The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Missionaries and restorationists
Aspen Times Weekly
The Aspen Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been located on Maroon Creek Road up near Aspen High School for some 30 years, although the local congregation’s roots go back farther than that.
Ian Wagner, the bishop of the local LDS branch, estimates that a group of Latter-day Saints has been gathering and worshipping locally for as many as 40 years.
At present, Wagner said the local congregation has between 180 and 200 members on its rolls. The congregation also has a regular influx of visitors, like most of the other congregations in the upper valley.
The Mormon faith has been in the news recently because of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose devout Mormon faith has raised questions about his electability in the lead-up to next month’s primaries. Romney gave a recent speech on religion and politics, in an attempt to ease voters’ fears about electing a Mormon to the presidency. Local Latter-day Saints can relate to Romney’s struggle, Wagner said.
“I think first of all, [there’s a misconception] that we’re not Christian,” said Wagner, a full-time math teacher at Aspen High School. “I think the name of the church should clarify that. There’s also a sense that we don’t believe in the same atonement, which I think is rather incorrect.”
Latter-day Saints call themselves restorationists. While they consider themselves Christians, Wagner is quick to point out that adherents “are not Catholics and not Protestants.” Instead they believe that the Mormon faith is a restoration of the earliest Christian doctrines.
“We believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on behalf of mankind,” Wagner said. “We also believe in the same organization that existed at the time of Christ and that the Lord leads his church today through continuing revelation. We believe that this organization consisting of a prophet, 12 apostles and so forth was restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, who lived from 1805 until his martyrdom in 1844.”
The tenets of the Mormon faith are rooted in service, spreading the teachings of Jesus and building strong families, Wagner said.
Congregation members tithe (give 10 percent of their incomes) to support humanitarian causes funded by the national church and to help fund the church’s growth throughout the world. On a local level, congregants also give “fast offerings” ” going without a meal once a month and giving the money to the church to help individuals in need.
“Members are encouraged to be active in the community,” Wagner said. “I would say that’s true of most of our members. We do have one specific thing that we work with, and that’s donation of time.”
That principle applies to the church’s volunteer lay leadership. Unlike other churches, LDS branches don’t employ full-time clergy. The leadership positions aren’t chosen by church members, either, but rather the positions choose them, Wagner said.
“We are invited to perform responsibilities for a period of time, and our responsibilities change,” he said. “Throughout one’s life, there will be many opportunities to serve in the church in a variety of responsibilities.”
The church itself serves as a gathering place Sundays for teaching and worship, and is open to the everyone in the community, Wagner said. There is Sunday school and a primary program for children under the age of 12 before they enter the church’s programs for young men and young women. Men are organized into priesthood groups, while women are grouped into what is called the Relief Society ” one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world.
Of the men’s and women’s groups, Wagner said, “The focus is service and learning family and individual responsibilities. That’s the place where we learn some principles about helping our neighbors and strengthening families.”
There’s also the ever-present impetus to take what is learned in the church outside of its doors and spread it to nonbelievers.
“Part of the church’s motto is every member is a missionary,” Wagner said.
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