In each stake of the LDS Church (a stake is a collection of 8-12 congregations) there is a High Council composed of 12 men who have been ordained as high priests. In modern times the first high council was organized on February 17, 1834 in Kirtland, Ohio.
“This day a general council of twenty-four high priests assembled at the house of Joseph Smith, Jun., by revelation, and proceeded to organize the high council of the church of Christ, which was to consist of twelve high priests, and one or three presidents as the case might require. The high council was appointed by revelation for the purpose of settling important difficulties which might arise in the church, which could not be settled by the church or the bishop’s council to the satisfaction of the parties.” (D&C 102:1-2).
In part, the high council is patterned after the organization of the children of Israel by Moses as suggested by his father in law Jethro (see Exodus 18). Members of the high council are called to assist others (stake presidency) in directing the work of the Lord’s church at a local (stake, ward, and branch) level. Members of a high council have no authority except that given them by a stake president – all responsibilities are supportive and administrative. High councilors never preside (except maybe in very rare circumstances where there is not a more senior person to preside). An overview of the core responsibilities of a member of a high council are found in the LDS Church’s administrative handbook in section 15.3.
Here are selections about the high council role of supporting the stake president because the stake presidency cannot be everywhere they could or need to be: “High councilors counsel about and sustain the stake presidency’s decisions to ordain brethren to the offices of elder and high priest. The stake president may authorize high councilors to represent him when men are ordained to the offices of elder and high priest.
“High councilors also counsel about and sustain the stake presidency’s decisions to issue callings to members. For some callings, the stake presidency may authorize high councilors to represent them in issuing the callings, presenting members to be sustained, and setting members apart as indicated in chapter 19.”
Each high councilor is also assigned to oversee a unit within a stake: “To assist them in overseeing the Melchizedek Priesthood, the stake presidency assigns a high councilor to represent them in each elders quorum, high priests group, ward, and branch in the stake.”
For this responsibility, high councilors typically visit their assigned unit at least monthly, attending as many general and leadership meetings within the unit as necessary.
High councilors also are assigned to speak regularly in units throughout the stake: “The stake presidency may assign high councilors to represent them by speaking in sacrament meetings and other settings.” These talks often occur monthly but there is leniency for talks to be given less often. There is a well-worn (and outdated) running joke in the church about how boring high councilors are as speakers. In listening to hundreds of high councilor talks over the years, I’ve found the majority of them quite enjoyable. In fact, the quality of the average high councilor talk has been higher than the quality of the average ward member talk (although I’ve had the opportunity to live in wards where church members generally give excellent talks). The joke or belief about boring high councilors might have had some truth in the past but has not been generally true for the various stakes I’ve lived in over the years.
Another responsibility members of a high council have is in church disciplinary councils. I’ve written about them in the past and will not expand more at this point other than to state that those councils are meant to be as supportive to the member under disciplinary action as possible.
Members of high councils have other responsibilities too – service, meetings, committees. In the past, high council callings tended to be cushier – not particularly busy – but recently high councilors are being used more as the church expands. In order to reduce the load on individuals (e.g., stake presidencies) more tasks are delegated to help spread the work and reduce time away from families. At its core the high council is structured to support and edify families – for families are the core unit of the Church.