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Church in Memphis is on the rise

Members are living the gospel and enriching the community

Standing in front of Graceland's famous gate, LaVonne Gaw, left, and Patsy Anderson are members of the Church who work at the popular Memphis tourist destination, the estate of the late singer Elvis Presley.
Standing in front of Graceland's famous gate, LaVonne Gaw, left, and Patsy Anderson are members of the Church who work at the popular Memphis tourist destination, the estate of the late singer Elvis Presley. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A pyramid rises over a thriving city on the banks of one of the world's major rivers. Ancient Memphis in Egypt? No. Rather, it's namesake in Tennessee. And unlike the ruined metropolis on the Nile, Memphis, Tenn., continues as a vibrant center of commerce and culture. It's pyramid is a sports arena of glass and steel. It bills itself musically as the "Home of Blues" and "The Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll." It is the largest port on the river between St. Louis and New Orleans and is headquarters for the giant delivery service Federal Express.

And generously scattered throughout the city are members of the Church.

In a Church News interview, Bishop Gerald Ryan of the Memphis 2nd Ward and President Mark Efros of the Memphis 4th Spanish Branch talked about the growth and vibrancy of the Church in the area. They recalled that at one time the city was divided at Summer Avenue, a major east-west artery dissecting the city, with the Memphis 1st Ward to the North and the Memphis 2nd Ward to the south.

Now the city is the center of two stakes which spill over into two other states — Arkansas and Mississippi, and in the northern suburb of Bartlett is a temple, which, by the way, is just a short distance off Egypt Central Road.

As far as the growth of the Church is concerned, President Efros said, "I think the South is ready to take off."

Dancing in costumes made for a Church talent show are, from left, Laura Alonso, Vianey Carrasco and Angela Efros of Memphis 4th Spanish Branch.
Dancing in costumes made for a Church talent show are, from left, Laura Alonso, Vianey Carrasco and Angela Efros of Memphis 4th Spanish Branch. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

He and Bishop Ryan told how members of the Church were accepted in a cordial alliance with members of other faiths in the area to fight against a gambling initiative. And Carolyn Bendal, a Church public affairs specialist, said the Church's family history program has been a hit among many in the community. She said a local radio host held a contest asking listeners to share why they wanted their genealogy done. The prize for the winner was time working in the family history center with the center director.

Church members' lives merge with Memphis. For example, Memphis Tennessee Stake President Robert G. McBride said that many members of the Church work for Federal Express and some work at Graceland, the estate of Elvis Presley that is a popular tourist attraction.

LaVonne Gaw, a member of the stake Primary presidency, traces her Church membership back to Elvis. She told the Church News that she was a big fan of his in her youth. When she heard that the "King of Rock and Roll" was reading something called the Book of Mormon, she went out in search of one of her own to read. She read the book, gained a testimony and joined the Church. "Elvis was my missionary," she said with a laugh. She is now an archivist at Graceland.

Bryan Davies of the Cordova Ward, Memphis Tennessee North Stake, is a pilot for Federal Express and was head of the pilots union. Several of his fellow members of the Church relate how, because of his recognized integrity, he was instrumental in solving a critical labor dispute between the pilots and the company.

But with the Church News, he talked about how flying around the world has given him broad exposure to the Church as he has mingled with members. "Worldwide, people embrace the gospel the same way we do here," he said.

President McBride, who has lived in Memphis for 31 years, said he has seen the Church steadily grow over those years. It has happened because of members moving in from other areas, steady missionary work and the growing roots of families who are third-, fourth- and fifth-generation members in the area.

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