Glossary or Translating Mormonese

Mormons tend to use a lot of terminology familiar to other Christians in slightly different ways. As part of my effort to foster understanding of Mormons, I think it’s essential to try to define these terms in ways that make sense to “non-members”. Please comment if there’s a term you were hoping to find here which I have neglected.

Term (Rough Equivalents from Other Religions, if any)
Definition

Aaronic Priesthood
The lower or “preparatory” priesthood. Typically given to young men at the age of 12, or to convert men very soon after they join.
Apostle (12 Apostles of Jesus)
After the First Presidency, the second highest ranking quorum of the church. As long as there are at least 7 of the usual 12, they hold all of the keys and authority to run the church in the case of the President’s death. All are sustained as “prophets, seers and revelators.”
Bishop (Pastor)
Mormon Bishops are usually selected from and serve in the congregation over which they preside. They typically serve for about 5 years. They are almost always married and have children. They usually also have a full time ‘day job’.  Fortunately, speaking assignments (instead of sermons) are shared by all members of the congregation – so he can focus on other responsibilities.
Bishopric 
Comprised of a bishop and his counselors.
Branch (Congregation)
A congregation which is too small to have a full priesthood hierarchy. Depending on the situation and composition, can be as small as a single family, or up to around 50 active members. Branches become wards when there are enough active members of the congregation.
Branch President (Pastor)
Equivalent to a Bishop when the congregation is a branch instead of a ward.
Calling
A position in the church. Members do not apply to do a job or fill a role, they are “called” by the leadership of the organization responsible for that role to fill the position. All callings in the church are unpaid. A very few of the topmost callings come with a small stipend and living expenses/arrangements. When an individual will no longer be serving in a particular calling, they are “released” from that calling.
Celestial Kingdom (Heaven)
The highest heaven. Requires baptism (either in-person or vicarious post-mortal) and remaining faithful to covenants made at the time of baptism.
Chapel (Synagogue, Church)
A regular church building. Used for Sunday meetings such as Sacrament Meeting. The term sometimes referrs specifically to the part of the building used for Sacrament Meetings.
Counselor
Selected by a bishop, stake president, president or other leader to assist him. Usually there are two counsellors, a first and a second. They are often given responsibilities over specific areas of the organization presided over by the leader with whom they serve.
Damnation
Literally, it means to be stopped in ones eternal progression. Those who are rewarded with the Telestial Kingdom are said to be damned.
Deacon (Altar Boy)
The first office of the Aaronic priesthood. Young men may be ordained as a Deacon beginning at age 12. Duties include the passing of the sacrament (communion) and collecting offerings.
Elder
The first office of the Melchizidek Priesthood, which can be given to one as young as 18 years of age. All male missionaries are ordained to this office before being sent on their mission. Missionaries and Apostles are commonly referred to as “Elder So-and-so” in deference to their callings.
Endowment
The penultimate ordinance in the temple (the highest being a Sealing). The name comes from a phrase in the D&C, “And you shall be endowed with power from on High.”
Exaltation
Exaltation refers to reaching the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom and becoming like God the Father.
Fast Sunday
Once Sunday a month (typically the first Sunday) is designated as a Fast Sunday. On that day, members are encouraged to fast for two meals (or 24 hours) and give the money they would have spent on food to the Church’s welfare program as a “fast offering.” The Sacrament Meeting on that day is then modified, so that when we would generally have speakers and music, the pulpit is open to anyone who would like to stand and “bear their testimony,” in other words, to talk about their faith, or relate a faith-building experience.
First Presidency
Refers to the President of the Church and his counsellors.
General Authority (College of Cardinals)
Comprised of all of the leadership with a domain over the church as a whole, including the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presiding Bishopric, the Presidency of the Seventy and the first two Quorums of the Seventy.
General Conference
Twice a year, the first weekend of April and October, the Church convenes a conference where all current members of the First Presidency and council of the 12 Apostles speak to the general membership of the Church. Other General Authorities and Church leaders also speak. There are five total sessions (six if you include the General Relief Society meeting held the weekend before), each lasting 2 hours, and broadcast to as much of the worldwide membership as possible.
God
Can technically refer to any member of the Godhead, but usually refers to Heavenly Father, or less often to Jesus Christ.
Godhead (Trinity)
Comprised of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, as three distinct individuals unified in purpose.
