Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Mormon Massachusetts?

The Associated Press is running a story dated today claiming that the Church is making great strides in arguably the most politically liberal state in the country, Massachusetts. It is also a very strong Catholic stronghold. According to the AP, Church membership in Massachusetts between 1994 and 2004 climbed 56% from 14,840 to 23,161 members. Wards have also grown from 15 in 1980 to 39:

Progress can be slow for emissaries of a culturally conservative faith in a liberal, heavily Roman Catholic state. But persistence has had rewards. Statewide, church numbers show Mormons gaining a foothold that local church leaders believe will grow much bigger.

Between 1994 and 2004, Massachusetts membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints increased 56 percent, from 14,840 to 23,161. That's tiny, compared to the state's 3 million-member Catholic church. But it approaches the 33,400 state membership of the Unitarian Universalist Association, whose roots in Massachusetts go back to the 18th century.

Mormons now have 39 congregations, or "wards," in the state, compared with 15 in 1980. To the west of Boston, the only Mormon temple in New England has a granite grip on a hill in the suburb of Belmont, home to perhaps the church's most prominent member: Gov. Mitt Romney.
Shortly after the Church was organized, it had a 400 person congregation, that disbanded after the Prophet Joseph’s martyrdom. Church membership did not have any significant numbers until approximately the 1960's. Now, many of the LDS intellectual elite are supposedly migrating to the prestigious east coast universities in Boston:

In the mid-1800s, Boston was home to a 400-member Mormon congregation, at the time the largest in the eastern United States. But it disbanded shortly after the slaying of founder Joseph Smith in 1844, when Mormons fled widespread persecution with a mass migration to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.

It took more than a century for Mormons to return in notable numbers to Massachusetts in the 1960s. Ulrich said the church in recent decades has cultivated an "intellectual elite" at church-run Brigham Young University, which has been drawn to the Boston area's renowned universities.

"We're probably importing a lot of people," Ulrich said.
Of course Governor Mitt Romney’s connection to the Church is likely to have some impact on making the Church better known in the state. I’m not certain the Church is likely to sustain a 50% growth rate every decade; however, it does seem as though we are making great strides in the northeast, where the Church traditionally has not had a very strong showing.

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