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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Rising Mormon missionary numbers spur call for more donations

On Sunday, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency asked Mormons to contribute more to the church’s missionary fund — either through their congregation or at the faith’s headquarters.

In a letter read over the pulpit in all congregations, the three-man presidency explained the reason: explosive growth in the full-time, all-volunteer force since October 2012.

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That was when LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced that the Utah-based faith was lowering the minimum age for male missionaries from 19 to 18 and for females from 21 to 19.

At that time, the church had about 55,000 missionaries. Now it has 68,700, said LDS spokeswoman Ruth Todd.

Another 22,500 have received their mission calls — assignments — but have not yet arrived in a missionary training center (MTC). More than 6,200 are in the interview process with their bishops or stake presidents.

"We estimate more than 85,000 full-time missionaries serving by fall 2013," Todd said.

Most missionaries — and their families — contribute to their own mission costs. It runs $400 a month, whether the young man or woman is serving in Mexico or Manhattan, Louisiana or London. Those who don’t have the money are supported through donations from their congregations or the church’s general missionary fund.

The missionary population has shot up so fast and so dramatically since the age shift that the church had to scrap its former plans to expand the flagship Provo MTC (it is floating new proposals now) and start using nearby apartments as temporary housing. The first batch of missionaries took up residence at Raintree Commons and Wyview Park apartments last week.

Within three to eight weeks, this newly trained army of proselytizers will leave for locations around the globe.

But it’s not as easy nor as foolish an assignment as depicted in shows such as the Tony-winning "Book of Mormon" musical, says one LDS writer, who served a mission to Brazil.

"Pardon my complicating what’s proved an entertaining, laughable, lucrative stereotype," writes Betsy VanDenBerge in an online essay titled "Time for Some Mormon Myth Busting," "but a Mormon mission fundamentally consists of a whopping dose of reality, humility and soul searching."

Now a lot more young Mormons, especially young women who have been flooding into the MTC in record numbers, are about to find out for themselves.

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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