“By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).
By: Rona Scott
Public Affairs Director
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Loudoun County)
Loudoun County, VA - In August 2011, an article was written in the Huffington Post titled, “How Much Do You Know About Mormons?” I thought this headline to be intriguing considering there seemed to be an unprecedented level of public attention directed to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormons) so far that year.
Such notable examples of Mormons in the news include Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, who launched their 2012 presidential campaigns. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is another Mormon frequently in the news. Additionally, a Broadway musical was introduced titled “The Book of Mormon,” which won a slew of Tony Awards and was noted to be the Best Musical for 2011.
In spite of this national public attention, I was surprised to find out that very few locals seem to know who the Mormons are or what we believe. A few weeks ago I was introduced to Mark Gunderman of The Good Shepherd Alliance. Mr. Gunderman has spent many years involved in the faith based community and knows about every denomination in Loudoun County. After a cordial introduction he asked why he hadn’t heard about Mormons in Loudoun County before. I welcomed the opportunity to share a few fundamental and important premises of our faith.
In the content to follow, I give a brief introduction of our beliefs, a summary of the Plan of Salvation (also called the Plan of Happiness) and our faith’s focus on the family unit. I will conclude by sharing how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized and membership in Loudoun County and its relationship in the local communities. Although it is not a complete picture of all programs practiced within the LDS Church, it is a beginning.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of New Testament Christianity as taught by Jesus and his apostles. It is not Protestant, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox. Nevertheless, the basic values of morality, civility and family espoused by the Church are similar to those of most other Christian faiths.
Latter-day Saints believe in a loving, personal God as our Heavenly Father. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind from their sins that through His atonement, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
Latter-day Saints believe in modern day revelation—that God still speaks to humankind. He has called new apostles and prophets and that revelation flows today as it did in ancient times. Latter-day Saints believe in the Holy Bible: both the Old and New Testaments. Equally, they believe many modern day revelations have been formally incorporated into new volumes of scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, which supports the Bible as another witness to the ministry of Christ and his divinity. Used together, these scriptures offer insight into such vital questions as to the nature of God, salvation and the atonement.
The Plan of Happiness
Mormons, like many Christians, believe true happiness comes from following Christ’s example and developing God-like attributes such as goodness, love, justice and mercy. Joy comes from serving others and helping them to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. The doctrinal teachings of Jesus Christ are not only taught in Sunday worship, but are a code by which Mormons live by called the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness. This plan covers the pre-mortal state of all mankind, the reasons why God created the world, the nature and purpose of our life here and what future awaits us in the next life.
The Emphasis on Family
Families in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the fundamental unit of society where a husband and wife work together for the betterment of the whole. The Church’s teachings and programs are designed to fortify the family. The time-honored virtues of charity, sacrifice, patience and forgiveness that enable society to prosper are effectively learned at home through the teachings of prayer, daily scripture reading and a once a week evening reserved for the family called Family Home Evening. This is a special time set aside (normally on a Monday evening) that brings family members together and strengthens their love for each other. Through lessons of the scriptures, messages from the Prophet, family activities and time to communicate together, families draw closer to their Heavenly Father and encourage righteous living.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized much the same way that Christ organized His church in New Testament times. It is led by a prophet who serves as president of the Church. He has two counselors, and these three leaders constitute the First Presidency.
The First Presidency is assisted by twelve apostles, who are special witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world. Leaders called seventies assist the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and serve in various areas throughout the world. Local congregations are led by bishops, who are lay leaders with “day jobs” like those worked by many others who live in Loudoun County.
More than 14 million people worldwide now constitute the LDS Church’s membership, a majority of who live outside the United States. Within the United States, the Church has the fourth-largest membership of any church.
In Loudoun County, there are 4,500 members divided into 12 wards. Wards are organized, geographically-based congregations of about 350 - 450 members that meet frequently together for spiritual and social enrichment. Each ward is presided over by a bishop assisted by two counselors.
On any given Sunday, Latter-day Saints gather for worship services in more than 28,000 congregations in 177 countries, nations and territories around the world.
The members in Loudoun County attend meetings at five church buildings located in Ashburn Hamilton, Leesburg and Sterling and near Westfields High School serving the South Riding area. Construction on a new chapel near South Riding is expected to begin in 2012 and be completed sometime in 2013.
The wards in Loudoun County cover the following geographic areas and meet in the following buildings:
Ashburn Ward (eastern part of Ashburn)
Belmont Ridge Ward (includes parts of western Ashburn and Belmont Country Club)
Brambleton Ward (Broadlands and Brambleton)
Catoctin Ward (Round Hill, Hillsboro, Lovettsville and the western part of Loudoun County)
Hamilton Ward (Hamilton, Purcellville, Middleburg and southwestern Loudoun County)
Goose Creek Ward (Potomac Station, River Creek, Lansdowne, Tavistock area and eastern Leesburg)
Leesburg Ward (southern part of Leesburg and areas southeast of Leesburg)
Potomac Crossing Ward (northern parts of Leesburg, Lucketts and Waterford)
Algonkian Ward (Potomac Falls, Countryside and Lowes Island)
Shenandoah Ward (Young Adult singles ages 18 - 30)
Sterling Park Ward (Sterling area)
Westfields building (near Westfields High School)
Tall Cedars Ward (South Riding, Aldie and parts of Middleburg)
The LDS Church and its members are encouraged to be actively involved in the affairs of the communities where they are located. In this spirit, the LDS church in Loudoun County sponsors several dozen cub and boy scout units across the county and participates actively with other church and civic organizations. Members of the church work with others in the community to staff the county’s cold weather shelter, Habitat for Humanity, and support other homeless initiatives. Individual members of the church enjoy the opportunity to work with others in PTAs, politics and HOAs to beautify and better the community and to help those in need.
“By their Fruits”
Historically, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ presence in Loudoun County began in the 1960s when the LDS Church was one of the largest landowners in Ashburn, owning a large part of what is now Ashburn Village. The land was used by the Church as a welfare farm where its produce was used to benefit its members and local community.
In the New Testament, Jesus taught, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). Mormons and the Mormon religion can best be judged by their fruits. Describing the character of Latter-day Saints, Newsweek magazine wrote: “No matter where Mormons live, they find themselves part of a network of mutual concern; in Mormon theology everyone is a minister of a kind, everyone is empowered in some way to do good to others and to have good done unto them: it is a 21st century covenant of caring.”
What is described in this article of Mormon theology is part of God’s Plan of Happiness. True and lasting happiness comes from knowing God’s plan and following it. By developing working and caring relationships in our families, neighborhoods and community, we wish to share peace and joy with all.
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