The Oxford Eagle
Jennifer Torp, a University of Mississippi senior, fell in love with Ole Miss while attending a Brigham Young University vs. Ole Miss football game her senior year of high school.
“From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I knew this was the school I was destined to be at,” she said. “Although the LDS faith was not one that was shared with a number of students, I knew I would be able to maintain my faith and keep it strong.”
Today, Torp is one of the local students who remains faithful by attending a religious program for college-aged students in Memphis a few Sundays a month. There is also one in Oxford.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church and Mormonism, is located on South Lamar Boulevard.
Before the Latter-day Saints Students Association was formed on campus, the Oxford Mormon community commuted to Senatobia every Sunday to attend church services.
In the 1960s, members met in the Y-Building, now known as the Croft Institute building. The current chapel was built in the 1980s.
The Mormon Church does not have professional clergy. They rely on volunteers and members to lead services for the local community.
David Wells, a local LDS member, who teaches a class called fundamentals of active learning at the University of Mississippi, volunteers at the church while conducting a program for college students.
“I currently teach what is called The Institute,” Wells said. “It’s a class for college-aged students who attend the University of Mississippi and Northwest here in Oxford. It’s a religious class that teaches from the four scriptures that we use.”
Wells said the class is designed to help Mormon students feel at home. Participants come to his home for meals and mingle with other Mormons. Wells said he understands what it’s like for these students to feel like they are a religious minority since many LDS students attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with my non-member friends,” Wells said. “Sometimes there’s a tendency for us to feel isolated, but for the most part, we are well-assimilated into the local community.”
Both Wells and Torp said there are many common misconceptions in the Oxford area. Wells said he feels many in Oxford don’t believe Mormonism is a branch of Christianity, but Jesus Christ is the foundation of the religion.
Missionaries are another important part of the LDS Church. Wells said they are usually college-age students who give up their schooling and families for 18 months to two years.
Two Mormon missionaries live in the Oxford area now. The Mormon Church reassigns missionaries to different towns every few months. The two Oxford missionaries also serve all of Lafayette County and parts of the surrounding counties. Their job is to work with new members of the LDS Church and non-members interested in converting.
“We can help them out in Oxford by being kind to them and treating them like humans when you see them around town,” Wells said. “You don’t have to listen to their message, but just because you don’t have the same beliefs, doesn’t mean you should be rude to them.”
Wells said most young men become missionaries for the LDS church as a rite of passage. Even though there are women missionaries, he said there aren’t as many. Wells said Mormons believe life revolves around the family and that women have family responsibilities at a young age.
Even though Wells was not a church member when he was missionary age, he hopes to serve on one in his retirement. He was older and already married before becoming a member of the church.
Wells said many older men are called out of their professions to become mission presidents, a supervisor for missionaries in an area.
The LDS Church also believes in stock-piling food to prepare for natural and human disasters. Wells said the church owns several farms across the country that are farmed by church volunteers like himself.
“We use this food to help out and do the good deeds of Christ,” he said. “The church has helped out with many natural disasters around the country, such as Hurricane Katrina. We don’t limit our aid to Mormons. We serve members and non-members alike.”