With the construction of a brand new temple scheduled to begin this spring, Penn’s devoted Mormon community continues to extend its place and presence on campus.
The Latter-day Saints Student Association, which became an official student group on campus last December, obtained formal recognition by the Students Activities Council at that time and will soon begin to receive funding for events and programs.
LDSSA, which is currently made up of 16 undergraduates, is continuing to increase its membership and bolster its position within Penn and Philadelphia’s religious community.
The Latter-day Saints temple, which broke ground last September and is slated to open in 2014, will be the first temple of its kind in Pennsylvania. The temple, which will be located on 1739 Vine St. near Logan Square, will strengthen LDSSA’s commitment to engaging with the Mormon community.
LDSSA has also began initial planning and coordination for several events scheduled this semester on campus.
LDSSA has recently been at work with PRISM, a Penn student interfaith group, to organize a “Meet the Mormons” session within the next month. The session will provide non-Mormon students with an “intro to Mormonism,” Nursing sophomore and LDSSA Co-President Liz Harbuck said.
“We thought we’d like to have an explanation for our faith and church,” she added.
On March 23, the group will hold their second-annual LDSSA Conference, to which collegiate Mormon students are invited from several universities across the Northeast. NBC sportscaster and former Eagles running back Vai Sikahema will deliver a keynote speech, and visiting students will have the opportunity to tour historic Philadelphia and view original copies of the Book of Mormon in a library at Penn.
However, increasing awareness of the Mormon faith will serve as LDSSA’s first priority this semester.
“It’s about inclusion,” Wharton junior and LDSSA member Richard Knapp said. “But sometimes it helps to stand out a little bit to get where you can feel included and where you can start including others.”
Another of the group’s stated goals is to dispel the stereotypes that may obscure the true history and meaning of the Mormon faith.
Some LDSSA members think the media coverage of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs, along with popular portrayals like the Tony-award winning musical “The Book of Mormon,” speak to a growing awareness of the LDS Church across the country.
“It’s given us an opportunity to be recognized and to reach out to other Christian communities,” College sophomore and LDSSA member Alex Judd said.
He added that the increased publicity for Mormonism has afforded them “a chance to explain ourselves, introduce ourselves. A lot of questions have been answered about the Mormon church.”
Harbuck said the increased awareness on campus may attract prospective students in the throes of searching for the perfect college. While Harbuck came to Penn for its diversity, sharing common values and religious beliefs within a group of students like LDSSA can provide a sense of comfort, she said.
“We want to make Penn noticeable to students who want to come here and not necessarily to schools that are religiously affiliated,” she added.
Knapp agreed, adding that “sometimes it’s nice to be able to relate to people on that level, and we encourage other people with the same lifestyle choices to join us.”
The new temple hopes to also draw in a Mormon community.
“Awareness of the temple is going on 24/7,” said a missionary for the LDS Church meetinghouse on 39th and Chestnut streets, who wanted to be referred to as Elder Grayson.
“We try to talk to people as much as possible — the more we get to bring them in and share about the temple, the more we get to share our message,” he said.