When Bill and Jane Moon moved to Reno in 1969, they became entrenched in the black church, but 10 years later decided to leave.
Bill Moon was a deacon at Second Baptist Church and Jane Moon sang in the choir. Both taught Sunday school.
Bill Moon said he saw and experienced so much racial prejudice at that time in Reno that he understood why the state was called the Mississippi of the West. The couple said they made the black church their refuge.
“Most of the time the black church was a social gathering for blacks to get away from the discrimination that they suffered six days a week,” Bill Moon said. “And on Sunday they can go to church and let their hair down and clap their hands, stomp their feet and sing loud music. I think even today some of that still occurs.”
But after spending 10 years at Second Baptist, Bill Moon said something began to stir inside of him and he became restless.
“I was tired of going to a segregated church because it wasn’t fulfilling the needs I had,” the 73-year-old said.
“I wanted to do something else for myself and for my family. We started looking around to see what else was out there.”
That search led the Moons to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the LDS church or Mormon church.
For almost 25 years, the couple has participated at the Reno First Ward with the same gusto they had while practicing as Baptists.
When the missionaries stopped to talk to Bill Moon one day while he was working in the front yard, he said he listened and invited them back to proselytize.
Jane Moon said she thought they were “OK” at Second Baptist but went along with her husband’s quest.
“We checked it out together,” she said. “They invited us to the ward to come and listen and we did. We did for 21/2 years.”
The couple was baptized in 1981.
Many people, including their pastor, questioned their decision to move to a religion rumored not to be welcoming to blacks, the Moons said.
“I know when we joined people always said that the church was prejudiced against blacks but we wanted to find out for ourselves if that was true,” Bill Moon said. “And we found that not to be the truth. No one ever called us the big ‘N’ or anything like that. They had outstretched arms and they embraced us and they welcomed us.”
The Rev. William Webb of Second Baptist Church said he did not question the Moons’ decision to leave his church but commented he had heard that blacks could not ascend to the position of priest in the Mormon church.
“After I heard that was their decision, I left it there,” he said. “I hurt for a while but you get over those things. There hasn’t been and there isn’t any hard feelings whatsoever as it relates to its decision.”
But the Moons have risen in the church.
Bill Moon is considered an elder and served as a high priest.
He also represented his ward for five years on the High Council, a judicial body that serves several Reno wards.
“I am the only black who has served in that capacity in this area,” he said. “I don’t know of any others that have served. We are pioneers with the church.”
The couple also is considered worthy to go to the Reno Nevada Temple, Bill Moon said.
“A lot of them have never seen a black person go to the temple because you have to be worthy,” he said. “Everybody can’t go to the temple. It is a special place.”
He said he realizes that some people think the Mormon church is a cult.
“Over 11 million people are members of the church,” he said. “That’s an awful big cult.”
The couple said they would like to see more blacks in the pews.
“The churches are the most segregated place on Sunday,” Bill Moon said.
“Our ward isn’t all white now. We’re there and there are other blacks that go there on a regular basis. We’re all happy being there.”