In November 2013, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sandestin made a change.
Once a “branch,” it is now known as a “ward,” due to an increase in the number of members residing within its local boundaries.
When the number of members in an area exceeds 300 and there are enough active members attending and serving, the Stake president submits an application to the leadership in Salt Lake City to start a congregation or change a congregation from a branch to a ward.
“A branch is the smallest independent unit of our church, where a ward is to be considered a ‘stand alone unit’ combined with other wards,” Bishop Kevin Riley of the Sandestin ward told The Sun.
Riley explained that the headquarters of the church with the first presidency and a “quorum of 12 apostles” is in Salt Lake City. The next level is the “stake,” normally made up of six to 12 wards (congregations) in a geographical area.
“Our Stake boundaries compose all of Okaloosa and Walton Counties, here in Florida and extending up to Opp Ala.,” Riley said. “In our Fort Walton Beach Stake, we have two wards that meet in Fort Walton Beach, one in Niceville, two wards and one branch that meet in Crestview, one ward in DeFuniak and now a ward in Sandestin.”
Boundaries for the Sandestin ward run from the Destin Bridge west to Inlet Bridge, east and from the bay on the north and the beach on the south. Members are encouraged to attend the ward or branch in their area.
Riley, who had been known as the president of the branch, also received a title change at the time — from president to bishop.
The responsibilities of a bishop and a branch president are basically the same; however, the main difference is with the Priesthood office itself.
“A branch president is not a priesthood office but is a calling in the church to lead a small congregation of just a few members up to a few hundred,” Riley said. “A bishop is an office in the Aaronic Priesthood that is called to serve a ward of 300 or more members. All Church leaders are called to help other people become true followers of … Jesus Christ.”
There are no paid clergy in a Mormon church. Members from the congregation are called to serve.
“We believe it is through this service that we learn to serve and love like the Savior did,” Riley said.