Mormon church makes inroads with 3rd regional stake in Pittsburgh
Nadine McQuarrie grew up mostly wanting to get out of Logan, Utah, population 48,000 — or at least wanting to see someplace bigger.
When her family relocated to eastern Washington state, the small-town atmosphere there was as oppressive as in Utah, said McQuarrie, one of a small but growing number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons, living in the Pittsburgh region.
“I thought that a lot of things annoyed and bothered me in Utah because they were part of the church. Lots of it was just small-town things,” said McQuarrie, 43, a Point Breeze resident and geologist at the University of Pittsburgh.
In Western Pennsylvania, the LDS church has just set up a third regional stake, a church division that resembles a diocese but is more strictly based on the number of members. Each stake has about 3,000 members.
“It does reflect growth here. There are about 3,000 in each stake, and we had one that was about 4,500 in this area,” said Brennen Murray, president of the Pittsburgh Stake.
LDS church membership in Western Pennsylvania is still small but growing amid flat membership nationally.
Experts say the LDS church, which continues to win converts abroad, is focusing on attracting “inactive Mormons” back to the fold in the United States.
“The church is growing much faster outside the United States, and there is a big push to reactivate members here. Some church leaders fear losing the younger generations because of the stance on social issues such as same-sex marriage,” said Matthew Bowman, a Mormon scholar and history professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
The Mormon church opposes same-sex marriage.
There are about 6 million Mormons in the United States and 15 million worldwide.
A 2012 survey published this year by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found 68 percent of Mormons said they are not viewed as “mainstream” by society.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Mormons are not followers of Christ.
“We believe in his teachings. Many people do not know that,” said Ron Paul, a former Mormon bishop living in Monongahela.
Though Pittsburgh is about 300 miles from Palmyra, N.Y., where the church was founded, the Western Pennsylvania region has one of the lowest per capita populations of Mormons in the United States, church officials say.
The church’s membership in the region is a mix of transplants, converts and members who have lived their entire life in the Pittsburgh region. It includes more than just English speakers.
“We have people who are Spanish-speaking and services in Spanish,” Murray said.
It wasn’t always that way.
Scott Frederick, a retired history teacher who grew up in Monongahela, remembers church meetings with no one but relatives in living rooms.
“The first non-family church member I met was a Korean businessman who moved into town,” said Frederick, whose ancestors were Mormon converts from Scotland who immigrated to Western Pennsylvania in the 1870s and worked as coal miners.
Paul and his wife, Miryam,are emblematic of the church’s newer face.
Paul grew up in Pasadena, Calif., is of Trinidadian and Nicaraguan ancestry and was a Seventh-day Adventist until converting to Mormonism while a student at Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, also a convert and an immigrant from Ecuador.
At a recent conference of about 100,000 church members in Salt Lake City, attendees could listen to speeches in 94 languages.
McQuarrie is proof the faith transcends geography and stereotypes.
Having escaped small-town Utah and Eastern Washington to settle in Pittsburgh, she said, “It’s very different living here than living anywhere in the West. … It gives you perspective.”
A descendant of original settlers who made the trek to Utah with Brigham Young, McQuarrie, who is single, voted twice for Barack Obama. She says she is somewhat economically and socially liberal and bristles at stereotypes of Mormons as having large families and always voting Republican.
“For every Mitt Romney, there is a Harry Reid,” she said.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or [email protected].