Mormons on mission to lure city minorities

New York Post, Apr. 21, 2003
http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/73890.htm
By MARCUS BARAM

April 21, 2003 — The Mormons, whose numbers have exploded in the city in the past decade, are targeting minorities with such religious fervor that leaders say 70 percent of converts are now African-American and Latino.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is specifically focusing on minority areas in Harlem, Midtown, Chinatown, Brooklyn and Queens.

The move marks a stunning reversal of the church’s long stance of racial exclusion, in which it considered blacks spiritually inferior to whites and excluded them from the priesthood.

“We have a presence in Harlem, and we’re here to stay,” said local branch President Ron Anderson, who moved from Ogden, Utah, in 1991 to do missionary work in New York. “A lot of our congregants have been away from the church for a while, and they’re looking for something else.”

In recent years, the Mormons have built chapels in Inwood, The Bronx and Queens. They plan to build a temple in Lincoln Square – one of only 100 worldwide – and more chapels in Washington Heights, Chelsea, The Bronx, the Upper East Side and Woodside in Queens.

As the country’s fastest-growing religious denomination, the overall number of Mormons in New York has almost tripled since 1989, from 7,963 to 21,496 in 2002, leaders said.

The rise in predominantly black areas of the city accounted for 20 percent of those numbers, while the increase in mostly Hispanic areas was responsible for 50 percent of the growth.

Now the church is about to transform the streetscape of Harlem with a giant church complex at the corner of Lenox Avenue and 128th Street.

Gloria Lynch, 62, a social worker who was born in Harlem, said she was baptized into the church in 1999 after a lifelong search to find the right faith, growing up Catholic and then practicing Islam and Christian Science for several years.

But not every congregant’s attraction to the church was such a spiritual matter.

“Two years ago, I was out here sitting on my stoop, when a lady came by and I was attracted to her and started coming to church,” admitted longtime Harlem resident and retired chef Ralph Acosta, 72.

“I’ve been here ever since.”

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