The Best-Kept Secret in the Mormon Church

In the different churches and Mormon congregations I’ve visited or frequented around the world, I’ve always encountered a globally representative mixture of kindhearted loving souls, unkind people, and middle-of-the-road neutral types. But a couple of years ago, I discovered a special, unique congregation in Gretna, Virginia.

The welcome sign outside lovely Gretna, Virginia

The welcome sign outside lovely Gretna, Virginia

Introducing: The Gretna LDS Branch

Gretna, Virginia is a charming town of about a thousand people. Its quiet streets (only one stoplight!), small country schools (think “Little House on the Prairie”) and close-knit, homey feel make it the perfect place to raise a family.

Gretna, Virginia LDS Church

Gretna, Virginia LDS Church

And for Mormon families, Gretna is an even more exciting prospect, because Gretna’s LDS church is the friendliest, most hospitable, and most “heaven on earth” place a person can find to attend each week for worship!

Reasons the Gretna LDS Branch is the Best-Kept Secret in the Mormon Church:

  1. The branch is nestled away in a small town surrounded by lush, green forests. It doesn’t draw attention to itself–no Ensign covers or Church News features. Just humble, Christ-following folk.
  2. Each week, an amazing Mormon family with special-needs children brings three-to-five special needs friends to church with them, allowing them to spend their Sundays listening to hymns and enjoying the fellowship of the Saints, instead of leaving them locked away in an institution.
  3. Despite these special-needs guests not being LDS (nor their families) this branch instituted an extra, special-needs Sunday School class that teaches sweet, simple lessons to these guests each week, complete with an incredible teacher and wonderful teaching materials!
  4. This branch is composed of mostly elderly members, many of whose children are far away from them. Apparently, many of their children went away to Utah for college, then married and stayed to raise their families in the west, so when I showed up at the Gretna branch with my children, I was instantly surrounded by several dozen sets of grandkid-missing grandparents who were anxious to love on us and spoil us. And spoil us they did! :)
  5. The branch President instituted a strict “no gossip” policy in this branch several years ago. As a result, whenever I wanted to know anything about a fellow member, I had to go introduce myself and ask that member on my own. Any whispers of, “What’s his story?” will go unanswered by the members in this church, because they adhere so faithfully to this wonderful rule!
  6. Mormons in Gretna date back to the 1890’s (and even before), so the non-LDS townsfolk in Gretna consider the branch a staple of local history. Unlike in other Southside Virginia towns where I have lived, people of other faiths in Gretna treat the Mormons with courtesy and respect, and do not exclude them from social events or activities. I love how friendly this town has been to us!
  7. A visit to the Gretna branch is a time travel adventure! The carpet and furniture throughout the building are the same that I saw each week in the LDS chapels of my childhood. These sweet, humble members have kept them clean and neat for several decades after the church stopped even using these colors or furniture. Talk about a walk down memory lane–check out these photos:
Gretna LDS Church's immaculate vintage carpets and furniture--not  a spot or stain anywhere!

Gretna LDS Church’s immaculate vintage carpets and furniture–not a spot or stain anywhere!

Gretna LDS church foyer, complete with wheelcharis used weekly by several elderly members and special-needs guests

Gretna LDS church foyer, complete with wheelchairs used weekly by several elderly members and special-needs guests

Gretna LDS church hallway--vintage and immaculate, like the people you will find there! :)

Gretna LDS church hallway–vintage and immaculate, like the people you will find there! :)

8. And last but not least, the people of this branch are exquisitely humble.

No need to wear designer clothes to impress these folks. No need to live in a 2,000 square foot home to appear illustrious in their eyes. These members love everyone, whether you are a resident from a special-needs home, an invalid hunched over in your wheelchair, or a lonely woman in need of a friend.

On my first Sunday at the Gretna branch, I was an emotional wreck after a very trying/harrowing move to a new home. That day, I met their wonderful Relief Society president, who wanted to know what she could do for me. “Nothing,” I said. And I meant it—I was so drained that I just wanted to be left alone.

But as we were pulling out of the parking lot after church had ended, this Relief Society president chased down our car, her arms flailing.

Had I forgotten my purse or something?

I looked around me. Nope–I had it right next to my seat.

I rolled down my window.

“Oh Jenny, I’m so glad I caught you before you left! I just want to say I love you! I hope you have a lovely day, okay?”

I bawled all the way home.

This image–taken from inside the women’s room at the Gretna Branch church–says it all:

Hand-crocheted soap dispenser cover in the Gretna LDS church women's room

Hand-crocheted soap dispenser cover in the Gretna LDS church women’s room

These hand-crocheted soap dispenser covers are lovingly removed, hand-washed, then replaced each week by the wonderful souls who take care of this church. These gracious elderly members do not have a custodial staff taking care of their building–they clean it themselves! And they do so with so much care and attention that they even work hard to make sure that the soap dispensers have a touch of humble, homemade elegance:

Hand-made covers for soap dispensers at the Gretna LDS Church

Hand-made covers for soap dispensers at the Gretna LDS Church

The sight of these precious soap covers–and the immaculate countertops that they adorn–makes me weep with gratitude for the good people who treat their church building like more of a privilege than a right. Oh, how I love them!!

