Changes to the recommendation process for prospective missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have just been announced. Service missionary candidates will apply the same way as proselyting missionary candidates, through an online portal, and their mission calls will likewise come from the prophet.
“Their call will be from the prophet,” said Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a video on MormonNewsroom.org. “They will apply just like every other missionary to full-time missionary service.”
Additionally, missionaries who are not able to complete a proselyting mission due to mental, physical, and emotional health reasons may be able to transfer to a service mission for the remainder of their mission.
Beginning in January 2019, young Church-service missionaries will be called “service missionaries.” The Service Missionary Program, which has been available in the United States and Canada for about 10 years, makes it possible for worthy young adults who for various reasons have been excused from serving a proselyting mission to still serve a mission.
Called to Serve
“These changes will affect the lives of young people and their parents in the U.S. and Canada in a significant way,” said Ben Porter, managing director over the service mission programs of the Church. “What this means is that any worthy young person in the Church (men ages 18–25 and women ages 19–25) who desires to serve a mission will submit an application through a single online portal, and the Missionary Department then through prophetic keys will decide whether they go on a proselyting or a service mission,” said Porter.
Missionary candidates don’t get to pick their type of mission. Mission assignments are made under priesthood keys by prophets and apostles based on the information provided in the application, which includes various evaluations.
If a candidate will not be called to a proselyting mission, a representative from the Church's Missionary Department will counsel with the stake president before a service mission call is issued. Those called as a service missionary will work with their stake president and local facilitators to find the best service opportunities for them.
“The Lord said if you have desires to serve, you are called to the work,” said Elder Renlund. “This is serving the Lord as a missionary and bringing to pass God's work. … (Service missionaries) bring great blessings to themselves, but more importantly, as they are doing this work, they’re blessing Heavenly Father’s children in unique ways.”
According to the updated website Service Missionary website, “A service missionary is called by the Lord through His prophet to serve in an environment uniquely tailored to his or her talents, skills, and gifts.”
What it Means to be a Service Missionary
When reoccurring health problems prevented Schuyler Mickelson from completing her proselyting mission in Boston, Massachusetts, she was “devastated and really sad. I was depressed for months and months,” she said. But an opportunity to serve as a young Church-service missionary at Church headquarters “changed everything for me. It gave me a purpose and made me feel like I had worth and could contribute to the Lord’s work.”
Changes to the Church’s missionary programs announced Nov.16 will expand service opportunities for worthy young adults like Mickelson who desire to serve a mission. She has an extensive background in music. Being a service missionary in the Church’s Music Department on the new hymnbook project was a great fit for what she had to offer. “It felt like a big blessing because I was working on the best project for the skills and talents I have been developing since I was young.” She hopes other missionaries can have a similar experience.
Service missionaries serve on Church farms in Florida and Texas or in departments at Church headquarters in Utah, or they help with seminary and institute enrolment and other stake-assigned service opportunities. Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, and the California Old Towne state park are some of the non-Latter-day Saint organizations that currently use service missionaries. “The Church is always looking for more partners who need service volunteers,” said Porter.
Service missionaries serve anywhere from six months to two years, live at home, and serve locally. “They make a huge difference,” said Elder Renlund. “They’re dependable, they show up, they do the work. They’re cheerful, they’re positive, they’re enthusiastic. They bring life and energy.”
“They don’t proselyte,” said Casey Mortensen, a manager in the Service Missionary Program, “but they serve the Lord in His name and in His way. They have a strong desire to serve and don’t take this opportunity for granted.”
Proselyting missionaries from the United States or Canada who are not able to complete their missions due to mental, physical, and emotional health reasons may have the option of transferring to a service mission, if approved by their stake president.
“Missionaries can be home for a grace time of about nine months to a year and still be able to transfer to a service mission to finish out their mission,” said Porter. “We’ve been piloting this (reassignment) program around the U.S. and Canada, and it’s been highly successful, and our hope is to expand the program to other countries in the future.”
Regardless of the type of mission someone is called to, the Lord is behind the call and equally values all service rendered in His name. According to the updated Service Missionary website, “Service missions are acceptable offerings to the Lord when a proselyting mission is not
possible. … All missionaries represent the Lord and are His agents in the work of salvation.”
“They go about doing good, just like the Savior did,” added Elder Renlund.
Parents and potential missionary candidates are encouraged to visit the Service Missionary website and then talk to their bishops about their desire and eligibility to serve.