LDS future may be divined from Grand County experience
MOAB - David Knutson has attended the same LDS chapel since he was 8 years old. Many of his cousins, nieces and nephews fill the old pews near his growing boys, while his mother leads the hymn-singing.
In most of Utah, congregational lines would interrupt such mini-reunions, but not in Grand County's most populous town. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has two churches in Moab - the same number as the Baptists.
Grand County hasn't been your typical LDS community, explains Knutson, a fifth-generation Moabite.
That's because of the oil that attracted out-of-state drillers. Once mining became unprofitable, outdoors enthusiasts - most of who are not Mormon - took over the town.
These groups have made Grand County Utah's least Mormon area for decades, though the LDS Church still has more members than any other in the area.
In 2004, 28 percent of Grand County residents were LDS, according to church numbers. Only three other counties - Carbon, Summit and San Juan - have minority LDS populations. With a constant influx of non-Mormons moving to Utah for jobs, other areas, such as Salt Lake County, are nearing that historic 50 percent mark.
The Knutsons as Utah Mormons and religious minorities may be somewhat of a novelty now, but they also serve as a window on the future, as some of Utah's most populous counties become non-Mormon majorities during the next few decades.
Knutson, his wife Merrie, and their five boys recognize distinctions between their daily experience and the LDS experience in the rest of the state.
Merrie Knutson says she has noticed that Mormons up north tend to be more competitive with each other and preoccupied by status symbols, whereas Mormons in Moab are more laid back.
No Mormon fads make it down here, she said. There is not so much keeping up with the Joneses.
But they also say they still find a strong sense of community through their congregation, supplemented and bolstered by their eclectic group of friends from other religious persuasions.
McLain Knutson, 21, who recently returned from an LDS Mission in Arkansas, has only had one close LDS friend since he was in 6th grade, and his siblings have had similar experiences. His father believes having friends with different religious beliefs has been vital to the upbringing of his sons.
Mormons do not have a corner on good people, David Knutson said.
Despite their comparatively low percentage, Mormons dominate the Boy Scouts and the PTA here, as they do most places in Utah. They hold political positions - David Knutson was once a county commissioner - but do not control most of Moab or Grand County government. The LDS Church has five wards and about 2,400 followers, though fewer actually attend services.
The Knutsons might as well bleed red dirt because they feel constantly connected to Moab through their historical roots, love of the environment and social connections, with the only complaints being the inconsistent job market and the liberal-leaning politics.
"I never felt like a minority in any way, I felt like the church was the majority, David Knutson said. And I always looked at newcomers as potential converts.