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June 19, 2009 3:22 PM   Subscribe

How should I interpret these recent interactions with my new, very-LDS neighbors in Sandy, UT? Will a housewarming party be more awkward than it's worth?

Background: My husband and I just moved into a very family-oriented neighborhood in Sandy, Utah. We've been living in Utah for four years, but have lived in apartments where neighborly contact was minimal. I'm 27, my husband is 30, we aren't LDS and we don't have any kids yet. We knew that buying a home in Sandy would mean that we would have a lot of LDS neighbors, and we have no problem with that. If anything, we've heard generalizations about what great neighbors LDS people make-- friendly, willing to help, unlikely to have obnoxious late-night parties, etc. We really like Sandy and, for a variety of reasons, we wouldn't be interested in living in parts of Salt Lake City that non-Mormons typically consider more desirable (e.g., Sugarhouse or the Avenues).

On Tuesday night when I wasn't home, my husband was working in our yard and was approached by a car full of LDS missionaries who stopped and casually asked him (without leaving their car) if he was a man of faith, if he had ever been to a temple, and if he wanted to go with them to one of the local temples that is offering tours to non-members this month. He politely declined and they left. About a minute later, two men drove up together in separate cars (one was a police cruiser) and stopped to talk to him. The timing seemed odd since their arrival was in such rapid succession after the car full of missionaries left. The police officer (in plain clothes) joked that their visit was "unofficial police business" while the other person, wearing a work ID for the LDS Church, just said that they were neighbors (without indicating where they lived) and told him we should let our next door neighbor know if we need anything because they all belong to the same ward and would be happy to help us if anything came up. They emphasized their membership in the ward several times. My husband was friendly and thanked them for the offer. Once they left, though, the more he thought about it, the more uncomfortable it made him that the officer brought his cruiser.

We interpreted the whole encounter as their giving us a gentle reminder that they know we're not LDS and that they're keeping an eye on us. Was the cruiser meant to be intimidating? The whole thing seemed kind of awkward more than anything, but we are just trying to figure out what the intention was behind it. Why had they driven down separately? And was it just a coincidence that the men who seemed to be missionaries had just left?

Before this little meeting, I had been thinking about hosting a housewarming party and inviting my neighbors. I'd still like to do that, but I want to minimize awkwardness in every possible way, which is leading me to feel a little concern about whether I should include my non-LDS friends. Should I have two separate parties? If I invite my neighbors and my other friends, will I have to keep it totally alcohol-free? I don't want to alienate anyone-- LDS or non-LDS.

I've read another question regarding being a non-Mormon in Utah and I found the general responses and advice to be very helpful and insightful, but I'm really looking for advice about this particular situation. We're going to be living here for at least another three or four years, so we want to keep things as friendly as possible.

posted by lbo to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
in my experience, a mormon's idea of friendly is a little bit closer and personal than a lot of people's ideas about friendliness. it seems far fetched to me that they used the cruiser as intimidation. above all, mormons want to appear open, warm, and helpful to non-members.

be yourself, invite your friends and neighbors. you might offend some of the mormons with the alcohol, but they could use some feather ruffling if that bugs them. maybe find a way to let people know there will be booze there so they can bow out if they don't want to be there?
posted by nadawi at 3:50 PM on June 19, 2009

I would find this behavior very odd and would do all that is possible to avoid interaction with them. But then this is probably why I don't live in Utah.
posted by dfriedman at 3:58 PM on June 19, 2009

If it were me I'd skip the housewarming for the neighbors unless you are very close and friendly already.

I wouldn't serve alcohol if you do decide to invite them.

We interpreted the whole encounter as their giving us a gentle reminder that they know we're not LDS and that they're keeping an eye on us.

No. I don't think so. I think they know you're not Mormon and they want you to become Mormon. There is probably multiple layers of recruitment. Next week you may have a higher level person visit you.

