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Mormon church membership hits 15 million

SALT LAKE CITY — Worldwide membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints has hit 15 million, representing a three-fold increase over
the last three decades, Mormon leaders said Saturday.

LDS President Thomas S. Monson announced the milestone during the opening
session of a two-day church conference. The biannual general conference of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings 100,000 members to Salt Lake
City.

Monson said the church was founded with 30 members in 1830, and that it took
more than a century to hit 1 million. Church membership has tripled since 1982
when there were 5 million members, said Matt Martinich, a member of the LDS
church who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation.

More than half of all Latter-day Saints live outside of the U.S., church
figures show.

“The church continues to grow steadily and to change the lives of more and
more people every year,” Monson told about 20,000 members seated in a
three-story auditorium in Salt Lake City. “It is spreading across the Earth as
our missionary force seeks out those who are searching for the truth.”

Monson also said Saturday that there are now 80,000 missionaries around the
world _ up from 58,500 a year ago. The historic growth was triggered by the
church’s decision to lower the minimum age for missionaries, which Monson
announced during this same conference a year ago.

By allowing men to go at 18, instead of 19, and women at 19, instead of 21, a
wave of new, younger missionaries have joined older ones that were already
planning to go.

The reaction from young Mormon women has been especially enthusiastic. The
number of female missionaries has more than doubled in the last year to 19,000
currently, church figures show.

During his brief speech Saturday, Monson reiterated his call for church members
to donate to church’s missionary fund. Costs are usually covered by the
missionary’s family, friends or congregation, but the fund is there to help
those who want to serve but don’t have the money.

A mission costs about $400 a month for the food, lodging and transportation,
which comes out to $9,600 over the course of a two-year mission for men, or
$7,200 for an 18-month mission for a young woman.

“Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work
together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto him,” Monson said
Saturday.

The biannual general conference brings members together to hear inspirational
words from church leaders and to hear church announcements. In addition to the
people in Salt Lake City, the conference is also watched by millions more around
the world on TV, radio and the Internet. The conference is widely followed and
analyzed on social media, with many using the Twitter hash tag,
“(hash)LDSconf.”

Many of the speeches come from the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,
which is the second-highest governing body of the church. Modeled after Jesus
Christ’s apostles, the twelve men serve under the church president and his two
counselors.

Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told church
members Saturday that the “world is moving away from the Lord faster than
ever” and instructed members to take the words of church leaders to heart.

Another member of the quorum, David A. Bednar, implored Mormons who don’t tithe
10 percent of their income to the church to seek forgiveness. “Please do not
procrastinate the day of your repentance,” he said.

The church’s international reach was on display with a speech by Edward Dube, a
native of Zimbabwe who is now a church leader in Africa and Southeast Asia. He
told a story of working in fields as a child with his mother and looking back
with pride at all the hoeing they had already done. He told the audience what
his mother said then, in what became a life lesson: “Edward, never look back,
look ahead at what we still have to do.”

The ongoing debate about the limited role of women within the Mormon faith will
become an issue Saturday afternoon when a feminist Mormon women’s group called
Ordain Women plans to ask to be let in an all-male priesthood meeting. Though
it’s being broadcast live to all for the first time, the group still plans to
wait in line to shine light on what they perceive as gender inequality in the
faith.

Women can hold many leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, but they can’t be bishops of congregations or presidents of
stakes, which include a dozen congregations.

Carole M. Stephens, first counselor in the General Relief Society presidency,
said during a morning speech that both men and women are given “priesthood
power” when they go to Mormon temples, but that the two genders have different
gifts and strengths. Citing a bible verse, Stephens said the Lord’s plan
emphasizes that men and women fulfill their responsibilities so that all may
benefit.

During the final speech of the morning session, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, one of
Monson’s two counselors, told the congregation that wrestling with doubt and
serious or sensitive questions about the faith is normal. But he said, “please
first doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith.” Speaking to those who
have left the church, he invited them back in, saying there is always room for
them.

___

Follow Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs

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