The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), often referred to as “Mormons” was founded by Joseph Smith during a religious revival period in this country of the early 1800s known as the Second Great Awakening.
After Smith's martyrdom in 1844, his followers were pursued because of beliefs across the Great Plains and led by Brigham Young into the Salt Lake valley of Utah, where the church established its headquarters. It is considered a non-trinitarian, Christian restoration church that considers itself to be the restored faith of the original church, founded by Jesus Christ.
Membership worldwide is said to be over 16 million with full-time volunteer missionaries of about 65,000 young men and women. The National Council of Churches has ranked the church as the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States, with 6.5 million members as of January 2018. The church building program is expansive, erecting “wards” (the Mormon word for a church) and temples throughout the world.
Although those who consider themselves Mormons adhere to the faith in Jesus Christ's atonement for sin as fundamental to their religion, their doctrine concerning the nature of God differs significantly from other Christian faiths. The church canon is different as well.
According to Southaven Ward Bishop, Nathan Lavoie, “We, in the LDS Church, have four scripture texts that we believe and follow: the Bible, as far as it is interpreted correctly; the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Additionally, we also hold the teachings and leadership of our Prophet as being given directly from God, through him unto us.”
That fundamental difference in belief is why the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches consider the Mormon Church to be a distinctly separate religion.
Even so, the Southaven LDS ward serves a membership of approximately 150 who regularly attend Sunday services. The building is shared by an equal-sized body of believers in Olive Branch, who use the Southaven campus.
“With the growth of DeSoto County and increasing membership, the church may face the possibility of having to construct a new ward in Olive Branch,” Lavoie said. “When that might happen is open to conjecture, but eventually it probably will take place.”
Nathan Lavoie was born in 1978, baptized in the church at eight years old in Michigan where his family attended an LDS ward and continued living there until he was 12. Then he moved to Palmer, Alaska.
“I've always been an active church member and after attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah my wife and I moved to DeSoto County where our family grew to include our four children,” Lavoie said. “We joined the Southaven ward where we've been members for 15 years.”
Lavoie was called to church leadership about two years ago.
“I was called by church leadership to be the bishop; a position in which I will continue to serve for the next approximately five to ten years,” he said. “It's not something I aspired to, actively campaigned for, or even sought after. But I accepted it humbly, according to the teachings of our Heavenly Father.”
The main focus of the Southaven ward, in Lavoie's words, “is to spread the gospel to the people. The church has an extensive missionary program for qualified young men where they serve all over the world for between 18 months and two years. As of last month, this ward had two young men in the missionary program who were of age and served. However worldwide, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all LDS missionaries were called back home, where they'll remain until this is over and they can resume their service.”
Organizationally, Lavoie explained, “As bishop of the ward, I have two counselors who serve under me. We also have additional organizations in the church including a young women's program, a primary organization for children, the Elders Quorum for all adult men, and the adult women's organization, the relief society. Each of these is a structured organization with distinct leadership. Over this and all six wards in the area, is the Stake Center which has authority over all wards over which it serves. Organization there follows the same principles of leadership as in the local wards.”
During the COVID-19 virus, members of the Southaven LDS ward are not attending services because of the shelter in place mandate.
“We decided to instruct our member families to conduct their worship time in the home, reading from the scriptures and other related activities following the same example of the churches long-standing program of Family Home Evening in which the family joins together every Monday evening for spiritual teaching from the head of the home, normally the father. Lavoie said. “Until this pandemic is over, it's the way we will continue to worship as a church until we can come back together here in the ward.”
The Southaven LDS Ward is located at 1255 Goodman Road East. Services will resume Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. and Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. once things return to normal. The church office is not staffed during regular daytime hours to accept phone calls.