Humble, ancient--yet spotless and well-maintained--countertops in the Gretna LDS Church

Humble, ancient–yet spotless and well-maintained–countertops in the Gretna LDS Church

Humble elegance at the Gretna LDS chapel.

Humble elegance at the Gretna LDS chapel.

In recent years, Gretna’s LDS population has been dwindling because the stalwart LDS families’ children continue to go to Utah for college, then marry and stay in the west, which breaks my heart. The Gretna branch was in danger of being closed down by Salt Lake several years ago because of their dwindling membership, so I hope that whoever reads this blog post will share it, and help the members of the world know that if ever they find an opportunity to move to Southside Virginia, they need not worry about raising their children outside the Mormon hotspots.

In Gretna Virginia, Mormon members will find the humblest, most Christlike, most dedicated branch of the LDS church that I have ever seen, and their children will be all the better for it. I know my own children–and I!–have made immeasurable spiritual progress because of the good examples and service of the wonderful members in the Gretna LDS Branch!

If anyone reading this blog and contemplating a move to Southside Virginia is wondering if it is safe to raise their children outside Utah/Idaho, please watch this video, in which church leaders extend instructions and a promise that we can all raise strong, righteous children NO MATTER WHERE WE LIVE:

Today, I pray that people around the world will all get the chance to either join or visit the Gretna LDS Church at least once, so that they might watch, listen, and learn, then share the incredible love and Spirit of the Gretna branch with their churches and congregations throughout the world! The church will be a much better place because of it! :)

Side view of the Gretna, Virginia LDS Chapel

Side view of the Gretna, Virginia LDS Chapel

Beautiful forestland surrounding the Gretna Branch LDS chapel

Beautiful forestland surrounding the Gretna Branch LDS chapel

Forest behind Gretna branch2

I call this spot on the Gretna LDS church property a “Sacred Grove” of sorts. I’ve found so much peace there, and enjoy stopping by to pray whenever we have a church activity!

Picnic are of the Gretna, VA LDS branch meetinghouse's land, just behind the chapel. I call it their "Sacred Grove" because it is so beautiful!

Picnic area of the Gretna, VA LDS branch meetinghouse’s land, just behind the chapel. I call it their “Sacred Grove” because it is so beautiful!

 

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8 thoughts on “The Best-Kept Secret in the Mormon Church

  1. Joe July 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm Reply

    I love that branch. The jumbalia (however you spell it) dinner was awesome. The faith of those saints is amazing. I always wished we could’ve lived in Gretna. It is a lot like Sugar City Idaho.

  2. Karen DeBow July 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm Reply

    I lived in the Gretna Branch area for 4 months, after having lived in many places in the West and East. How refreshing and genuine these people were. How loving and concerned they were for each other! It broke my heart to have to leave there. I felt more loved there than I have ever felt in any wards I’ve lived in, in just those 4 short months!
    .

  3. Liz Vance July 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm Reply

    You found a picture of the town sign! I always loved seeing that sign. “Ain’t no big thing but it’s growing.” It’s a darling sign for a darling town. I’ve never met such sweet and loving members in my life. The care and love they showed to me and my family every time we were there still brings tears to my eyes. When you walk through those doors you are family and you know it. I would love to see that branch grow, become a ward, and then have to be split because it might mean that there tender living care would also grow and spread throughout that area of the world where it so desperately needs it. Thanks for the post, Jenny, and all the lovely memories it brought back.

  4. katrina1001 July 14, 2013 at 7:38 pm Reply

    This is a wonderful tribute to the Gretna Branch! Thanks for sharing, Jenny!!!

  5. Mary July 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm Reply

    This just touched my heart. How blessed you are and those of this wonderful Branch of the Church. I live in Oregon, however, if I was to wanting to move to the East Coast I would seriously consider this sweet town with a loving Branch. : )

  6. Nina Hansen July 15, 2013 at 5:55 am Reply

    Lovely! Every branch or ward should be like that. And some actually are!

  7. Sonja July 15, 2013 at 11:26 am Reply

    Would LOVE to find a crotchet pattern for those soap dispenser dresses!

  8. Cecil Belen September 8, 2013 at 6:09 am Reply

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I am so deeply touch and I hope to be able to experience belonging to a ward like that. I’m from the Philippines and though we have a great ward and humble, loving, spiritual and sweet members too, I’ve felt we could always do better. Loving and taking care of our own chapel that way is one and loving each other more by not gossiping would be divine! This is worth sharing!

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