There's no telling when LDS authorities will fill the void left by death of longtime Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry, nor who will be chosen. But that it will happen is an essential process in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Utah-based faith's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has, of course, a dozen members, who are seated according to their length of service. The 92-year-old Perry was the second most senior apostle, appointed in 1974 — four years after Boyd K. Packer, who, at age 90, is the president of the body.
The three members of the governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve make up the top councils in the 15 million-member LDS Church.
When a new man (Mormon apostles must be male) is chosen, he will take his seat at the bottom of the quorum, right after Neil L. Andersen, who became an apostle in 2009 after Joseph B. Wirthlin died the previous December.
Most apostles are named at the next available General Conference, either in April or October, but some have been called at other times.
The new apostle doesn't have to come from within the current top church leadership. Apostle Russell M. Nelson was a heart surgeon, and Dallin H. Oaks was a Utah Supreme Court justice.
"Apostles are chosen through inspiration by the president of the church, sustained by the general membership of the church, and ordained by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by the laying on of hands," the church's website explains. "In addition to serving as witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world, as Jesus' apostles did, members of the current Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold the keys of the priesthood — that is, the rights of presidency [for the church]."
Historians have noted that current apostles usually are asked to write three names on a slip of paper. With or without open discussion, a secret ballot is held, and the results are tallied and then forwarded to the church president. The president sometimes has accepted those recommendations and sometimes not.
All Mormon apostles are seen by members as "prophets, seers and revelators." They also become full-time executives, running a billion-dollar enterprise. They oversee vast resources, departments and tasks. Unlike most CEOs, though, they give sermons in places as different as Arkansas and Argentina. Twice a year they deliver major General Conference addresses that will be viewed almost as scripture by LDS listeners.
Apostles make momentous decisions about Mormonism's future: when to take one of its rare political positions, build a temple or establish a new policy.
From the moment an apostle accepts his calling, he steps onto an escalator that leads to the top. The man who outlives the apostles named before him will ascend to the LDS Church's highest office.
It's a lifelong commitment, and no one gets out alive.
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