Wherever there is a growing number of Latter-day Saints, church headquarters authorizes construction of a new meeting house for a ward, or a local congregation. In the burgeoning suburbs between Ogden and Provo, where there are nearly 3,500 wards, buildings are erected often. The unadorned buildings typically have a spire, but no crosses or stained-glass windows.

Mormons attend a three-hour block of Sunday gatherings: the sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and finally, a gender-segregated "gospel doctrine" Priesthood meeting for men and Relief Society meeting for women. The starting time is decided by headquarters, which also selects the bishop, the presiding leader, from within the local ward. The bishop's role is largely administrative. While he does not preach, he will counsel parishioners and perform weddings. The bishop may earn his livelihood in a career such as a lawyer, banker, or department store manager, while devoting up to 40 hours a week in unpaid church duties. A bishop's term typically runs between three and five years.

A recent sacrament meeting in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper has the appearance of a Baptist worship service in many respects. There is an organ prelude, a choir on the platform, an opening hymn and prayer followed by announcements, leather-bound Scriptures carried by attendees, three church leaders seated on stage. But differences are soon noticeable.

The Scriptures that members tote include three additional LDS canonical books. The opening hymn, "Families Can Be Together Forever," is a confirmation of the LDS belief in eternal marriage. Babies are blessed according to the Melchizedek priesthood, with petitions that the boys will one day be worthy to go on a church mission, then find a faithful wife to marry in a temple for time and eternity. Boys age 12 and older who are ordained to the Aaronic priesthood distribute the sacraments of bread and water; Joseph Smith wrote in Doctrines and Covenants 27:2 that substituting another drink for wine is permissible.

Because of the strong belief in family, children are not taken to a nursery during the service. Many mothers are preoccupied with trying to keep jabbering toddlers quiet.

One Sunday a month, instead of a teaching session, LDS wards have a fast and testimony meeting (money that would have been spent on two meals of the day are given to the needy). Any member of the ward may testify. The faith-building talks frequently reinforce the worth of the LDS system: thankfulness for the prophets and their closeness to God, appreciation for the power of the priesthood, declarations that "I know this church is true."

The closing hymn, "Home Can Be a Heaven of Earth," reiterates the idea of church as family and family as eternal. The most significant difference that Protestant visitors are likely to spot is hanging in the foyer: a painting depicting Joseph Smith's first vision. Two nearly indistinguishable bearded personages are portrayed: one Jesus and one God—in the flesh—appearing to a 14-year-old farm boy who has just uttered his first vocal prayer.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.