SALT LAKE CITY – The selection of a new Mormon president fills a void atop a well-defined leadership hierarchy that has governed the church for decades.
A closer look at how the leadership structure is arranged and how new members are chosen:
WHO LEADS THE CHURCH?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a president and his two top counselors who form what is known as the "first presidency." They come from a top governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which sits below the first presidency and helps set church policy and oversees the faith's business interests. These 15 people are all men in accordance with the church's all-male priesthood.
HOW ARE MORMON PRESIDENTS CHOSEN?
The longest-tenured member the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the new president in a tradition established more than a century ago to ensure a smooth handover and prevent any lobbying internally or publicly.
The succession plan was created in 1889 following nearly two years of debate and some politicking among the apostles after the faith's third president, John Taylor, died, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University. Since then, the plan has been carried out without exception.
The new president, Russell M. Nelson, was announced Tuesday after a private meeting of the Quorum Sunday. Per protocol, the meeting followed the funeral for the previous president, Thomas S. Monson.
WHAT DOES A MORMON PRESIDENT DO?
He is considered a prophet, seer and relevator who leads the church through divine revelation from God along with two top counselors and members of the Quorum. He sets policy, rules and manages church programs.
The president also oversees the church's businesses, which include real estate, farms, publishing, life insurance, nonprofits, a Polynesian cultural center in Hawaii and upscale outdoor mall in Salt Lake City.
The church doesn't disclose or discuss its finances, but Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn estimated in a book published last year that it brought in $33 billion in contributions and an additional $15 billion from its for-profit businesses in 2010. Much of that estimated $48 billion is likely spent to operate church buildings, temples and programs, Quinn said.
HOW LONG DO MORMON PRESIDENTS SERVE?
Until they die, which is why the length of their tenures vary widely.
The longest was Brigham Young, who served nearly 30 years in the mid- to late 1800s. Other lengthy tenures include Heber J. Grant, with nearly 27 years from 1918 to 1945, and David O. McKay, with nearly 19 years from 1951 to 1970.
The shortest tenure was Howard H. Hunter, who served only nine months from 1994 to 1995. He and three other Mormon presidents served less than five years, including an 18-month stint by Harold B. Lee from 1972 to 1973.
The past two presidents, Monson and Gordon B. Hinckley, each had fairly lengthy terms. Monson served nearly 10 years, and Hinckley was in the post for nearly 13 years.
HOW ARE THE PRESIDENT'S TWO COUNSELORS CHOSEN?
A new president usually chooses them from the Quorum. Sometimes, they are the same men who served the previous president. If they're different, the previous counselors return to being members of the Quorum.
Nelson kept Henry B. Eyring as a counselor and chose Dallin H. Oaks as the second.
Being counselors doesn't put them ahead in line to become the next president, who is always the longest-tenured member.
But Oaks happens to be next in line. The 85-year-old is a former Utah Supreme Court justice who joined the Quorum in May 1984, one month after Nelson.
HOW ARE NEW QUORUM MEMBERS CHOSEN?
They can come from anywhere, but in modern history most were already serving in lower-tier leadership councils.
The apostles tend to be older men who have achieved a measure of some success in occupations outside the church. The last three chosen for the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in October 2015, fit that description.
Ronald A. Rasband was CEO of Huntsman Chemical Corp. Gary E. Stevenson co-founded an exercise equipment manufacturing company. Dale G. Renlund was a cardiologist and directed a cardiac transplant program. All three were in their early 60s when chosen.
All the Quorum members are white. All are from the United States, with the lone exception being Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Germany.
Modeled after Jesus Christ's apostles, the group serves under the church president until they die or ascend to the church presidency.
The Quorum has two openings that will likely be filled at the next church conference in April.
WHAT ABOUT WOMEN?
Nine highest-ranking women in the church oversee three organizations that run programs for women and girls. These councils sit below several layers of leadership groups reserved only for men.
The president and counselors who oversee the Relief Society, which runs activities for women, are considered the most important female leaders based on the organization's historical cachet.
This story has been corrected to show that Nelson was chosen during a private meeting Sunday, not Tuesday, when the appointment was announced.