Update: The letter has been added to the First Presidency’s official repository of letters.

In a major shift in the limited-use world of temples, today the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that young men and young women will have the opportunity to take on greater roles in temple baptism assignments, effective January 1, 2018.

Both young men and women currently attend temple baptismal assignments as essentially receiving participants, being either baptized or confirmed, but not engaging in work beyond that.

Now, under the direction of a temple presidency, priests in the Aaronic Priesthood (young men, 16-18), may officiate in baptisms for the dead, including serving as the baptizer and as a witness—roles previously limited to Melchizedek Priesthood holders. Under existing rules, young men and women can be those baptized on behalf of the deceased, but could young men could not carry out the ordinance itself. This move brings temple baptisms in line with those done for converts and children, where priests are able to perform the baptism.

Confirmation, or the bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost, will continue to be carried out by Melchizedek Priesthood holders, just as done outside the temple.

Young women (ages 12-18) will now have the opportunity to “assist with baptistry assignments currently performed by sister temple ordinance workers and volunteers.” This can include helping individuals to assignments, scheduling (presumably), making sure everything is running smoothly, passing out towels at the baptistry, and others. Young Women’s leaders the world over will rejoice.

In non-temple news, the Primary’s Priesthood Preview meeting will now include both 11-year-old boy sand girls and will be renamed the Temple and Priesthood Preparation meeting.

Although the news has not been released via the Mormon Newsroom at the time of writing, This Week in Mormons obtained a copy of a letter from the First Presidency dated December 14, 2017, to be read during sacrament meeting.

First Presidency Letter – 14 December 2017 by This Week in Mormons on Scribd

The move comes at a time when, at least anecdotally, it appears more difficult to get adults to attend youth baptismal assignments, particularly on weeknights. This will not only remove the barriers to entry for getting the assignments done, it will also serve as a phenomenal opportunity for Mormon youth to be more engaged in the work of the temple.

Baptisms for the dead, as performed in LDS temples, are not physical baptisms of deceased individuals. Rather, Mormons follow the admonition of Paul found in 1 Corinthians 15:29:

“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”

As such, baptisms for the dead are done by proxy, with individuals standing in for the deceased. Mormons believe those individuals then have the opportunity in the afterlife to accept or reject the ordinance—an ordinance regarded as essential to salvation by Latter-day Saints. No recipient of a temple baptism is considered automatically Mormon or “forced” into anything.