When people ask what made me decide to come to Utah, I love leading with the fact that I had never stepped foot in the state before I moved here. This statement usually garners a variety of responses along the lines of, “Wow, you’re brave for doing that!” or, “You don’t even have any relatives or friends here?”
It’s true, I made a somewhat risky decision to move to a part of the country to which I have no familial ties, no previous connections, and zero experience with. But that was one of my primary reasons for choosing Salt Lake City.
The Salt Lake Valley is home to over a million people, with at least 200,000 living in the parameters of the capitol city itself. Of these people, about 49% testify as members of the LDS church, at least 22% proclaim no particular belief at all, and less than 13% of people in the state of Utah profess evangelical Christianity. The people are divided, so many of them either entrenched in a seemingly sparkling clean religion or disillusioned by this same belief system that promises prosperity but offers little grace to its members.
And while Mormon church members are no longer a majority of Salt Lake citizens, the church has a deep grasp on the fabric of the city. Local alcohol laws reflect a conservative Mormon stance, multiple LDS buildings are found in every neighborhood, and even the city streets are numbered running perpendicular and parallel based on their distance from the Salt Lake Temple, a formidable structure that sits in the city’s center, right in the shadow of the capitol building.
Compare this to the city I was raised in: Syracuse, New York has a population around 150,000. Fifty percent testify as Catholic or Protestant and less than 0.5% attend a Mormon church. After eighteen or so years of living there, I can’t even tell you where the closest LDS church building is located.
I knew moving to Salt Lake City would prove to be a challenge. I wanted the discomfort of being a religious minority and I felt that, as a young person, I was in a unique position to invest in the dynamic of a new city and be a driving force for cultural shifts. What I didn’t expect as much was how great of a culture shock I could experience in my own country. Being raised in Upstate New York meant that I was exposed to both sides of the political spectrum and that I avoided religious isolation without being in the midst of the Bible belt. I felt like I had a working grasp on the cultural makeup of the US and that I would be hard pressed to surprise. But Utah culture is so unlike anything I’ve lived around that the term “culture shock” feels appropriately dramatic.
The LDS church somehow finds its way into a conversation every single day. Sometimes it’s simply with my housemates when we discuss confusing Mormon rules and rituals we’ve learned about. Other times, I laugh with my only non-Mormon coworker over our quest for coffee in the workplace. And other times, I listen to my hairdresser talk about her experience as a former church member-turned-atheist and how she could never go back to her hometown in Utah county with all the tattoos she has.
I had no previous epiphany regarding the LDS church that led me to Utah. I did not move to the Salt Lake Valley in order to be a missionary to the Latter Day Saints. I simply knew I wanted to be stretched, spiritually and personally, and my understanding of Salt Lake City was that it was the perfect place for that.
Now that I am here, the need is obvious. I am a foreigner amidst a population that is so thirsty for grace and truth (on both sides of the spectrum!). If you’re unfamiliar with the tenets of the Mormon faith, do a little bit of google searching. It will help you empathize with those who turn away from the LDS church. It will also reinvigorate you towards the truth of Christ.
The gospel is a free gift to those who believe! Did you know that?
That’s good news! That’s release for those in captivity, sight to those who are blind, freedom to those who are oppressed! Here in Salt Lake, I know I won’t soon forget it.
Being in the minority as a Christian is strengthening, but it is also precarious. Pray for the fellows as we walk dangerously with Christ. Pray for the believers in Salt Lake City and beyond.
As Christians, we are all sojourners in a foreign land. Christ said to His Father, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” John 17:16. But lest we become despondent, read a little further and receive assurance: Jesus is in us, just as the Father is in the Son, that we may perfectly become one, and that the world may know God has sent Christ and loved us even as He loved His own Son (verse 23).
Thanks be to God that we are not alone in our sojourning!
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative