THERE ARE AROUND 6,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Ireland.
You might know them as Mormons.
To answer your questions straight away: no they don’t all go door to door, they don’t have multiple wives, they do celebrate Christmas, but they don’t make Communion, and their mass lasts three hours.
The LDS church is a restorative faith founded in 1830 in New York. Smith believed that he was called by God to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. He established settlements in Missouri, but was run out of the state to Illinois.
There, he and his chosen successor, his brother Hyrum, were killed. Their successor Brigham Young would lead the church to what is now Utah, which is now the home of the church worldwide, having grown to 15 million members.
The religion is a Christian faith and teaches the Old and New Testaments, but also uses other texts, most notably The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a text that Smith claimed to have translated from golden plates. It chronicles God’s interactions with people on the American continent.
Ben O’Farrell is a computer repairman from Clonsilla in Dublin.
His father joined the church around 50 years ago and Ben is now Stake President of the Church in Ireland. A stake is similar to a diocese in Catholicism.
He says that growing up as a Mormon in Ireland was not especially different.
“I have nothing to compare to, I went to a Protestant school for primary and went to a non-denominational school in secondary. Those things made it easier, but it wasn’t much different.”
When Mormon children reach eight years old, they are baptised, which gives them an occasion similar to a communion.
“Our baptism is done by immersion so it’s quite a visual thing. A lot of the children will have their school teachers or aunts and uncles who aren’t of the faith there.”
In a country that is mostly Catholic, is being of a different faith something that people comment on?
Most people aren’t very interested. I do computer maintenance and maybe after a few years of going to someone’s house, it might come up, but even then it’s just a couple of minutes of a conversation.
While Catholicism is Ireland’s most populous religion, it is experiencing a drop in attendances. So, are people flocking en masse to churches like LDS? Not quite.
“Our church leadership in Frankfurt would ask us if we’re experiencing more people coming because of the controversies surrounding the Catholic Church, but we’re not really.
“It seems like people have lost faith in faith. They don’t just leave the Catholic Church, they leave faith.”
That said, the Mormon church in Clonsilla baptised around 60 people this year, so recruitment is strong.
That is because the church has missionaries who go door to door and attempt to recruit new members.
There are 85,000 missionaries across the world. They are all young men aged 18-21 and young women from 20-22 and all are voluntary and pay for themselves.
“They move around and teach in different places across Ireland and Scotland.”
Once they are of age, young men and women apply to their own church leaders to go on missionary service and are assessed.
Their application is then sent to Salt Lake City, where the Quorom of Twelve, the church’s version of the Twelve Apostles, assign them a mission. If they need to learn a language, the church helps them.
If you went to a Mormon church on a Sunday, what can you expect?
It’s a very different service. Three hours long. We start with music and hymns and we do what is, I suppose, a form of communion. The previous week, people are asked to prepare a speech on a certain theme so it makes it quite interesting because the congregation says mass.
“Then we all divide out and do Sunday School classes for an hour. Then the men and women go into different rooms and we do different classes on your role as a father or mother or son or daughter.”
Individual churches are led by bishops who are volunteers and the church is run by donations from the congregation. Like many Christian sects, they apply the law of tithe, which means individual members are expected to contribute 10% of their income to the church. However, there is no onus to prove your earnings to the church.
The churches are then used as community buildings for classes and meetings.
O’Farrell says that because of the small nature of the faith, it is a “much tighter community”.
And what about all those things you thought about Mormons? Are they all wrong? What mistakes do people make?
“The biggest thing is people think it’s not a Christian faith.
We teach the Bible, we believe in the Immaculate Conception, we believe in Christ, that he died for our sins, we celebrate Christmas and Easter.
“It’s a restored church – we believe that there is truth in lots of faiths and that Joseph Smith was called to restore the Church of Jesus Christ.”
The other issue is polygamy, a practice introduced in the early days of the church but swiftly outlawed.
“That can been controversial, but it was practice by 5% of Mormon people for 20 years 200 years ago.
“People say “oh you’re the polygamists”, and say well we were for a short time – 200 years ago.”
This is the first in a series on minority religions in Ireland. If you are a member of a minority faith and would like to tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org