The Only Members

The Only Members

The world-renowned ski resort community of Whistler, B.C., is not known for its Latter-day Saint population. While Whistler thrives economically, all social life revolves around “the mountain” and its skiing and tourist industry.

Even so, there is a small group of Mormons living here – one family, consisting of two parents and two children. The nearest chapel is a 45-minute drive from their home, but Aaron and Jennifer Oviatt are happy in their community, professional and church lives.

The Oviatt’s have graciously engrained themselves into the fabric of their mountain community.  “One reason we decided to stay in Whistler,” says Sister Oviatt, “was to avoid the commute for ski school.” Virtually everyone has children in ski school. It’s part of the curriculum here.”

“Whistler is remote, though it has services to sustain the community,” says Brother Oviatt. “What is really remote here, is the Church. There is no church life in Whistler.”

The nearest branch of the Church is in Brackendale, (population 17,000), near Squamish and 60 kilometers south of Whistler. Although the town provides ample services for its citizens, Latter-day Saints are still relatively sparse. A small chapel accommodates a typical weekly congregation of about 20 members and guests. It is here where religious life is centered for the Oviatt family and their fellow church members. “If there was no church here,” says Aaron Oviatt, “we would not have accepted the transfer. We are thankful to be close enough to a chapel that we can attend.”

“In the Squamish/Brackendale area, lots of people stay only three to five years, and then leave,” notes Brother Oviatt. The branch members are glad to receive strength from member move-ins. “It was really valuable, when the branch clerk moved, another young couple moved in from Bellingham, Washington. “
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As with other remote locations of the Church, in the Squamish Branch, every member counts. The branch president lives in Vancouver. Another man serves in the branch presidency, even though he is required to work every other Sunday. “It is remote as a church, but the doctrine is still the same. Some weeks, there is no branch leader here,” observes brother Oviatt. “It is difficult to make it work sometimes.”

The branch members have valued periodic assignments of full-time missionaries to their community.  “At times, we have missionaries here and people to teach. So church viability won’t be a problem. When we had missionaries here for four years, they did good work baptizing two to three converts per year,” says Brother Oviatt.

With gratitude for the growth that the branch has received, members still feel the need for additional strength. When a young couple recently moved to the branch, members regarded the addition as “an answer to prayer.” But even with new Church converts joining the congregation each year, “We still hear each other’s’ talks every two or three months,” notes Brother Oviatt.

Some of what bolster’s the Oviatts and other Squamish-area families is the experience of contrast. “I would miss our kids having friends who are not members of our Church. They have learned to be missionaries,” says Sister Oviatt. “What they gain, having this upbringing, is that we choose to live a different way. They learn while they are young that we have standards and that we are different. And that’s okay.”

In some respects, the Oviatts feel that their lives are not as remote as they had been. “A two-hour drive to the Vancouver temple is very good, having lived in places like Kamloops when we drove to Seattle for nine hours or Fort Nelson where it was 17 hours.”
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As the family cherishes experiences living in a sparse Latter-day Saint community, they recognize the importance of how they live, rather than where. “We do the basic things,” says Brother Oviatt, “prayer, scripture study, family home evenings – the basic things that everyone is doing. You don’t have to be much more creative than that. We try to keep the gospel simple.”

The Oviatt family values the influence of fellow Church members, though they are few in number. “This branch has been easy because the people are so nice and friendly. The majority of your spirituality comes from the way that you live in your home. The Church adds to that, but it comes primarily from your home.”

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