Sun Valley saints share gospel light, warmth

Church members in central Idaho's Sun Valley are somewhat few and far between, but those involved in Church activity share a closeness and strength with each other and with numerous visitors who each Sabbath join in their worship services.

And according to Sun Valley 1st Branch Pres. W. Christopher King, part of the adventure every Sunday morning is trying to "guesstimate" how many people to accomodate as they plan for the sacrament and various class instruction. Attendance ranges from 50 or 60 in the off-season periods of spring and fall, but often swells to several hundred or more in the summer and winter. This past July 4, about 430 people attended branch sacrament meeting, most of them visitors.Visitors are drawn to the world-famous resort in the summer for golfing, hiking, cycling, camping and hiking. In the winter, they come primarily to ski, ice skate and snowmobile.

"When we have 400 people," explained Pres. King, "we have to fill the cultural hall and go up onto the stage, filling every chair that we've got. But it's a lot of fun to have so many people here. It does make for some interesting challenges planning for Primary classes. We have some great testimony meetings here because of the visitors. They really add to the Spirit, and we appreciate them coming and adding to our numbers.

"Occasionally we'll get General Authorities visiting who are in the area with their families and not on assignment."

Pres. King told of the visit of one of the General Authorities, who attended Sunday meetings with his family. "In priesthood meeting we announced a quorum work project. He showed up at the project the next day. Here he was on vacation, up here to enjoy himself with his family, and yet he shows up for a work project. He taught us all a great lesson."

The Sun Valley 1st Branch is part of Carey Idaho Stake. Travel from the Sun Valley area to stake meetings in Carey, 45 miles away, takes about an hour. Branch boundaries run from seven miles south of Ketchum on the South to Smiley Creek on the north, about 45 miles. East and west boundaries run several miles between mountain ranges.

In addition to the 1st branch, which meets Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon, there is a single-adult branch - Sun Valley 2nd - which meets Sunday evenings in the same meetinghouse.

"There used to be one branch until about a year and a half ago," Pres. King explained. "When we had one branch, we had two sets of meetings, in the mornings and evenings, because we have a lot of youth who come up for the summers and winters. They work at Sun Valley Company and have work assignments on Sunday mornings, so we would have an evening service for them as well.

"We talked about the situation with stake leaders, and they organized a second branch. The new one is a single-adult branch for the entire stake, so young people from other parts of the stake attend there as well as those from our area. It essentially operates like a student branch, with leadership called from the 1st Branch. Right now they have about 15 people attending. That will grow to about 30-35 in the winter, then back down in the spring. During the summer, there will be upwards of 100 in attendance there."

Pres. King said the up and down nature of numbers in both branches mean lots of changes take place constantly in positions and assignments. "You have to organize things quickly and keep things going."

Besides participating in branch activities, young people and adults in the area are well-served by a recently started institute class on Thursday nights, taught by Pres. King's wife, Debbie.

The Sun Valley meetinghouse is located adjacent to the east border of Ketchum, about a mile down the hill from Sun Valley resort. It is an attractive stone building with an A-frame roof above the chapel and blends in well with its alpine environment.

The meetinghouse is the focal point for Church activities in the area, and branch members do their best to spread the word that both member and non-member visitors are always welcome. For years the foyer has included copies of the Book of Mormon, basic missionary pamphlets and also a guest register that visitors can sign. Register books provide a historical record of the many thousands of people who have visited the branch through the years.

Besides reaching out to visitors, branch members also work hard to fellowship less-active members.

"We have a big challenge with a large number of prospective elders," said elders quorum president Kyle Kunz. "Because of the resort nature of the area, we have a lot of people who love to play and ski and do the things that are fun to do here, but who lose contact with the Church. Pres. King has set a good example for us in that we really try and go out and minister to the people more than just administer programs. We try and make weekly visits and talk with the prospective elders and those who are active as well. Pres. King does a great job of that, and our presidency tries to do the same. It's an ongoing process."

As Relief Society president, Shari Kunz has started sending letters to each of the sisters who don't attend meetings. She includes a few thoughts or quotes, a calendar of upcoming events and the like.

"Often when we visit those who are less-active, they say they want to come back but don't know anybody," she said. "They are concerned about being asked to do something when they walk in the door. Hopefully we can friendship them and make them feel welcome and comfortable."

Both Pres. King and Brother Kunz said they enjoy the challenges of their callings and find their Church work rewarding.

"There's just a great feeling here, a great spirit, and it seems like people often comment about it," said Brother Kunz. "I think the visitors have a lot to do with that. Sometimes it is hard distinguishing between those who are visiting and those who might not be active who decided to come out for the week, so you always try and meet new people who are here. It's always interesting, and it's a wonderful place to be."

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