be filled, and an Assistant to the Twelve, Elder L. Tom Perry, was called to fill in the spot.

L. Tom Perry

L. Tom Perry

Now, over forty years later, Elder L. Tom Perry has passed away. I must admit, this was somewhat unexpected to me. Elder Perry was the oldest member of the Quorum of the Twelve, and the third most senior in service (after President Monson and President Packer), but seemed to be in very good health compared to many of his peers until a recent visit to the hospital for breathing difficulties. I had expected him to outlive many other members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Instead, he was the first to move on since Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin. We will mourn his loss as a good, cheerful, and religious man.

While Latter-day Saints and other friends of Elder Perry mourn his and President Boyd K. Packer’s deaths, consideration will also be given to who may be called to fill the vacancies created by their deaths. I mean no disrespect for them and their memory by looking into that aspect of events rather than at their rich lives and legacies so soon, but as a person with a primary interest in Mormon history and theology, I do feel that it is important to understand how vacancies in the quorum are filled, the people who are called to the Quorum, and what the process of becoming an apostle after being called is like.

In the modern Church, most things are run by councils where a number of individuals have the ability to express their thoughts and often have an opportunity to accept or reject a proposal. That is the administrative genius of the Church that Joseph Smith put in place to insure that things could continue after the death of charismatic leaders, such as himself, and to increase the likelihood that things are being done in accordance with God’s will (more people checking something, the more likely they are to catch errors). This system seems to carry over to the selection of a new apostle. President Hugh B. Brown (1883-1975) recalled that:

In calling a new apostle the president of the church ordinarily says to the Twelve and First Presidency, “There is a vacancy in the quorum. I would like each of you to write three names on a slip of paper and submit them to me. I will look them over and we will decide, possibly on one of those you recommend. Or we may choose none of the ones you recommend. But this will give you all an opportunity to express an opinion.” At the next meeting of the quorum, the president, usually aided by the First Presidency, having looked those names over, says to the brethren, “I wish to nominate XYZ to become the next member of the Council of the Twelve. Are there any remarks? If not, all in favor, raise your right hand.” When the president nominates someone whose name was not submitted by the Twelve, he simply says, “I feel inspired to appoint this man to this job. All in favor raise their hands.” And everybody raises their hands. President Heber J. Grant never submitted a name as far as I know without first talking it over with his counselors and then with members of the quorum.[1]

While this model isn’t always followed, President Brown suggests that it was followed most of the time.

Ideally, inspiration guides the selection of a new quorum member. There is a story from President Heber J. Grant’s administration about how, at the time, Church leaders weren’t shy about nepotism and felt that they should call their sons to serve as apostles. Heber J. Grant had no sons, however, so he wanted a close friend by the name of Richard W. Young to be called instead. As an apostle, he suggested the friend he had in mind a number of times, but he was never selected. When President Grant became president of the Church, he wanted to make sure his friend was called, discussed the possibility of doing so with his counselors and even wrote Richard’s name on a slip of paper to take to the next quorum meeting. When he got there, however, he presented the name of Melvin J. Ballard—whom he hardly knew—instead. President Grant later said:

I have felt the inspiration of the living God directing me in my labors. From the day that I chose a comparative stranger to be one of the apostles, instead of my lifelong and dearest living friend, I have known as I know that I live, that I am entitled to the light and the inspiration and the guidance of God in directing His work here upon this earth.[2]

Heber J. Grant

Heber J. Grant

As for the individuals that are considered to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, a brief survey of the thirty men who have been called to be members of the Quorum of the Twelve most recently (1951 to present) gives some indication of general trends. From this sample, all were Caucasian, 97% were men from the United States, and 80% were from Utah or Idaho. Careers before calls as general authorities were mostly in business (33.33%), law (20%), or education (20%) with a smattering of various careers such as Church service, STEM careers, or other occupations. The average age at a call to the Quorum of the Twelve in this group was 58.7 years old with a standard deviation of 8.79.

Men called to the Quorum of the Twelve were predominantly selected from the Presidency of the Seventy, the First Council of the Seventy, or Assistants to the Quorum/Council of the Twelve (all roughly equivalent to the Presidency of the Seventy today in one way or another, together making up 63.33% of the sample), with about 13.33% percent serving in the presiding bishopric, 13.33% serving as Church university presidents, and 10% serving in the Sunday School presidency. There is some overlap between the groups represented.

In addition, having relatives already in the hierarchy (particularly prevalent with the Smith, Kimball, Cannon/Taylor, and Tanner clans) or at least Mormon pioneer ancestry was prevalent, though exact statistics are difficult to calculate on that factor since they don’t always acknowledge such ancestry to the public. Association with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time of their call during youth as a missionary or in a stake increased the likelihood of becoming an apostle as well.

Thus, Caucasian males from the United States—especially Utah and Idaho—in their mid-fifties to early sixties, with careers in business, law, or education and who have served in the Presidency of the Seventy or equivalent callings have been most likely to be selected to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve during the last half a century or so.

