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Many of the same folks have been coming to the annual Sunstone Symposium year after year for the past three decades — asking questions about their Mormon faith, exploring issues in their LDS culture, investigating their shared history.

And some of them showed up again this year at the University of Utah for the three-day Mormon intellectual feast to renew old friendships and to wrangle about contemporary topics.

But something new was afoot at this year's gathering: Amid the sea of white, gray-haired presenters and participants were many contributors from the millennial generation, racially diverse communities, and non-Americans.

It was hugely successful, says Lindsay Hansen Park, the meeting's 33 year-old organizer. The event, which ended Saturday night, attracted more than 1,000 attendees, one of the largest Sunstone gatherings in recent memory.

And it was no accident.

Two years ago, Park was hired by the nonprofit organization to boost Sunstone's outreach on social media, attracting a crowd that gets an understanding of the world from Jon Stewart and YouTube.

She took over the symposium this year, with an eye to expanding the conversation to include new Mormon groups, new topics, new perspectives — and a playful photo-op on a psychiatrist's couch.

To expand the speaker pool, Park reached out to blogs, Facebook communities and nonprofit activists, including Mormon Matters, Mormon Discussion, Open Stories Foundation, Feminist Mormon Housewives, Ordain Women, FemWOC (Feminist Women of Color) Exponent II and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought as well as several LDS book publishers such as Signature Books, Benchmark Books and Writ & Vision.

Sunstone hoped to lift up the work these organizations already were doing, not replace them so the response was overwhelmingly positive, Park says. "These groups provided lots of sessions, and they brought their audience, too."

The program featured discussions and debates aimed directly at a youthful crowd — "The Mormon Mind on Facebook," "I Am a Trans Child of God," "Mormons and Marijuana," "The Environment: A Moral Issue for the Saints," "The State of Queer Activism in Zion" and "Mormon Feminist: A New Generation."

Denver resident Katie Davis Henderson, who attended past symposium sessions with her dad, asked Facebook friends if any of them had a "fringy Sunstone family."

Within a short time, she had signed up a handful to speak on the pleasures and perils of living as a Mormon outside the mainstream for a panel titled "Sunstone: The Next Generation."

The popular "Why I Stay" panel didn't include a single Utahn, and, of the five speakers, two were among the founders of the FemWOC blog — Gina Colvin of New Zealand and Kalani Tonga of Texas.

Attending is "like going to the world's most awesome Mormon ward," says Stephen Carter, who edits Sunstone magazine. "The people are thoughtful, funny, openhearted, and spiritual. It's the perfect confluence of everything great about Mormonism."

Sunstone Foundation Executive Director Jim Murphy, one of the gray-haired variety, couldn't be more pleased with the symposium's diversification.It's a "great first step," Murphy says, "in the evolution of Sunstone."

Twitter: @religiongal

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