On June 19 the newest stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened its doors for five congregations to attend and worship. The Mount Spokane Stake is the sixth stake to be organized in the Spokane area.
In 1947 the Spokane Stake opened as the first LDS Stake in the Inland Northwest. It initially stretched from the Canadian border to the Columbia River, and from the Idaho/Montana border west almost to Moses Lake. As the LDS population has grown, the Spokane Stake’s borders have shrunk to encompass Spokane’s South Hill, and the Spokane North Stake, Spokane East Stake, Spokane West Stake and Spokane Valley Stake have all been formed to serve the growing LDS community. LDS congregations called wards are geographically delineated, led by a bishop, and organized into stakes. Stakes are generally comprised of between five and ten wards and are overseen by a stake president.
The Mount Spokane Stake is led by Stake President Jed McKinlay. McKinlay is assisted by counselors Darin Christensen and Matthew Borders.
“When we see growth, which we’ve seen over time in the Spokane area, then there’s an evaluation that’s done to say ‘is it time for this to happen?’” Christensen said.
The Valley Stake at the time had expanded its size to 11 congregations and was simultaneously transitioning into new stake leadership, Christensen explained.
“It was seen that there was this same growth potential elsewhere,” he said. “And so at that time, a proposal was made to the leadership of the church and there is some prayer that’s done, some inspiration is felt and they move forward with saying ‘OK, let’s look at this opportunity.’”
This growth is not a new trend for the Spokane Valley. Over the last 30 years, Spokane has seen a pattern of a growing LDS community.
According to data from Homefacts, of all the regular church attendees in the Spokane Valley, the Catholic denomination has held the highest percentage for many years. In 1980, about 38 percent of all regular church attendees were Catholic. At the time, the LDS church hovered around 8 percent.
In 2010, the Catholic Church dropped its numbers to about 35 percent. While that may not be a large drop, the LDS quickly became Spokane’s runner-up. The LDS church increased its percentage to almost 14 percent, putting it ahead of nondenominational, Lutheran and Presbyterian attendees.
As of 2010, the Spokane LDS Church has approximately 24,000 regular attendees.
“In the LDS Church, we feel that living the Gospel is something we don’t do on Sundays,” Christensen said. “The Gospel is something that is supposed to wrap around the entire life of an individual. Their individual pursuit of a relationship with their Savior. Then those lives are blessed. When those lives are blessed, people are happy. And you share that with someone, and they want to be happy. In the simplest way of putting it: we commit ourselves to sharing that message.”
Many mainline religious leaders do not understand the reasons for the growth of the LDS church and the simultaneous diminishing of the mainline church.
While he maintained that he does not claim to have the answer, the Rev. Bill Ellis, deacon of St. John’s Cathedral said that his best guess is that the mainline church seems old-fashioned.
“I think the mainline churches have been so central to the American historical narrative for so long that they are, for better or worse, deeply identified with the way life has been,” Ellis said. “Therefore, at least at times [churches] are seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”
Ellis went on to acknowledge that the Mormon church is a relatively young religion. Having been founded in the mid-19th Century, the LDS Church is less than 200 years old.
“They still have the enthusiasm of youth,” Ellis said. “They still have the sense of being different from the rest of society, in a way that is partially true.”
Ellis said that we no longer live in a world where a person has to be a mainline Christian to succeed in society. People can succeed without being a mainline Christian. The biggest example being Mitt Romney running for President.
It is clear that the LDS Church is on the rise in Spokane. While it may still be far behind Catholicism, it is without a doubt, gaining ground quickly.
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