Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

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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