Call me a party pooper, and closed-minded, but in my mind there is no reason to have a housewarming with the neighbors. Chat with them, be friendly, have them over for a backyard barbeque if you feel compelled, but keep the housewarming to close friends. Besides, housewarming parties pretty much command gifts, so if they aren't close friends don't obligate a lot of people that you may not want to be chummy with down the road.

I have a few close friends that have increasingly become more fundamental in their views. I don't go to their parties and I don't invite them to mine. It's not because I don't like them, but we don't socialize the same and it's not comfortable for me. It's not worth the awkwardness.

I'd advise you to keep your distance. Be kind but keep a safe distance.
posted by Fairchild at 3:58 PM on June 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

I would not serve alcohol. Yes, maybe some of your neighbors are not LDS, but most are, right? To me, that would be like inviting a group made up of predominately Jewish people, and then serving pork. It just doesn't show consideration.

I'm pretty sure wards are defined by geography, so I'm not sure why the one guy was mentioning that everyone in your neighborhood belongs to the same ward -- of course they do. Unless, there's another ward nearby? I think they were trying to be friendly and welcoming, and definitely would love it if you took a tour of the temple (which might be interesting to see, actually).
posted by Houstonian at 4:05 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

No. I don't think so.

This should read that "Yes, I agree with you." The " no, I don't think so" was meant to address the idea that they are out to intimidate.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 4:13 PM on June 19, 2009

definitely would love it if you took a tour of the temple (which might be interesting to see, actually).

It is a magnificent tour, but do not go with a Morman neighbor, go on your own, and do NOT take a "free" tour from the Missionaries. You will spend the ENTIRE time rebuffing their advances to get you to convert and miss all of the wonderful architecture, et cetera... (personal experience speaking)

Agreeing with no alcohol if you do have a housewarming with your new neighbors.
posted by goml at 4:18 PM on June 19, 2009

Ohhh... You mean if you go WITH them you get to see INSIDE? I didn't know that part.
posted by goml at 4:20 PM on June 19, 2009

"Ward" is both a religious institution, and a way of divvying up neighborhoods. I've heard Mormons use it without really intending a strong religious implication. Obviously, though, there some subtext there.

I would expect average practicing Utah Mormons to avoid going anywhere they knew there would be alcohol-- probably for fear of being seen around it as well as personal discomfort. Of course _Utah_ Mormons are probably more concerned about this (due to the monoculture) than non-Utah Mormons.
posted by blenderfish at 4:34 PM on June 19, 2009

Anecdotal personal experience suggests that some police officers commute to/from their job in the cruiser, in effect the company car that they get to use. So the fact that he had plainclothes on, and the "unofficial" line, was just a joke for the fact he happened to be using what may have been his (only) car on non-official business. Perhaps this is not technically allowed, but generally tolerated.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:37 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, the ward is the social network. They're being nice to you now as a 'hey, join the ward, join the social network!' kind of a thing, but once that doesn't pan out, the outreach will trail off and you'll probably just fall off their map. It's like if all your friends communicate/plan activities on myspace, and you're not on myspace.
posted by blenderfish at 4:41 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm Mormon but not Utahn. I would guess there's no harm or implied threat intended by the multiple visits and the cruiser. They're probably just being overzealous in their welcome of the new folks and might not even have realized how odd such effusive neighborliness is to people who aren't from smaller Utah towns (where I hear such behavior is the norm.) I'm sure you know this but to the more suspicious among us: your average LDS person is really not sitting around plotting about how to convert everyone else, so relax.

And I would not at all be bothered by alcohol at a housewarming--in fact, I would almost expect it--but again, I'm not from Utah, so folks might roll differently there.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 4:57 PM on June 19, 2009

Eh. I wouldn't make too much of it. I'm sure the cop car is, as RikiTikiTavi points out, basically the company car and the guy made a little joke because he was aware that it would seem weird. Also, the ward is the basic organizational unit in their lives, so it's only natural for them to constantly refer to it.

