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Grassroots Mormon Leadership 'Inspired by Love of God and Neighbour'

One is a local business owner, community fund-raiser and rugby coach.  Another is a corrections officer.  The third is a tradesman and carver.  What these three men have in common is faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to teach, serve and lift the lives of their fellow Latter-day Saints and their other neighbours in Kaikohe, New Zealand.

Meet Percy Cooper, the new bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Kaikohe First Ward (congregation).  He and his wife Cheree own a local business, and both are strong supporters of a community rugby club.  

Bishop Cooper also coaches a local boys' rugby team. The team recently won the finals of their division.

Makiapai Matekeua works for New Zealand's Department of Corrections. He is a prison officer at the Ngawha Correction Facility near Kaikohe.

Keith Wihongi is a tradesman turned Maori Studies tutor for Te Wananga O Raukawa.

The three Kaikohe men have recently been asked to serve as the lay leadership of their local Latter-day Saint congregation.

“Our goal is to develop unity within the congregation and in the community,” said Bishop Cooper.  

Virtually every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is given an opportunity to offer service in their local congregation, a geographically designated group called a ward or branch (based on local population). Several wards and branches combine to form a stake (a broader geographical boundary) and an additional layer of administrative responsibility. In a church with lay leadership, the work of the individual congregations depends wholly on the volunteer efforts of the local members.

Members are invited or “called” by the leadership of the ward or stake to serve in a specific responsibility. Each call is perceived to come by inspiration of the leaders and offers the individual the right to accept or decline the service option. Most callings or assignments are accepted, sometimes with an extra measure of faith to be able to fulfil the needs of callings that may or may not lie within one’s skills or experience. The term of service is usually indefinite; some responsibilities extend for a number of years while others last only months.

Wards have an average membership of around 400 people, with about 200 people needed to maintain the ward organization. Branches of the Church have a smaller population and a reduced need for volunteer leaders. The bishop serves as the head of each ward, along with a pair of counselors, an executive secretary and clerks for finances and membership. Other men head up the priesthood quorums of various ages, while women lead in the Relief Society, the Young Women and the Primary. In addition to their Sunday callings, most adults also serve as home and visiting teachers, a task that encourages a monthly visit and the delivery of a spiritual message to assigned members of the ward. Some people spend three to four hours a week on their Church responsibilities, while some with greater responsibilities spend as much as 20-30 hours a week. Such service blends in to the personal daily time commitments to family, work and community responsibilities.

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