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New Mormon church planned in Mitchell

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members, from left, Rustan Burton, Eldon Smith, Tracy Whelchel, Matt Christianson and Nancy Stordahl are pictured outside the current LDS church at 920 E. Ash St. in Mitchell. A proposed new church would be located on the east side of the city in the Woods First Addition. (Chris Huber/Republic)1 / 2
This drawing depicts the proposed new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building that would be located in the Woods development in eastern Mitchell. (Courtesy of Miller Sellers Heroux Architects)2 / 2

MITCHELL -- There are more Mormons in Mitchell than ever, and a new church will facilitate increased growth, local church officials said Monday.

Plans for the new church moved ahead Monday after the Mitchell Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend approval of a church to be built in the Woods First Addition, a new housing development located adjacent to East First Avenue near Wild Oak Golf Club on the east side of the city. The proposal will need final approval from the City Council, which may review the plan Monday.

"This is kind of to get the ball rolling, so to speak," said City Planner Neil Putnam during Monday's commission meeting.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is formally known, is seeking permission to build the church on five acres now owned by developer Chuck Mauszycki Sr. The LDS church also wants the city to agree to vacate, or not extend, East Hansen Street, since it plans to use the land as part of its property.

The planners recommended approval of that as well. The land that would be used for the street will be split among two lots, according to City Planner Neil Putnam.

"If the people who use Hanson Street go along with it, I don't think you have a problem," Commissioner Bernie Schmucker said.

Mitchell lawyer Don Petersen said there is no road there now, and the people who live in the area have agreed to sign the petition calling for the closure of the street.

Petersen and Sioux Falls architect Robin Miller testified before the commission. Miller said work will start in the summer of 2013 or in the following year. He said the master plan calls for two or three additions to the church. Some utilities and easements are already in place.

LDS Branch President Matt Christianson said church leaders in the national headquarters in Salt Lake City will ultimately decide when the work begins. Christianson said while local leaders submit information, in the end, the national leaders will "say yea or nay."

He said the church was formed in Mitchell in 1952 and has slowly gained adherents. There are about 60 members now, with some new members moving into the city and area, and some people converting to the faith. They are outgrowing the current church at 920 E. Ash St., Christianson said.

"This is a nice building, but there are a few things that are lacking," he said.

"We've outgrown the chapel," said church member Tracy Whelchel, who was one of a handful of church members who attended the commission hearing, and then met at the current church to discuss the growth of the LDS faith in Mitchell.

Whelchel and Nancy Stordahl, another church member, noted that the worship center will be paid for when it is built. It is against church policy to go into debt, Stordahl said.

The Mitchell Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is called a branch, a term used for small congregations. Larger congregations are called wards. A stake is a collection of wards and branches, similar to a diocese. The term "stake" comes from the Old Testament.

Christianson said there is a simple reason the LDS church is on the grow across the globe.

"I think it does answer questions about where people came from, why they are here, and where they are going," he said.

In 2010, there were 33 Mormon congregations in the state, with 9,812 members, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. That reflects a dramatic growth in the past 30 years. There were 32 congregations in 1980 with 2,590 members.

Nationally, there are more than 6.1 million Mormons, according to a study performed by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

That's a 45 percent increase from 2000, which makes Mormonism one of the fastest-growing faiths in the United States.

Mitt Romney may be the best-known Mormon in the world. The former Massachusetts governor was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. His faith was rarely a topic during the six years he ran for president.

"I think he separated his faith and his political views as well as he could," Christianson said.