Heaven
The term “Heaven” in LDS theology, is not specific enough to define clearly. Typically when an LDS person talks about “going to Heaven,” they are referring to the Celestial Kingdom. Additionally, the two lower “kingdoms of glory” may also be considered to be part of Heaven.
Heavenly Father
God the Father. The literal father of our spirits. The literal physical father of Jesus Christ.
Hell
As with Heaven, “Hell” is also somewhat unspecific. Technically, the Telestial Kingdom is the Hell referred to in most scriptures. However, members occasionally use the term to refer to “Outer Darkness” which is a place worse than Hell, but which is impossible to earn except by a very few.
High Council
A group of 12 high priests who serve under a stake presidency. They are often assigned by the stake president to speak in Sacrament Meetings of various wards in the stake.
High Priest
An office of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Typically, men are ordained to this office before serving in a calling that requires this office, such as a bishopric or a stake high council.
Holy Ghost
The only member of the Godhead who does not have a physical body. (aka Holy Spirit)
Institute
The college level version of seminary.
Keys
The rights of leadership as pertaining to the ordinances and direction of the church. For example, although a Bishop and his counselors are of the same office in the priesthood, and have the same authority, it is the Bishop who holds the keys to direct the affairs of a ward.
LDS
Short for “Latter-day Saint(s),” as in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It can refer to either the church (“In the LDS scriptures…”) or its members (“I am LDS.”).
Melchizedek Priesthood
The higher priesthood. Men may be ordained to this priesthood any time after they turn 18, but often are only ordained in preparation for a mission or in preparation to attend the temple to receive the ordinances there.
Mission
1) Volunteer service for the Church. Typically in the form of proselyting. Ranging from 18 months to 3 years, the expense is borne by the missionary or their family or ward. 2) A geographic area and associated organizational structure for managing missionaries.
Mission President
A mission is presided over by a mature priesthood holder in partnership with his wife. They are called similarly to missionaries, and will serve away from home for three years. If the couple has minor children, they typically come along, but are given no calling to serve.
Mormon
Mormon is actually the name of a prophet from The Book of Mormon. It was he who compiled the records into the collection we now call The Book of Mormon. Because of our belief in The Book of Mormon as scripture, we have long been called “Mormons” by outsiders. Eventually, the church embraced the term, and it is used widely both inside and outside of the church as a nickname. The proper name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon can refer to either the church or its members.
Non-Member
Someone who is not a member of the Church. In other words, a non-Mormon.
Ordinance (Sacrament)
A ritual usually involving making or renewing a covenant between God and the recipient of the ordinance.
Patriarch
The primary responsibility of a Patriarch is to give Patriarchical Blessings. In most situations members can only receive one Patriarchical Blessing in their life. It is recorded and considered individualized scripture.
President (Pope)
Usually referrs to the President of the Church who is also called as a ‘Prophet, Seer and Revelator.’ By convention, the longest serving apostle (upon unanimous ratification among the apostles) takes over when a sitting President dies.
Priest
Young men may be ordained as a Priest beginning at age 16. Duties include the blessing of the sacrament and baptizing.
Priesthood
The authority to act in God’s name. Essential when performing ordinances and directing the affairs of the church. There are two varieties: the Aaronic (also Levitical or preparatory) Priesthood, and the Melchizidek Priesthood.
Prophet
A prophet is one who receives revelation from God and is instructed to proclaim that revelation to others. In the LDS church, we believe that all of the quorum of the 12 Apostles and the First Presidency are prophets. “The Prophet,” refers specifically to the President of the Church. Past presidents or prophets in scripture are often referred to as “the prophet So-and-so,” but usually only if referring to something that they said or that happened while they were called to the position of prophet.
Quorum
An organization within the priesthood of men of the same office.
Relief Society
The women’s organization of the church.
Ressurrection
A reunification of the spirit with a perfected, immortal, and physical body.
Sacrament (Communion, The Lord’s Supper)
The breaking of bread and water (used in place of wine) as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us and a renewal of our covenant to take his name upon us.
Sacrament Meeting (Mass)
The main meeting in regular Sunday services.
Saint (Member)
A member of the Church.
Salvation
There are two parts to salvation – salvation from death and salvation from sin. Because of Christ’s atonement, all are saved from death. So, typically, when we discuss salvation, we are referring to salvation from sin, which is equivalent to gaining the Celestial Kingdom.
