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San Diego: LDS gain prominence in fast-growing area

The lure of year-round sun, miles of beaches and multiple recreational activities have made this one of the fastest-growing areas of the United States.

During the past few decades, the attractiveness of the area has brought in thousands of people, many of whom are professionals, particularly in communication fields.Church members, too, have been drawn to this balmy corner of the nation. In the past 30 years, Church membership has more than tripled in metropolitan San Diego. The area is "coming of age" with the prospect of a temple, currently under construction in the Golden Triangle area in the north part of the city.

But like LDS everywhere, members here regularly spend many of their leisure hours in service to the Church.

Regional representative Clinton A. Davis said Church membership in the metropolitan area now stands about 43,000 and covers a broad spectrum. Included among the members are long-time leaders such as federal Judge J. Clifford Wallace and Rep. Ron Packard, (R-Calif.), and many new members from Asian and Latin areas who have relocated here and are being assimilated into wards and branches throughout the region.

Together they have helped the Church grow in this area of 1.5 million people, said Elder Davis.

Progress, however, has not been limited just to numbers. Members also are growing spiritually, reported Elder Davis. "We are seeing marvelous things happen."

He said two factors primarily have influenced what's happening:

First has been President Ezra Taft Benson's continual urging of members to read the Book of Mormon. As they read the scriptures, they are developing deeper spirituality, said Elder Davis.

Second is a reactivation effort under the direction of Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who is president of the North America West Area. "We're ministering instead of administering," said Elder Davis. In this effort, leaders personally visit less-active members in their homes and invite them to "come unto Christ."

"What we are seeing is an awareness of the need to visit and fellowship - this is not a social invitation, but an invitation to come back to the Lord," the regional representative emphasized.

Members have been re-activated, and non-members have been baptized through these efforts, said Elder Davis. "It has been heartwarming to get those kinds of results."

He said that the prospect of having a temple in San Diego indicates to the members that "everything we need is right here. We are convinced that we have to do more temple work."

Members and leaders also are working to reduce the challenges facing them, said Elder Davis. Challenges include those of temptations to young people, material goods, and careers that some pursue at the expense of family. Such challenging trends concern leaders, said Elder Davis, "yet, I see strength in the members."

Across the Mexican border, about 17 miles away, members in Tijuana and its companion inland city of Mexicali, which are part of the San Diego temple district, also are planning to make regular visits to the temple when it is completed.

Church growth in these cities is also significant. Where just 30 years ago the branches of the Church met in a few homes, two regions have now been created, said Arturo Galven Zuniga, president of the La Mesa Tijuana Mexico Stake. Nearly all the members are converts. About 300 converts a year are baptized in the La Mesa stake. Four new meetinghouses have been constructed in Tijuana for the increasing membership.

The four stakes in Tijuana and Mexicali comprise 8,000 members, and leaders have a goal to double that number.

While Mexican leaders are struggling to absorb the growth from conversions, San Diego leaders are finding the new move-ins easier to accommodate. The San Diego Church leaders are gearing their efforts toward raising the Church's profile to increase conversions.

Public communications director Robert McGraw, a writer and communications consultant, has instituted a weekly Church television show on a cable network. He is assisted by his wife, Nanci McGraw, award-winning news director on KYXY-FM Radio station.

The program, titled "Moments of Reflection," has a magazine format in which prominent LDS people are interviewed. "We feel like we are on a mission wherever we go," said McGraw. "This is an educational effort. We are softening the ground."

He said that as they started the program, they located "a tremendous pool of talented technicians. We don't have a professional staff, but the Lord provided former professionals." The result of the volunteer effort is a production of prefessional quality, said McGraw. "People don't believe we do this for nothing," he observed. "We live a very project-oriented life, and a lot of the projects are for the Lord."

Putting aside leisure time to serve the Church is also a practice of many LDS servicemen at the military bases in San Diego County.

Lt. William G. Knuteson is a pilot who heads a mechanic training detachment at Miramar Naval Air Station. He supervises some 200 staff members who teach another 300 to 500 students. He is also a liaison for the Church, coordinating arriving and leaving servicemen. Some military units have 80 percent turnover every 90 days, so his work is very helpful to local leaders.

He's also working on a program to assist military families where the husband is away on duty for extended periods of time.

He said that in the Church, the anxiety of servicemen on extended duty is reduced because they know that leaders, home teachers and visiting teachers are assigned to help their families.

"The Church offers a tremendous amount of support. That makes separation more tolerable."

Anna Carson is another who has learned to make time for the Church. She is a soprano soloist who performs oratorio, recitals and unstaged opera. She and her husband, Bishop Paul E. Carson of the San Diego 4th Ward, "live on a fast-paced plane," as they follow their busy schedule, she said. "The phone rings all the time."

She explained that singing is her special gift, a gift that can be part blessing and part burden. When people ask why she pushes herself to sing, even when it is not convenient, she replies, "I have been counseled to use my singing to teach the gospel.

"I sing to lift the hearts of people."

Her answer might be echoed by the many members who choose to serve instead of choosing to relax.