Based on these trends, as well as observation of rise to leadership and roles in Church hierarchy, the two most likely candidates to be called to replace Elder L. Tom Perry and President Packer are Tad R. Callister (age 70, quickly rising in Church leadership, grandfather was a third-generation apostle, service in Presidency of the Seventy and Sunday School Presidency, born in California, career in law) and L. Whitney Clayton (age 65, born in Utah, last name indicates Mormon pioneer heritage, service in Presidency of the Seventy, career in business, prominent leader in Church). Other strong candidates are Gary E. Stevenson (age 60, Presiding Bishop, Utah pioneer stock, business career), or any member of the Presidency of the Seventy (virtually all 60-70 years of age, business careers, and from Utah or Idaho).

If the Church chooses to call a member of the Quorum of the Twelve that reflects the international and multi-racial nature of Church membership these days, things could get more interesting. Ulisses Soares fits much of the criteria while being from South America (appears to be Caucasian, 57 years old, Presidency of the Seventy, accountant from Brazil), as does Walter F. Ganzález (63 years old, former Presidency of the Seventy, currently in 1st Quorum of the Seventy, career in education, from Uruguay). There are currently only two black men in the First Presidency of the Seventy—Joseph W. Sitati and Edward Dube—both of which have great potential, and the latter of which is the stronger candidate for a call to the Quorum of the Twelve based on the observations above (career in education, age 53, service in First Presidency of the Seventy). It is unlikely that either of these men will be called directly to the Quorum of the Twelve in the immediate future, however, since neither have served in the Presidency of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, or as Church university presidents and the proportion of black men in high leadership indicates that while racial outreach to individuals with black African ancestry is becoming more important, it is not the highest priority for filling general authority positions at this time. There are six Asian men in the First Quorum of the Seventy, with Michael John U. Teh and Gerrit W. Gong standing out to me as the most likely potential candidates of the six based on age, career, and country of origin. For similar reasons to the African seventies, however, neither are likely candidates at this time.

Tad Calister, L. Whitney Clayton, Ulysses Soares, Walter Gonsalez

Tad R. Calister, L. Whitney Clayton, Ulysses Soares, Walter F. Gonzalez

Based on the above discussion, Tad R. Callister, L. Whitney Clayton, Ulysses Soares, and Walter F. Ganzález seem to me to be the most likely candidates to be called to the Quorum of Twelve in the near future. We never know what will happen, though, as the story from Heber J. Grant mentioned above indicates. The Lord directs through inspiration and it is a living Church, so statistics can be thrown out the window in a single moment. Plus, we’re not really supposed to speculate on such things. Essentially, any worthy male in the Church  could be called, though those who already are well known and impressive to the serving apostles are most likely to be called. We’ll just have to see what the Lord directs when the announcement comes.

As for what happens to an apostle after his call, President Brown related his experience:

President McKay thereupon called those of the Twelve who were present in the room to join him. They surrounded me, laid their hands upon my head, and ordained me an apostle. Later, the president gave me what is known as the “charge to the apostles.” That charge included a commitment to give all that one has, both as to time and means, to the building of the Kingdom of God; to keep himself pure and unspotted from the sins of the world; to be obedient to the authorities of the church; and to exercise the freedom to speak his mind but always be willing to subjugate his own thoughts and accept the majority opinion—not only to vote for it but to act as though it were his own original opinion after it has been approved by the majority of the Council of the Twelve and the First Presidency.

After they set me apart, the matter was submitted to the General Conference of the church.[3]

Generally, an announcement of who are being called to serve as apostles waits until general conference in October or April. The most who apostles have been sustained at one time after the initial organization of the Quorum of the Twelve was four, in 1849, to fill vacancies created by the end of Nauvoo crises and the later reorganization of the First Presidency with Brigham Young and his counselors. Three apostles have been called at a time only twice, due to combinations of deaths and people being dropped from the quorum for one reason or another (1889, 1906). Generally the announcement will wait until conference, even if multiple vacancies are created. The Church is organized to handle some stress caused by poor health or deaths, particularly with the Seventies being able to pick up any slack in carrying out Church duties abroad. After being called, an apostle will serve for an average of about twenty seven years (calculated from most of the apostles who have been called in modern Church history), since it is a lifelong calling.

Hugh B. Brown

Hugh B. Brown

Apostles have generally taken their call very seriously. Thus, often, they have concerns about their worthiness or ability during the early days of their service in the Quorum. Heber J. Grant spent a number of months deeply depressed because he felt unworthy to serve in that calling, largely because he couldn’t say that he had experienced an open vision of the Savior, though that was eventually resolved.[4] Spencer W. Kimball spoke of having “a complete panorama . . . of the little, mean, petty things I had done” and told J. Reuben Clark Jr. that “there must have been some mistake” when he was extended the calling. Afterwards, he went through a week of intense internal turmoil until he slipped out to be alone in the mountains. He spent much of his walk that day “accusing myself and condemning myself and upbraiding myself” and telling the Lord that “I had not asked for this position, that I was incapable of doing the work, that I was imperfect and weak and human, that I was unworthy of so noble a calling,” and had concerns that he had been called by relation rather than by inspiration. He spoke of how he “never before had . . . been tortured as I was now being tortured,” but after a time on that mountain, peace was brought to his soul and he left felling that he “knew my way, now, physically and spiritually, and knew where I was going.”[5]

Such feelings seem to be typical in one way or another. President Henry B. Eyring has spoken of how Satan comes to anyone who receives a calling in the Church to whisper to them that they’re unworthy. He went on to relate that:

After I’d been called to the Quorum of the Twelve, one of the Presidents . . . said to me, “Hal, you’re looking a little sad. Is it come yet?”

