Can women offer the opening prayer in sacrament meeting?
I’ve heard two answers to this:
(1) Yes, of course. Read the handbook. It says clearly that any adult member can offer either prayer in sacrament meeting.
(2) No, they can’t. It is part of the unwritten order of things that they don’t. An Area Authority reported to a friend of mine that he (=the Area Authority) had heard the question posed to Elder Oaks who replied that Pres. Hinckley was asked to change the handbook to reflect that women shouldn’t offer the opening prayer, but chose not to because “everyone knows” that women shouldn’t do it. Of course, that’s quintuple hearsay. (And you reading it makes six.)
And that is my problem with the unwritten rules: depending on where you live, you may not have many church members and leaders familiar with them, which means that you are left using quintuple hearsay to determine what correct practice is supposed to be. Which means that there is a huge potential for hurt feelings, misunderstandings, disputes, incorrect practice, and wasting time in conversations and leadership meetings where the issues arise. Another unfortunate side effect of the unwritten order is that it creates a situation where people who have family connections to church leaders have a privileged insider status: they can contact grandpa and find out what the policy is (or at least what grandpa claims he remembers hearing once from someone), while the rest of us are either left in the dark or have to rely on their fifth-hand information.
I’m not nearly as concerned with whether women are able to offer the opening prayer as I am with the issue of unclear directions and the inevitable disputes that arise because of them. This certainly isn’t the only issue where I’ve heard claim to unwritten rules that we were all just supposed to know. I’ve heard high-level authority claimed to justify that we weren’t supposed to go out of our way to accommodate non-majority-language speakers, who should just learn the language of the area they were in. The list goes on, which is pretty amazing considering the fact that I have virtually no contact with leadership meetings and/or decision making. (I always have teaching callings.)
The unwritten order may have made sense in the small, close-knit, geographically compact church of the past that had frequent visits from high-level leaders to local congregations, but today it does more harm than good. Given the problem that the Church has had with statements attributed to leaders that were not accurate, one would think that we’d realize that we cannot rely on word of mouth to transmit policy.