New LDS facility open
WORTHINGTON -- On Saturday morning, local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducted their first baptism in their new facility, and on Saturday afternoon, they opened the doors to the community at large during an open house.
"We are quite excited to be here," enthused member Lisa Phelps as she greeted visitors. "It's been a long time coming."
Previously meeting in an old building on Fifth Avenue that had formerly housed other denominations and a funeral home, the LDS members broke ground for the new chapel/meeting house in May and began to use it in early November. Features of the new building include a chapel area that can be converted to host other functions; a kitchen area; designated meeting areas for various segments of the congregation; and a baptistry.
"We had to have a permit for a swimming pool," laughed Leslie Bates, who heads up the local LDS Relief Society. "That's how the city classified it on the building permit."
Since the LDS church uses immersion baptism and a baptistry wasn't available in the former building, baptisms were formerly done during the warmer weather months in the waters of Lake Okabena.
As they gave tours on Saturday afternoon, the area members offered information on some of the basic LDS practices and beliefs. For instance, children are baptized at age 8, which is recognized as the "age of accountability," when they can "tell the difference between right and wrong." The youth being baptized is making a "covenant with the Heavenly Father" and committing to "following Christ from this time on."
The building also features a room for use by the LDS Relief Society, which is the women's organization. Bates recently accepted the position as its local president.
"It's the largest women's organization in the world," she explained. "It was started in the early 1800s."
The women conduct "relief" activities such as making blankets for people in need, but also learn homemaking skills, participate in fun activities and "fellowship with each other as sisters," Bates explained, adding that the LDS focuses strongly on strengthening the family and family history.
There are also designated areas for a nursery, library, Sunday school classrooms and meetings of the young men's and young women's organizations.
The congregation now numbers about 150, with 60 to 70 attending on a regular basis. The members come not only from Worthington, but from throughout the region, including Lakefield, Windom, Jackson and Sibley, Iowa.
"When my husband's family moved here in 1999, they met at the Holiday Inn," reflected Phelps about how far the local church has come.
The design plans for the chapel/meeting hall were guided from the LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City and were scaled to meet the needs of the small, but still growing congregation. Dr. Christian Morgan, local LDS president, had the task of selecting a few features.
"They asked me to pick out the colors of the carpet, wallpaper and the paintings," he said. "There was a list to choose from. I took it as an opportunity to pick out some paintings that really depict what we believe."
Morgan pointed out a few of the outstanding advantages of the new building, including the baptistry and the kitchen. Since the building is near to Prairie Elementary School, the youngest LDS members can now participate in release time studies on Tuesday morning.
"One of the main things is it is structured for how our meetings are run, with the primary meetings, the relief society," he explained about the building's functions, adding that it can be expanded if the congregation continues to grow and exceeds capacity.
Another benefit of constructing a permanent home is that the LDS members now feel they have more of a presence in the Worthington community.
"We want people to be aware that we're not some strange group out there doing our own thing," Morgan emphasized. "We are part of the larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ... We feel missionary work is very important and inviting people to come and get a sense of what we believe. We welcome everyone and don't want to be secretive in any way. Visitors are always welcome."
The area LDS members are thrilled and grateful to have a new building, but they stress that being part of an LDS community is the most important aspect.
"No matter what building we're in, we feel the spirit, but it's nice to be in a building according to what our needs are," said Bates.