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Non-Mormon couple settle in LDS Rich County

Published July 25, 2005 12:31 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

GARDEN CITY - A Bible is the only thing resting on an end table next to the living room couch. A well-used organ faces the corner, its bench covered in religious sheet music.

Church activities have become the focal point for Paul and Connie Birdsey's retirement years.



Their regular religious participation is commonplace in Rich County, Utah's most Mormon area, but the Birdseys are not LDS, they're Presbyterian - two of 300 Rich County residents who are not members of the predominant faith.

Feeling socially isolated in a small county has led the Birdseys to seek out friends at their Presbyterian meeting house, where they attend some activity at least twice a week. Paul preaches at least once a month. Connie always plays the music.

But they are Presbyterians by convenience rather than choice, if you call a 40-minute drive convenient.

You see, the Birdseys have always been Methodists. But there's no Methodist church in the vicinity. And the only structured Protestant group they could find when they moved to Garden City five years ago was the tiny Bear Lake Community Church in Montpelier, Idaho, about 35 miles away. Their only other option was making an even longer drive to Logan.

"I say I am Christian first and Presbyterian second," Paul Birdsey explains, but that little Presbyterian church and its 27 members mean everything to this couple who first met swimming at the age of 14 while on vacation in New Jersey.

"We find our sense of community in church in Montpelier. It is a very close-knit, loving community," Connie Birdsey said.

That sense of belonging used to come from their neighbors in Levittown, Pa. They raised two boys on a block dominated by friendly young couples.

"I would say there were 12 houses and about 35 kids," Paul Birdsey said with a chuckle, recalling the constant neighborhood barbecues and parties started spontaneously around the children's' play.

They have not seen any neighborhood barbecues in Rich County and if there have been any, the Birdseys haven't been asked to come.

"We haven't been excluded, but we just haven't been invited to most things," Paul Birdsey said, "I just don't think they think about us."

The interactions they have had with their LDS neighbors, especially with the former bishop and his wife, has been pleasant. But an obvious distance fueled by their different faiths stretches between the Birdseys and most Garden City residents.

"We are pretty much on our own here," Paul Birdsey said.

The isolation felt by people like the Birdseys may lessen in coming decades. Even in Mormon-dominated Rich County, the LDS population dominance is on the decline. In 1989, Rich County's population was 94.5 percent Mormon by church estimates. That dropped to 85 percent by last year. Many other counties have seen more dramatic changes and Utah is expected to be half Mormon by 2030.

mcanham@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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