I said, “I beg your pardon?”

He’d been watching me and he said “come see me,” and I went to his office. He said, “Well, you’ve been an apostle now a little while. Has it come? You look sad.”

And I said, “Yeah. I just don’t feel that I’m worthy of what I have to be, that I am not what I need to be to have the spiritual blessings that I need in this work.”

And he said, “Well, what’s the trouble?”

And I said, “Well, I’m thinking of some things that I’ve done in my life.”

And he, “Well, yes, I understand that.”

Then I said, “Could I tell you about them?”

He said, “No.” He said, “Don’t come to me. Go to Him.”[6]

The fact that the president asked “has it come yet?” seems to indicate that feelings of unworthiness are typical of the early period of apostolic ministry.

President Henry B. Eyring

President Henry B. Eyring

After the call, apostles enter a period of training and apprenticeship in the ministry. Prophets and apostles are not so different from us: they are mastering the same methods of communicating with the heavens that we are, and they are given tutors, trainers, and teachers to help them learn to do so. In the same speech cited above, President Eyring went on to say: “I have the best presidents you can imagine. … I will simply tell you the little I’ve learned from how I’ve been trained. Would you believe that they train prophet, seers, and revelators? Oh you bet—Elder Uchtdorf is learning.”[7] Prophets, seers, and revelators need training, and that training comes from other prophet, seers, and revelators.

The late President Boyd K. Packer recalled in a newspaper interview that when he was first called as an assistant to the Twelve:

“I had quite a schooling as I learned from the senior Brethren,” President Packer said. “I learned to be taught.

“It’s one thing to study the gospel and another to study men who have given their lives to it,” he said of the Brethren with whom he served in the early years as a General Authority and who since have passed away. “President McKay had a great influence on me. Elder Marion G. Romney, Elder N. Eldon Tanner and Elder Kimball were my mentors.

“Elder Marion G. Romney, Elder N. Eldon Tanner and Elder Kimball were my mentors.”

“Elder LeGrand Richards (born in 1886) was my history book. I learned in those early days to associate with the older Brethren. I would walk back from meetings in the temple with Elder Richards. He walked very slowly because he had a crippled leg. The other Brethren would say, ‘Oh, you’re so kind.’ I thought, ‘You don’t know how selfish I am.’ I would ask Elder Richards questions. He knew everything.”

President Packer spoke of his associations with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who on Jan. 23, 1970, became the 10th president of the Church. “He was a wonderful man. I liked to be around him and just listen to him and study him.” Elder Packer worked closely with Elder Harold B. Lee, who became the 11th Church president on July 7, 1972, and Elder Mark E. Petersen.

He spoke with admiration of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who “was regarded as very rigid and staid, but he had more humor than many of the others. He was very pleasant to be around.”

President Packer said, “If we look at the past, we can know where we’re going. The footprints are there, marching in a line. We need to take a thought for where we’ve been and where we’re heading.”[8]

One can see the influence and training from other members of the Quorum of the Twelve has had on President Packer—influence he passed on to other members called to that same body of priesthood, just as President Eyring spoke of. Harold B. Lee likewise had J. Reuben Clark, Jr. as a mentor, who affectionately called young Elder Lee “the kid.”[9]

Gradually the apostles move up from being junior members of the Quorum to being more senior members while they administer the worldwide Church. In time, they will move on from this life, as Elder Perry did recently and the process of calling and training will start all over again for a new apostle. At that time, we mourn the loss of those who have moved on, but the Church is able to roll on as it moves to carry on its work in the earth.

First Bump

Further Reading: Calling an Apostle of God


LDS Living

[1] Hugh B. Brown and Edwin B. Firmage (ed.), An Abundant Life, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999),127.

[2] Heber J. Grant, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant (SLC, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), 181-182.

[3] Edwin B. Firmage, An Abundant Life, p.126-127

[4] Truman G. Madsen, The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings (SLC: Deseret Book, 2004), 184-186.

[5] Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr. Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (SLC: Bookcraft, 1977), 189-195.

[6] Henry B. Eyring, Mission Presidents’ Seminar. Transcribed from Audio CD in author’s possession.

[7] Eyring, Mission Presidents’ seminar

[8] Gerry Avant, “President Packer is at half-century milestone of service,” Church News October 1, 2011.

[9] Truman G. Madsen, The Presidents of the Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2004), 306.


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