Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Seniority of Elders”

“Seniority of Elders”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 12, 2013

Surely the “ambition for office” within the Church can have no more minor manifestation than the desire to be senior companion as a missionary … yet how many of us who served missions did NOT look forward to the day when we would be senior?

Seniority of Elders [1926]

In the case of two or more Elders appointed to labour together, one of them is the recognised senior, that is to say he stands first – the first among equals. This is in harmony with the spirit of our Church organisation, which embodies a perfect plan of orderly assignment. To the senior Elder of any pair or group the Conference President will address such communications as apply to all of the little company; and, in turn, the senior Elder will speak and report for himself and associates on matters pertaining to all of them as a unit.

Seniority in these cases is not determined wholly by length of service in the field, neither by individual age. These conditions are factors to be taken into consideration by the Conference President in making his appointments; but other, and in some instances many other, conditions have to be taken into account. Some of our missionaries have had long experience in Church service at home; not a few of them have served in positions of responsibility as officers in Wards and Stakes; others have completed honourable missions before entering upon their present service in these lands. Such men may be better qualified for positions involving seniority than are their associates, and may even be appointed as Conference Presidents early in their period of current service. Furthermore, the personal element is to be considered in all appointments. Some can accomplish more as leaders, others as followers. Ambition for office arising from any personal desire for distinction is foreign to the spirit of the church; and to the credit of our missionaries be it said that pronounced manifestation of such personal ambition is so rare as to be negligible.

The success of the great cause to which we, as missionaries, are devoting time, talent and material possessions, is, as it should be, the great consideration; and every true missionary is willing and eager to serve where he is most needed and in the particular position to which he is appointed.

Conference Presidents should designate the senior Elder in each little group appointed to labour as companions; and such designation should be made with due consideration to experience and other qualifications, including personality and adaptability to existing conditions, and not solely or even primarily on the “missionary age” of any Elder.

In my case, finally “going senior” meant I could at last have some say in my personal life (what cheese or bread we would buy on P-Day, choices that had been categorically denied me by one senior) as well as some say in the organization of our work (it seemed ridiculous to me to schedule our tracting  in an area that was as far removed as possible from any appointments we might have had, leading us to spend most of our working hours biking back and forth across our district). And when I was senior, I tried to let my juniors have the control over their own lives and the input into our work that I had not had.

What did it mean to you to be, or want to be, a senior companion? Were those roles determined solely by seniority, or did your mission president take any other factors into account, as suggested by Elder Talmage?



  1. It was a grim day in April 1974 when I learned of my transfer to a new branch, to serve as a junior companion to Elder B_____, whose reputation was already known throughout the mission.

    And he did not disappoint–the reports about him were, unfortunately, all too true. But I decided that I could endure it for the month until surely he’d be transferred onward and I’d become a senior companion. Of course, he wasn’t transferred, I remained his companion for another month–which was the longest month of my mission.

    Of course, having learned from that experience, I was a terrific senior companion. :)

    And here’s the proof: about a month into my new junior’s mission (he was a greenie when we became companions in June), after he had dropped about 25 pounds of baby fat, the ZL came to me one day and said “Butler-choro, I don’t care what you eat. I don’t care if you never eat. But you gotta make sure your companion gets enough to eat. He says he’s starving to death.”

    Comment by Mark B. — February 12, 2013 @ 7:24 am

  2. Being senior meant I could end our useless “finding activity” with enough time to walk the five blocks to our next appointment and not have to pay for a taxi ride in order to make it on time.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — February 12, 2013 @ 7:25 am

  3. becoming senior didn’t mean much for me as my fist junior informed me in no uncertain terms that in the mission from which he had been transferred (while waiting for visa) the president did not have sr. or jr. companions but everything was done by mutual consent effectively giving him a veto over everything I proposed. Since he was an angrier kind of guy than I was, I just went along with whatever he wanted so he wouldn’t yell at me so much.

    Comment by Grant — February 12, 2013 @ 8:13 am

  4. We did not really have senior companions in my mission in Germany; that is, the transfer letter specified only “companion,” not junior or senior. In practice, the one who had been in the city longest usually took the role of senior, though in all my companionships it was pretty relaxed. I never (even by my trainer) felt ruled over by an older missionary. In fact, if anything, I was far harsher with my trainer than he was with me, owing to my own pride and unrealistic expectations.

    Comment by Paul — February 12, 2013 @ 8:15 am

  5. In my mission “junior” and “senior” seemed to be determined solely by seniority. I recall it was just kind of assumed — I don’t remember any specific junior/senior assignments from the APs or anything. Other than my trainer (who clearly felt he was the one in charge and was a bit put out having to deal with a clueless and overzealous bean), I recall that we mostly worked together as teams without any particular power dynamics. I hope my “juniors” would agree.

    Comment by lindberg — February 12, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  6. Timely, Ardis.

    My #3 son should have arrived in “the mission field” today, and no doubt is assigned as junior companion (or at least trainee to his more experienced trainer). I hope he gets a great senior.

    Comment by Coffinberry — February 12, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

  7. Senior/Junior was a distinction on my mission, but I’m not aware of any real control freaks. I went straight from Junior to DL, never was entrusted with a “greenie.” Most companionships were encouraged to work together and in a unified manner, but in general senior companions tended to be missionaries who had been in the field longer than their junior companion. I was fairly easy going, and for a while, got put with “difficult” missionaries, or so I was told. Taught me how to grin and bear craziness, but also to look for people’s redeeming qualities.

    Comment by IDIAT — February 13, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

  8. The mission I served in had very clearly delineated senior and junior companion roles, which for the most part seemed to work well without anyone exercising unrighteous dominion. Each transfer letter indicated who was to serve in which capacity, and length of service in the field didn’t always guarantee seniority. Training meant you were senior, of course, but there was also a curious policy of having “co-senior companions”, particularly where both missionaries in the companionship had served relatively similar lengths of time in the field and weren’t too wet behind the ears. It was unofficially known as being “co-junior”, as sometimes neither missionaries would be willing to make the decisions. It only proved that having insisted on defining companions as “senior” or “junior”, any variation from that was pretty pointless!

    Comment by Alison — February 14, 2013 @ 5:15 am

  9. that is to say he stands first – the first among equals. This is in harmony with the spirit of our Church organisation… [He] will speak and report for himself and associates on matters pertaining to all of them as a unit.

    I think we finally have a definition of what it really means to be presiderer.

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 14, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

  10. On a serious note, I agree with #3 and #8 that co-seniors and mutual consent companionships didn’ work in my mission, primarily because of the immaturity of those involved (especially me!)

    I suspect that in 1926, when it was not uncommon for a married man in his 30s to play greenie to some much younger, fresh-faced single guy, the potential for tension was much higher.

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 14, 2013 @ 2:04 pm