I would go ahead and give the party because it's nice to know your neighbors, but I wouldn't expect to be invited to their parties and whatnot once it becomes clear that you're not joining the church. And I wouldn't serve alcohol, just because it's the simplest solution for not alienating anyone--your non-LDS friends don't need alcohol and probably won't notice its absence, but having it might make the LDS friends uncomfortable.
posted by HotToddy at 5:03 PM on June 19, 2009

And I would not at all be bothered by alcohol at a housewarming--in fact, I would almost expect it--but again, I'm not from Utah, so folks might roll differently there.

Would you be bothered if you went to a restaurant that served alcohol, and someone mixed a drink for another patron anywhere within your view?

Yeah, they roll differently there (first paragraph.)
posted by blenderfish at 5:08 PM on June 19, 2009

Also, in case I didn't make it obvious, as a non-mormon who lived in Utah for more than a decade (including right near Sandy for a while,) I wouldn't be worried about the events you're describing.
posted by blenderfish at 5:12 PM on June 19, 2009

My LDS co-worker sees nothing ominous or threatening about any of this, just standard neighborliness. Police officers in Utah are required to take their cruisers home with them, and it was probably just a coincidence that they happened by just after the missionaries left. Invite everyone to the housewarming and don't worry about it.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 5:13 PM on June 19, 2009

We interpreted the whole encounter as their giving us a gentle reminder that they know we're not LDS and that they're keeping an eye on us. Was the cruiser meant to be intimidating?

No, almost certainly not.
posted by jayder at 5:16 PM on June 19, 2009

I toured our local temple before it was dedicated and it was really amazing. You have to have a guide and I'd estimate the tour groups are maybe 70% LDS and 30% non-LDS.

No one pressures you to convert, think about converting, talk about the Book of Mormon or Jesus or anything like that. You just walk around and they explain the significance of the various rooms, which are all really beautiful. I wish I had gone more than just the once.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:31 PM on June 19, 2009

I lived in Ogden for a spell (as a former catholic, non religious) and I'd chalk it up to the neighborhood being friendly. There's no harm intended by them and they are just introducing themselves, and the church is a big part of their life. I'd suggest having the housewarming with booze if that's your fancy and plenty of non alcoholic drinks for those who don't drink.

I think you will make a couple of good friends after a conversation or two you'll find they won't really pressure you and the word will get around that you're not likely to participate in their faith beyond acknowledging how big of a part of their lives it is and what it means to them. This is just how the neighborhoods are in big parts of Utah.

Good luck! I think you'll meet some great people out of the experience.
posted by iamabot at 5:35 PM on June 19, 2009

My first thought was that the police officer assumed your husband might be LDS (usually a safe assumption to make in that location), and was mentioning the ward to give your husband the opportunity to find out the Sunday meeting times, leaders' names, and any other things a new LDS neighbor might want to know. But he made it more broad with the "ask if you need anything" because they're neighborly folk, even if you're not LDS. (Maybe even especially if you're not.)
posted by doift at 6:44 PM on June 19, 2009

They were just being friendly.

Have the house party. Serve alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. Show them that you are who you are, and open to friendship if they can accept that.
posted by LarryC at 11:40 PM on June 19, 2009

Also, I meant to add, you don't have to be friends with all your LDS neighbors. They don't come in a package, and their Mormonism doesn't necessarily define them. There will probably be some who try to convert you in various ways, but there will also be some who are cool and accepting people. Feel free to hang out with those who are cool and be neighbor-polite but nothing more to the others. Inviting everyone over is a nice gesture, and may also help you find out who you want to be friends with and who you want to avoid.
posted by doift at 6:49 AM on June 20, 2009

Seconding the serve alcohol. And tea. And coffee. Be who you are.
posted by A189Nut at 8:05 AM on June 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses!
posted by lbo at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: In case anyone ever runs into a similar situation, we ended up hosting the party with friends and neighbors. We made the party BYOB and had the fridge stocked with beer and the coolers stocked with sodas. There really wasn't much to worry about. Everyone got along great and now, 4 months after moving in, we really haven't run into any issues with neighbors at all. We're not best friends quite yet, but they've all been extremely nice. Thanks for all the advice!
posted by lbo at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2009

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