Mormons, Catholics make up lion’s share of local religious followings

The Rev. Edmundo Valera, center, leads the Easter Vigil service Saturday evening at St. Joseph Catholic Church in downtown Grand Junction. As the Paschal candle is lit from the fire, worshippers form a procession to the entrance of the church.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make up the largest denomination in Mesa County, but Roman Catholics still make up the state’s dominant religion, according to an analysis of 2010 Census data by the Association of Religious Data Archives.

The group puts LDS at the top of the number of local congregations by denomination, with 18 groups making up more than 10,000 adherents. Catholics come in second in the study with five congregations totaling more than 7,900 adherents.

Grand Junction sits less than two dozen miles from the Utah state line and the influence is undeniable, LDS and other church leaders said.

One factor buoying LDS membership, as well as that of Protestant traditions, is the growth of Spanish-speaking adherents.

Some of that growth was reflected this morning, when Pastor Joe Guajardo of Roca Eterna Iglesia, 1333 N. 23rd St., was to preside over the first bilingual Easter sunrise service at Stocker Stadium.

“A lot of the Spanish-speaking families have a really strong interest in the family,” a hallmark of the church, said Todd Beckstead, bishop of the Grand Junction Stake, one of two Grand Valley stakes. “That’s one of the initial things that interests Spanish-speakers in the LDS church. As they investigate it, they find it is consistent with their own beliefs.”

At first, Spanish-speakers were directed to the 9th Ward, where they could be accommodated with headphones through which they could listen to a translation of the services, Beckstead said.

“As their numbers started to grow, we decided to give them a branch of their own and since then, the numbers have really grown,” Beckstead said.

The Mount Garfield branch, as small wards often are known, now numbers about 120 on any given Sunday, Beckstead said.

LDS adherents attend both Grand Junction stakes, said Craig Stagg, bishop of the Grand Junction West Stake.

Several LDS wards make up a stake, which covers a part of a geographical area, such as the Grand Valley.

The attraction of the LDS church, also known as the Mormons, is that “it’s a Christ-based religion, a wonderful religion and a family-oriented church,” Stagg said.

“I’ve lived here 16 years and membership might have gone up, but not dramatically,” Stagg said. “It might have slipped by a percentage point or two.”

Church growth is tied to family growth and there are ongoing conversions, Stagg said.

To be sure, the church sends Spanish-speaking missionaries to carry the word of the LDS church, Beckstead said.

While proximity to Utah is important, the story isn’t necessarily what it might seem, said Beckstead, a Grand Junction accountant.

“I think there are a lot of professionals who think this is a good place, close to Utah, close to family in Utah,” Beckstead said, “but not right on top of them.”

Though the LDS church might make up the largest single local denomination, its membership would likely be dwarfed by the adherents who attend any of the several Protestant churches scattered around the Grand Valley, noted Kirk Yamaguchi, senior pastor at Canyon View Vineyard Church.

The average attendance at his church runs 1,800 to 2,000 on any given Sunday, and more like 3,500 today, Yamaguchi said.

Overall, the church has remained pretty stable over the six years in which he has been the senior pastor, Yamaguchi said.

The growth of the Hispanic Latino population is “pretty significant,” Yamaguchi said.

Canyon View has tried to reach that population with a bilingual outreach in Kimwood Park in Clifton, Yamaguchi said.

“There’s been a pretty significant growth in the number of Spanish-speaking members,” Yamaguchi said.

“Before it was a small handful, now it’s growing.”

Social missions are significant drivers for Grand Valley churches and one of the main beneficiaries of that effort is Grand Valley Catholic Outreach.

“Abut 50 churches support us in one way or another,” said Sister Karen Bland, who heads the outreach. Ministries there include the soup kitchen.

“We are catholic in every sense of the word,” Bland said, referring to “catholic” in the sense of “universal.”

“Our positions seem to stay covered,” Bland said. “Whenever we’re in need, God seems to send somebody along.”


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