Two days ago the LDS Church News released new mission president assignments for 2018. The affiliated mission adjustments garnered a bit more media attention (5 new missions, 19 missions to be merged with others), but that’s not what caught my eye. It was the inclusion of wives with that list of new mission presidents.
Historically, the announcement of new mission presidents was slightly different. In 2017, the list of 123 new assignments gave the name of each mission with its current mission president in one column and new mission president in another. No wives were listed. The 2016 announcement of 168 new assignments was the same: mission name, current mission president, and new mission president. Same with 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and, well, you get the picture.
But this year they dropped the name of the current mission president and added in the new president’s wife:
So what’s the deal with referring to the wife as a “companion”? Apparently, “mission president’s companion” is a semi-official title for the calling of a mission president’s wife, though it’s public appearance is sporadic. In a 1998 Deseret News obituary, a woman is celebrated as having served four times as “Mission President’s Companion.” The title “mission president’s companion” is used in this 2017 Mormon Newsroom announcement and quite often in this 2011 Church News article. The 2011 article even explained some responsibilities, “Mission presidents’ companions provide assistance in everything from health care to training to counseling.”
Yet the title is conspicuously absent in other places. Take this 2013 Mormon Newsroom press release describing the creation of the new “Mission Leadership Council.” This was at the same time the role of “sister training leader” was created, a leadership responsibility necessitated by the increased numbers of women entering the mission field after the age change. The Mission Leadership Council was to consist of “the mission president and his wife, assistants to the president, zone leaders and sister training leaders.” During this press release, it was also announced that the mission president’s wife would assume new responsibilities: “Additionally, the wives of mission presidents are now being asked to play an enhanced role in training and caring for sister missionaries, subject to their individual and family circumstances.” But nowhere is a wife of a mission president described as a “companion.”
And then there’s lds.org, which doesn’t seem to register anything for “mission president’s companion” (or “president’s companion”):
Searching for “president and companion,” “presidents and their companions,” “presidents and companions,” or “presidents’ companions” is more successful, though you’ll never get more than a half dozen results each (if that). For example, “president and companion” yields the recent February news release, a 2003 Ensign article, a 2005 article appearing in both the Ensign and Liahona, and Elder Rasband’s personal bio.
So it’s understandable that members, like me, aren’t familiar with a title of “companion” for the mission president’s wife. Which is why, in a 2016 poll by the online Mormon journal SquareTwo, hundreds of Mormon women indicated they’d like to see the wife of a mission president be given an official title. Authors Valerie Cassler and Neylan McBaine reported that, with over 400 predominantly centrist/orthodox LDS women responding, 96% of respondents wanted to see a change to the title of “mission president’s wife.” People weren’t shy in offering suggestions. Funny enough, “Mission President’s Companion” was offered as an alternative, but not a common one. It’s in the “other” category on SquareTwo‘s description (emphasized below).
The question of what to change her name to resulted in less uniform answers. The majority (58%) suggest also calling her “President,” or some variation: co-president, presidentess, presidenta. “Why can’t they both be mission presidents?” was a common refrain in the comments….
Other suggested names for the mission president’s wife included “matron”, signaling a desire perhaps to have some uniformity in our women’s titles as it would echo the current “temple matron” appellation. “Mission matron” and “temple matron” allow both callings to gain in stature and indicate similar partnerships with their male equivalents. Overall, 23% of respondents indicated that “mission matron,” “mission matriarch,” or “mission mother” felt right to them.
Other terms offered by a few individuals included Mission Advisor, Mission Counselor, Mission Leader, Mission President’s Companion, Mission Associate President, Mission Administrator, and “use Mission Father and Mission Mother.”
- What do you think about the changes to the 2018 announcement, omitting the previous mission president’s name in favor of the new president’s wife?
- How do you feel about the title “Mission President’s Companion”? Is there another title you’d prefer for a mission president’s wife?