Scripture
Our canon of scriptures include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants. We also consider any talk given at a General Conference to be scripture, and more broadly, anything spoken or written which is inspired by the Holy Ghost.
Sealing (Marriage)
A couple may be “sealed” to each other and their children (living, dead or yet to be) for “time and all eternity.” This can only be done in a Temple.
Seminary
Formal religious education program aimed at high school age students. Designed to work as just another high school class – 5 days a week, for about 45 min.
Seventy (Cardinal)
The official role of the office of a seventy is somewhat generic. They are called to “proclaim the gospel and build up the Church.” In practice, they serve as the intermediate level of hierarchy between the Quorum of Apostles and Stake Presidents. There are currently eight quorums. Each quorum can have a maximum of 70 members, but typically operates with significantly less than that. Members of the first two quorums are considered General Authorities. The other quorums’ members’ are assigned to specific geographic areas, usually where they already live.
Soul
The soul is comprised of the union of the physical body and the spirit.
Spirit (Soul)
The part of an individual that is not physical. We believe our spirits were created by God and that they are eternal. When a person dies, their spirit continues to exist, and more importantly, is recognizable as that person.
Stake (Diocese)
A geographic collection of wards and sometimes branches. The term comes from Isaiah when he talks about strengthening the metaphorical tent of Zion by enlarging the stakes.
Stake Center
Basically a regular chapel, except larger and built specifically as a central chapel of a stake, with office and meeting space for the stake presidency and stake high council and usually larger so that the meeting portion of the building can be opened up to allow 1000 or so people to see the pulpit.
Stake President (Bishop)
Presides over a stake with two counsellors. Directs the activites of the stake High Council. Generally assigned similarly to the office of Bishop.
Talk (Sermon)
A speech or sermon given in a church meeting.
Teacher
Used with its common English definition, but also can refer to the second office in the Aaronic Priesthood, which may be attained at age 14.
Telestial Kingdom (Hell)
The third “Kingdom of Glory” in the afterlife. Approximately as good as life on Earth, except without death or the influence of Satan. This is also the Hell of LDS theology.
Temple (Cathedral)
The house of the Lord. No meetings are held in Temples except on very special occasions. Normally used only for the performance of our most sacred ordinances – vicarious work for the dead, Endowments and Sealings. Only adult, worthy members of the church may enter the temple regularly. Children may be given temporary, limited permission to enter and partake in certain ordinances.
Terrestrial Kingdom (Heaven)
The second “Kingdom of Glory” in the afterlife. Where good people who do not accept baptism will go.
Ward (Parish, Congregation)
This comes from the usage of the word in relating to geographical districts of a city. Wards are defined geographically. Attending a different ward than the one to which you are assigned (except visiting on occasion) is generally frowned upon.
Word of Wisdom
A code of dietary guidelines which was originally given as an optional “word of wisdom,” but which now is required for full participation in church ordinances. Prohibits coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Recommends fruits, vegetables, grains and “meat in moderation.”
Zion
Primarily metaphorical in use. Refers to a group of members who are of “one heart and one mind” or in other words, unified in and by the gospel.

5 responses to “Glossary or Translating Mormonese”

  1. Neil says :

    Hi,

    I’m always a little cautious in posting to someones else’s blog. I think the blog posts I’ve read so far are insightful and worth while. I do though tend to disagree with your definition of “hell” above. I personally do not equate the telestial kingdom in any way as hell. You mention outer darkness as hell and that for me is hell, that corresponds to what others may see or term as hell. In True to the Faith under hell (http://www.lds.org/topics/hell?lang=eng&country=gb), it has the following sentence: “… when they will be freed from hell and punishment and be resurrected to a telestial glory (see D&C 76:81-85).” Being freed from hell to then go into the telestial kingdom seems to imply they cannot be the same?

    Neil

    • thelogicalmormon says :

      Well, it’s a tricky definition. It is absolutely the hell spoken of in the Bible – the one where the wicked go with “fire and brimstone”. However, the fact of the matter is that we don’t believe in a traditional hell. Very few are capable of obtaining the “reward” of Outer Darkness. As a result, the worst place people can go is the Telestial Kingdom. There will be tormented souls there. However, Joseph Smith said it’s a much better place than Earth. Being redeemed from the devil is not the necessarily the same as being redeemed from hell. Take another look at D&C 76:81-85 and 103-106.

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