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Mormon church opens new digs for Jamaica congregation

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Bishop Philip Ubanowski (c.) greets member Debra Harper (l.) as Bishop Humberto Martinez looks on. Urbanowski leads the English-speaking congregation and Martinez leads the Spanish-speaking congregation. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Sister Jessica Tapia holds information about baptism in front of an area where baptisms are performed. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Elder Marc Ibarra (l.) and Elder Red Gibbs hand out information to visitor Tom Jarus. Photo by Christina Santucci

The Jamaica Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints welcomed members of the community to its new location on 163rd Street for an open house Saturday and Sunday. The six-story building will offer religious services, classes and other activities.

“Anybody’s welcome at our services,” said Sister Doris Rasmussen, who came from the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to assist in the opening. “We hope we can be a good asset to the community.”

Local congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, are called either branches or wards depending on their size. Bishop Philipp Urbanowski, one of two bishops in the Jamaica Ward, said the Mormon Church has about 28,000 wards altogether.

The Jamaica Ward has been active for about 15 years. It previously operated on 160th Street above a food court before moving to its current location at 89-58 163rd St. in Jamaica.

“We are growing, so that’s why we need more space,” Urbanowski said.

Urbanowski said the Jamaica Ward has about 120 members who attend the ward’s English language services and 120 members who attend Spanish services, held by Bishop Humberto Martinez. The ward is working on providing services in Haitian Creole, which many of its members speak.

The new center is housed on five floors, and the building has a sixth floor for potential future expansion. In addition to the sacrament meeting room, the Mormon equivalent of a chapel, the center has multiple classrooms, a library, offices, a kitchen/serving room, a basketball half court and a fount for full-body submersion baptism, according to Mormon tradition.

Brother Imran Hack, the Jamaica Ward’s clerk, said the new location took 14 months of work before it was opened Saturday.

“There was a marvelous effort,” he said.

The church teaches religious classes and missionary training, but also has classes on becoming self-reliant and disaster preparedness, Hack said. The center will hold concerts and dinners.

“There’s always something going on here every day,” Rasmussen said.

Mormons follow the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, but also the Book of Mormon, a book said to be revealed to Joseph Smith Jr., who began the religion, via golden plates given to him by an angel. Famous Mormons include Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer.

Ramussen said the teachings of Jesus Christ remain important to Latter-day Saints.

“There are people who say we’re not Christians,” Rasmussen said, “and that could not be further from the truth.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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John Pack Lambert from Ypsilanti, Michigan says:
It is not that the Jamaica ward has two bishops, it is that the Church building is used by two distinct wards. Each ward has a bishop who runs the ward with the assistance of his two counselors (vaguely like vice presidents) all of whom recive no pay for their service.

Thus there are two distinct wards, which are both part of a larger stake, but they are seperate units of the Church. If services begin in Haitian-Creole they might be held as a sub-unit of the English-speaking ward, but they too could be made into a seperate unit. The Church unit (be it a ward or a branch) is not the building, and it can move from building to building without a change. I know this is different than how other religions conceive of the relationship between their congregation and the building it meets in, but in Mormonism these are two distinct things.
Feb. 4, 2012, 5:40 pm
John Pack Lambert from Ypsilanti, Michigan says:
To illustrate my point more Imran Kack would only be the ward clerk for one of the two wards meeting in the building. Each ward would have distinct ward clerks, as well as distinct holders of other positions within the ward.
Feb. 4, 2012, 5:42 pm
John Pack Lambert from Ypsilanti, Michigan says:
Another odd phrase is "in addition to the sacrament meeting room, the Mormon equivalent of a chapel". I have virtually never in my 30 years of being a Mormon (which is also how long I have lived) heard people use the term "sacrament meeting room". I have almost always heard people use the word "chapel". At times it gets confusing because chapel is often used to refer to the entire church building, and not just the chapel specifically. However when a bishop feels there is a need for more reverence in his ward he will say "please hold your conversations until you leave the chapel", and members know this means they should go to the foyer before doing most talking, not that they should wait until they are outside the building.
Feb. 4, 2012, 5:45 pm
Elder Hawkes from Farmingdale, NY says:
Just checked with Sister Rasmussen about the name for the chapel, which is called a Sacrament Meeting Room in the Jamaica neighborhood. It's a "normal" Mormon chapel in every respect, just enjoys a local name that's unusual for the Church.

Enjoyed John Pack Lambert's clarifications above, and thought I'd add this one. My wife and I serve with Elder and Sister Rasmussen on Long Island which is connected to Queens geographically, where Jamaica is located, both in the New York New York South Mission. We serve in the Plainview area about 1/3 way out the length of Long Island teaching scripture classes (Old Testament) to adult singles.
Feb. 6, 2012, 7:11 pm

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