New Community of Christ pastor’s mission: Help newcomers with their ‘Mormon baggage’

Former Latter-day Saint from Provo also must lead SLC congregants eager to “move on.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pastor Brittany Mangelson leads the the Salt Lake City congregation of the Community of Christ in Millcreek, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

The first time Brittany Mangelson showed up for a Community of Christ service, she had more than a few reservations.

It was 2014 and the lifelong Latter-day Saint had recently called it quits on the church of her upbringing, frustrated with its treatment of women and LGBTQ members. Curious as she was about this faith with its shared belief in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, she worried about finding herself in a circumstance similar to the one she had just left.

“There was a part of me,” the Provo native said, “that was very, very distrusting of organized religions.”

Sitting in the pew with her husband and three young kids, however, those fears dissolved as she realized she had landed in a “progressive, productive, forward-thinking” community whose values resonated with her own.

Now, less than a decade since she stepped foot in the congregation, Mangelson finds herself at its helm as its newly appointed pastor. In doing so, she has become the first Utahn to lead the Community of Christ’s Salt Lake City Congregation — a milestone parishioners are celebrating as a sign of the faith community’s growth and maturation here in the Beehive State.

Mangelson replaces Carla Long, who came to Utah on assignment for the church, previously known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and pastored the congregation for three years before receiving a call to serve in the faith’s presiding bishopric in Missouri.

From LDS to Community of Christ

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Ordain Women's Kate Kelly speaks soon after her excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2014. Kelly's ouster helped lead Brittany Mangelson's exit from her childhood church.

For roughly the first 25 years of her life, Mangelson “did the Mormon thing, getting married in the temple, all of it.”

Then came 2014 and the high-profile excommunication of Kate Kelly, a founder of the Ordain Women movement, which sought to extend priesthood ordination to women in the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although not involved in the push for ordination herself, Mangelson said Kelly’s treatment left her feeling as though she no longer could be a part of the church that had raised her.

As bruising as the experience was, she was not ready to give up on finding a religious community for her family.

“My twins were 3, and my son was a newborn,” she explained. “The idea of losing that village and losing that community really, really worried me.”

Mangelson threw herself into the Community of Christ, becoming an elder in 2018 and later completing a master’s degree in religion from church-owned Graceland University.

“Having that LDS background and then this emerging understanding of who Community of Christ is,” she said, “has really allowed me to kind of fill that gap between members of the two churches.”

Picking a pastor

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pastor Brittany Mangelson poses leads the Salt Lake City congregation of the Community of Christ in Millcreek, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

This familiarity with the two faiths was just one of the reasons Mangelson’s name stood out to the group that formed to select a new pastor, said Leslie Dalton, who headed the search committee.

The group, which was open to all, including nonmembers, met four times to discuss the role of a pastor based on scripture and the congregation’s needs. A congregant survey followed, at which point Dalton said “a really clear idea” of what the participants were looking for emerged. Only then did they begin discussing candidates.

“Once we had done all that background work,” Dalton said, “it was pretty easy to come up with Brittany’s name.”

Besides her dedication to understanding Community of Christ scripture and teachings, Mangelson has been a “stalwart” and steady force in a congregation where many faces come and go, Dalton said. “She’s been there every week, coming up with new ideas and trying to infuse life into the congregation.”

A Community of Christ revival

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brittany Mangelson and Steve Otteson ordain Tyler Marz to the office of an elder in the Salt Lake City Community of Christ Church on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021.

That Mangelson came from within the congregation’s own ranks only added to her appeal.

For a time, the Community of Christ congregation in Salt Lake City “was kinda dying on the vine,” Dalton said. World church headquarters, in Independence, Mo., had to send in outside support to keep it from withering away.

Then came Kelly’s ouster, which Dalton, too, took as her cue to convert from the much-larger Utah-based faith to the Community of Christ. A year later, Latter-day Saint leadership instituted a since-abandoned policy labeling same-sex married couples “apostates” and barring their kids from baptism. Both events, Dalton said, breathed new life into the Salt Lake City Community of Christ congregation, which served as both a way station and a new home for Latter-day Saints distressed by the controversies.

For her part, Mangelson has watched attendance grow steadily from an average of 15 to 50 in the Millcreek meetinghouse at 2747 E. Craig Drive (about 3600 South), with as many as 150 “orbiting the congregation.” Of those in attendance, usually half or more are kids.

“[For a long time], we didn’t have anyone here who had been a member long enough to take on a leadership role,” Dalton said. “So we hoped for that, but we weren’t positive that we were ready yet so we were super excited when Brittany agreed.”

Mangelson is receiving part-time compensation due to this particular role’s demanding nature.

“Given how much we’ve grown,” the new pastor said, “it really is a full-time job.”

Moving beyond ‘Mormon baggage’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brittany Mangelson gives Tyler Marz a hug after ordaining him an elder in the Salt Lake City Community of Christ Church on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021.

Going forward, Mangelson will have the challenge of steering a congregation defined by a constant flow of new and frequently former Latter-day Saint faces, as well as a membership whose beliefs range from atheism to orthodoxy.

Specifically, Dalton said, the challenge lies in supporting “a few” lifelong members of Community of Christ keen on keeping hold of the traditions and beliefs they’ve “come to expect from their spiritual home,” while finding a way to “adapt to the needs of the new people coming.”

By far the biggest rub comes from those who feel like newcomers only want to talk about “their Mormon baggage,” while they would rather “move on.”

“Some people are ready to be a Community of Christ and some people are needing to process where they’re at,” Dalton said. “That’s a tightrope [Mangelson] has to walk.”

Mangelson agreed, explaining that her chore is to “try to find that string that ties us all together.”

Soliciting constant feedback, helping the growing number of youths with no memory of a previous spiritual home and promoting community events outside of worship are all central to her plan.

That — and an emphasis on inclusion.

At the beginning of the year, Mangelson invited all those present to jot down on Post-its their hopes for their congregation in 2023. Overwhelmingly, parishioners focused on creating a community that welcomed and supported women, children, queer youths and racial minorities.

“Their hopes were grounded in community,” she said, “and standing up for the marginalized.”

Pressing forward, she sees her task as “just listening to the needs of the congregants and being able to provide a space and resources to live out their Christian discipleship in the way that they want to.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pastor Brittany Mangelson leads the Salt Lake City congregation of the Community of Christ in Millcreek, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.