SPOKANE, Wash. Latter-day Saints in Spokane, Wash., seem to have one thing in common beyond a belief in the gospel.
They believe in community.
So much so that over the years they've gone from taking casseroles to their neighbors to sponsoring a 5K family fun run every Labor Day weekend. Some 500 turn out for the race annually, more than half are not members of the Church. Businesses fund the event, and any proceeds go to a charitable organization.
This type of community involvement has obviously helped the Church here grow from two stakes covering parts of what is now the Spokane Washington Temple District an area including 10 stakes in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana to four stakes in just the greater Spokane area. Some 13,000 members reside in the Spokane Washington, Spokane Washington North, Spokane Washington East and Spokane Washington West stakes. (Please see Aug. 28, 1999, Church News for articles on the dedication of the Spokane Washington Temple.)
Spokane North stake Pres. Donald F. Condon surmises the growth of the Church in this pristine, verdant valley in eastern Washington is what he calls "conversion growth," not "move-in growth." Some 1,000 are baptized annually in the Washington Spokane Mission. "Over a number of years, that's a lot of new members," Pres. Condon added. In the nine years he's been president, he's seen his own stake grow by 700 people.
Also speaking during a Church News interview about members in Spokane site of the 1974 World Expo was Spokane stake Pres. Garry E. Border. "We just have fantastic people in Spokane, I'm sure just like every other part of the Church, but I would say the majority of the members here are converts like myself. I think they, as a result, have a certain zeal and enthusiasm, something that I really appreciate. I know one of the things that is striking to many people who move here from more established areas of the Church is there's a sense of unity, a sense of mission. I think the people are very missionary minded.
"When we moved to Spokane [in 1973] there were two stakes, the Spokane Stake and the Spokane East Stake," Pres. Border continued. "The Spokane Stake was created in 1947. In the last 50 years, 11 or 12 stakes have split off from that."
Continuing, he spoke of specific times when there were spurts of growth in membership, including the 1974 Expo. The Church here sponsored the Mormon Pavilion and even an Expo choir. "There were lots of referrals," he added. "It was a great showcase for us as members. People became aware of the Church, and they realized that we are Christians."
However, the big, major-attraction events sponsored by the Church here are only a part of the members' enthusiasm for reaching out to the community. The four Spokane stakes seem to be constantly planning a service project or community activity. For example, the 5K fun run on Labor Day weekend, which is sponsored yearly by the Spokane North stake, has been successful for 13 years in bringing together the community. Pres. Condon's son, 15-year-old Brett, says his high school cross country coach encourages his runners to enter the LDS-sponsored 5K.
And the non-LDS participants don't seem to mind full-time missionaries at every corner directing the runners.
"We've had some interesting experiences," Pres. Condon related. "We had a father and son who came every year for years. The son recently died and the father still came without him. He came because this was his annual event with his son."
As to the Relief Society in Spokane, the sisters are constantly busy as an organization or as individuals. Speaking to the Church News, Jeraldine Caviness, Spokane stake Relief Society president, described an upcoming event including the Spokane, Spokane East and Spokane North stakes. Called "Hands Lifting Hearts," the project will include using fleece to make toys and blankets for needy children throughout the world. The majority of the items, which will be completed on Nov. 6 in a three-stake service project, will be sent to the Church's Humanitarian Service Center for distribution. Leftover fleece will be used for local needs. The project, which Sister Caviness said has "just mushroomed," began when a Relief Society sister living in Seattle, Wash., contacted an acquaintance in Spokane. The woman received donated leftover fleece from an outdoor clothing manufacturer and wondered if some could be used in Spokane.
Sister Caviness laughed when describing the arrival of a truckload of bags of fleece on a Saturday. The bags were stacked in a classroom. On Sunday morning, she related, "our music director started going into the room and she couldn't even get into the room because the bags had all fallen."
In reflection, Sister Caviness said the project was a way to show gratitude for blessings. "It's time to do a service project, to give," she added.
That seems to be the feeling of many members here, such as Dave Carr, who was recently named Airman of the Quarter at adjacent Fairchild Air Force Base. What set him apart, it seems, from some 1,500 others nominated for the award, was his service in the Church and in the community. He and his wife, Jenny, and their 2-year-old daughter, Eliza, are members of the Medical Lake Ward, Spokane West stake.
Then there are Andrew and Emily Border, Pres. Border's teenage son and daughter. Both are currently serving as student body presidents in their high school and junior high school, respectively. Their experiences campaigning in their schools seem to portray what many in the community are learning about Latter-day Saints. Said Emily: "I think they learn from my friends' and my examples how we are Christian, that we are not a cult, that we believe in good things."
Many in Spokane, Wash., are, indeed, learning this about their "Mormon" neighbors.