The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, is attracting more devotees in Hermiston. Every Sunday, crowds so fill the sanctuary that families spill from the back of the room to sit in an adjacent gymnasium.
The Hermiston area, which also gathers in a Umatilla meetinghouse, now has five wards, or congregations, that total nearly 2,000 people.
Its just tough to do the full program when its that crowded, said Mark Millard, a counselor to Stake President Jeffrey Snell. A stake, to the uninitiated, is a regional group of churches. The Hermiston Stake encompasses Arlington, Fossil, Boardman and western Umatilla County.
The Hermiston wards got some good news last November, when church leadership announced they qualified to add a new meetinghouse in Hermiston. The building will look similar to the old and will be about the same size: 21,000 square feet. It will sit on land the church bought 10 years ago at 1035 S.E. Ninth St.
Its always exciting to have a new building, Snell said. But to me, it just represents the growth of the church in this area.
That growth has not always been ideal for a church that values a stable, permanent home life above all else.
Hermiston is a fairly transient community, Snell said. People move here, it seems, and get on their feet, do well in their jobs, get promoted and move on to something different.
Among the churchs more than 53,000 missionaries all over the globe, eight are walking streets in the Hermiston area, two of them Spanish-speaking, and the Hermiston meeting house offers a Spanish worship service.
Like another successful church in Hermiston, New Hope Community Church, LDS offers a program for the whole family. Myriad classes and groups target every member, from babies to teenagers to singles a branch, a group smaller than a ward, is set aside for single adults.
Almost every night, theres a different activity at the Hermiston building, such as a Cub Scouts pinewood derby. The young folk recently advertised a 50s-style sock hop Dont miss it or youll say darn! and the Hermiston-area missionaries play basketball in the gymnasium.
Most LDS women are part of the largest service organization in the world, the Relief Society, whose motto is Charity Never Faileth.
Were here to bear one anothers burdens, Snell said. The men and the women do a really good job of that.
The church will break ground on the new meetinghouse in July.