The Strict New Life
By Katerina Zachovalova
Zoria Clarke, 26, an unemployed nanny from
The study, “Religious Congregations and Membership: 2000”, which is based on self-reporting of denominations, was conducted by Glenmary Research Center and sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Its data were made available by American Religion Data Archive.
The work of Mormon missionaries and the broadcast of television advertising are the keys to the success. But it is not only the message about Jesus that attracts people. The healthy life style and the sense of community the church provides, and the involvement and the set of rules it requires draw people in, the experts and church officials say.
“I was not taking
part in the churches I attended before. Being in this church now, I feel I am
part of this,” Clarke said after the baptism with excitement in her voice. She
came to the United States from Saint Vincent in West Indies three year ago. In
Her new life started by an accident. She saw a commercial on TV offering a free video tape about crucifixion. She called in to order. To her surprise, the tape did not come in the mail, but young missionaries brought it to her door step. Clarke invited them in, but after the visit she was determined to not open the door again. “I did not know why I answered the doorbell,” she said, “It is a destiny. I don’t usually open my doors. At first, I wanted to get knowledge about the church. As I got the knowledge, I decided to take this path.”
As a Mormon, she
believes that Jesus Christ came to the
John Henlon, 73, a retired operation engineer, was baptized in the same pool a month before Clarke. He moved to Brooklyn more than 30 years ago from Jamaica. Henlon said that the baptism changed his life spiritually. “The warmth and friendship that I receive here, I was not receiving in my church. I am looking for spiritual guidance, and I see I can receive the spiritual guidance here, in this spiritual organization. I am comfortable here,” he said.
Henlon grew up as a Baptist, but later on he joined the Anglicans. “There were certain things I did not like there,” he said, “I don’t believe that they were taking care of less fortunate members, helping them with their family. I heard about the Mormons and the way they take care of their members and their family, so I called the number that they advertise.”
Like Clarke, Henlon said he agrees with church’s demands. He said that he does not mind to give the church 10 percent of his income. “My church used to tell me, pay what you can afford to pay. This church says pay ten percent. I agree because I see where the money is going. They have the system to help their members and their families, and I believe that is a good thing.”
Clarke and Henlon have joined a ward, as Mormon churches are known,
where the smell of the babies constantly lingers in the air. On an ordinary
Sunday morning at the
the gentrification pushed its way to a number of
The eight to twelve converts who join them each year are a diverse mix. A thirty-year-old ward bishop, Chris Williams, said that African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Caucasians are among the new members of his congregation. “People are attracted to a church that has strong family values, and that provides community. It gives them security and love,” he said.
According to Williams, people also appreciate that they can be involved. “You can’t be passive living the religion. It is a church where you are actively engaged in the community. Every church member should have a calling. For a lot of people the active nature of the faith is very compelling,” he said.
Sister Vance, 21,
a Mormon missionary serving in the same part of
But even those members of the congregation who were born into Mormon families say they had to search. Eric Heywood, 30, a stylist from Scottsdale, Ariz., who is Clarke’s and Henlon’s Sunday school teacher said that he reached the point when he doubted his faith. “You have to find out for yourself,” he said, “Every member has to be, essentially, a convert.”