Where are you from? What brought you to the neighborhood? Do you have any kids?
These questions are typical for the new family in town to hear, but what Chrisy Ross didn’t expect people to ask when she moved from Colorado to Utah was “Are you LDS?”
“Anywhere else in the country it’s rude to ask what religion you are, but when we moved to Alpine 10 years ago, it seemed like religion was brought up within the first few minutes of meeting someone,” Ross said.
Ross is the author of “To Mormons with Love: A little something from the new girl in Utah,” a non-fiction book she wrote about the Mormon vs. non-Mormon culture after several years of living in Utah. Ross also shares her experiences on her blog, www.chrisyross.com.
Prior to moving to Utah, Ross attended high school in Arizona where she associated with several LDS friends, and she even dated a Mormon boy. Her husband’s boss in Colorado was also LDS, so before they moved to Utah she felt like she was familiar with the faith.
“I thought I understood Mormons, but I was not prepared to be fully immersed in a predominantly LDS culture,” Ross said.
Referred to as her “honeymoon phase,” Ross loved the first six months after the move. There were plenty of kids for her kids to play with, the neighborhood was clean and pretty, and they lived across the street from a park.
“Living by a park would actually be a liability in any other state because teenagers would be there partying on weekend nights,” Ross said. “But here, it’s like Mayberry. Everybody cleans up their garbage and goes home at 5.”
Self-described as “old-fashioned,” Ross appreciated the neighbors welcoming her family by coming over and bringing them jam and inviting them to church socials.
After the honeymoon phase wore off and Ross got more settled, she began to feel like the black sheep in her community.
She felt paranoid that she was nothing more than a missionary opportunity for her neighbors and a project for her friends.
“In hindsight I’m sure I wasn’t a missionary opportunity for more than just a couple people, but I was feeling classic culture shock,” Ross said.
As she was struggling to adjust, there were several things Ross worried about. Her number one concern was her children. She didn’t want their LDS friends to get scared off by seeing a coffee pot on the counter, beer in the refrigerator or bottles of wine on the floor of the pantry.
Although it wasn’t an easy adjustment, Ross shed her paranoia when she realized no one can change a culture or a social norm.
Rather than distancing herself from the church, she decided to learn more about it so she could understand the terminology and beliefs her Utah friends often discussed.
“I did my homework and really eliminated my misunderstandings,” Ross said. “I had some crazy misconceptions that scoreboards were being brought out in church and people were getting points for inviting me to Relief Society.”
Ross would ask the same questions about the church to different people, and their answers always seemed to vary from one another, so she decided to go right to the source: LDS.org.
After reading the Book of Mormon, several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants and exploring Mormon websites, Ross decided there weren't any secrets in the church and that she could find out all the answers to her questions right there on LDS.org.
After years of living in Utah and growing to love the people, Ross decided to write “To Mormons with Love: A little something from the new girl in Utah,” which Ross describes as a love letter to her community.
Ross wanted to enlighten those who are and are not LDS about what it’s like not to be a member of the LDS Church in a predominately Mormon culture, and to do so in a loving way.
A lot of people assume Ross is LDS when they find out she’s from Utah.
A few years ago when her family was vacationing in Maui, Ross got into a conversation with an elderly lady about their lives. When the woman found out she was living in Utah but was not a Mormon, she asked several questions about what it was like to live among people of the Mormon faith.
“People seem so fascinated about my experiences,” Ross said. “I figured I could answer questions in this book in an insightful way without offending anyone. I feel like I’m one of the only people who can do that because I’m one of the few people I know who hasn’t run out of Utah County screaming.”
Ross’ book was published in 2011, and she decided she wanted all the proceeds from the book to benefit the Timpanogos Arts Foundation, specifically the American Fork Arts Council.
Ross has also written some articles for LDS Living, including one about why the Relief Society should run for president.
Religion can be a sensitive topic, and Ross recognizes that people with different belief systems may not always know how to talk to each other about their faith without the discussion quickly going south.
“Sincere honesty works,” Ross said. “If you are a member and someone asks you a question, just put their minds at ease. Tell them if they have questions just to ask.”
Ross also believes those who are not Latter-day Saints can go to ward activities without having to be converted.
“You can go to the picnic at the church,” Ross said. “It’s just a way to socialize with your neighbors and be part of the community.”
Megan Marsden is an intern for the Deseret News writing for the Faith and Family section. She is currently a junior at BYU-Idaho studying communication.