It is not every day that around 1,000 Lincoln County residents welcome new county-wide, religious leadership. It is also not every day the county receives visitors from Kenya, Africa.

Both rarities occurred on Sunday morning in Panaca at the Panaca Stake Center on Main Street.  The building was filled to capacity as members of the Panaca, Nevada Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sustained Paul Mathews of Panaca as their new stake president. He will be assisted by two counselors: Spencer Hafen of Panaca and Ross Stirling of Alamo. The three together make up the new presidency of the stake, which covers the whole county.

Kevin Phillips of Caliente and counselors Gordon Wadsworth of Panaca and Doug Miller of Hiko were released directly prior to the new presidency being sustained. The outgoing presidency had served for over nine years.

Attendees also listened to addresses by  Elder Joseph W. Sitati and his wife Gladys, from Bungoma, Kenya, Africa, and Elder Michael L. Southward of Cleveland, Okla. Elders Sitati and Southward are part of the general leadership of the Church. Both said it was their first visit to Lincoln County.

The releasing and sustaining took place during the beginning of the Sunday meeting. Church members in attendance gave the new stake presidency a sustaining vote. This is a brief process where a leader comes to the pulpit and reads the names of those being released. The congregation is asked to express their thanks for the service the leaders by raising their right hands. The names of the new leaders are then read and the congregation is asked to show their support for or opposition to the new presidency by giving the same signal. The voting in support of the new presidency was unanimous, as was the expression of thanks for Phillips and his counselors.

“A stake president is a man who is asked to serve as a volunteer in this position,” according to the Church’s Newsroom website ( “He oversees Church programs in a defined geographic area composed of individual congregations called wards and is responsible to help the members of his stake in their efforts to follow Jesus Christ.”

Stake presidents are called by the church’s general leadership during a stake conference, a semi-annual event that takes place in every Church stake. Elders Sitati and Southward were assigned to direct the conference and find the new stake president. They met with various local leaders in the stake on Saturday and eventually extended the calling to Mathews. Neither the general leaders nor Mathews knew he would be the new stake president until that day. Mathews then selected his counselors.

As is the case with all local callings, stake presidents and their counselors are lay, or unpaid, clergy.

The meeting also included brief, often tearful, addresses by the outgoing and incoming stake presidents and their spouses, as well the outgoing and incoming counselors, among others. A choir made up of residents throughout the county provided music for the meeting. The choir was led by Klark Black and accompanied by Charleen Bowman.