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Until recently, weekly LDS worship services were planned exclusively by Mormon lay leaders who form a congregation's three-man "bishopric."

Soon LDS women will begin to have a role — along with the bishop and his two counselors — in setting the tone and focus of such worship.

In April, high-level leaders of the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including several Mormon apostles and Seventies as well as a couple of female general auxiliary heads — videotaped a "training session" to be distributed down the hierarchical chain in the global faith.

The main thrust, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said Monday, was on "strengthening faith in our Heavenly Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ."

Mormon leaders "were asked to focus on better observing the Sabbath day at church and at home," Hawkins said in a statement. "Bishoprics, who are responsible for planning sacrament meetings, are being asked to counsel with ward councils about their proposed plans for future sacrament meetings."

Among the LDS leaders' recommendations was the idea that a "ward council," which consists of male and female leaders in the congregation, could help plan Sunday "sacrament meetings."

To be clear, LDS Sunday services vary starkly from those of other Christian groups.

There are no eloquent sermons by trained ministers. No choreographed rituals except one: communion, or the sacrament, in which members partake of bread and water as emblems of Jesus' body and blood and as evidence of their renewed commitment to follow his teachings.

The rest of the Sunday sacrament meeting, as it is known, is generally taken up by prayers, songs and short talks by members.

Traditionally, the bishopric has chosen the service's topics and themes and then assigned speakers to address those ideas.

"The contribution of all ward council members will add spiritual insight to the plans being considered by bishoprics," Hawkins said, "while bishoprics will be continue to be responsible for approval of plans."

In addition, the training video recommended that Mormon congregations begin rather than end each Sunday's three-hour block of services with sacrament meeting, which engages both adults and children and includes the bread-and-water rite.

Peggy Fletcher Stack