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SALT LAKE CITY — When Chrissy Ross and her family first moved to Utah in 2002, she thought she had discovered a real-life Mayberry.
She had known several Mormons throughout her life — she even dated a Mormon boy in high school — and thought she knew what the religion and the lifestyle were all about, she says.
Welcoming neighbors. Family values. Clean communities. Church socials. She could almost "smell the fresh-baked bread just thinking about it," she says.
Though Ross describes herself as "old-fashioned" and happily settled into her new home, she soon discovered that by being non-Mormon in a small-town LDS community, she was more of a black sheep than she thought.
“I thought I understood Mormons, but I was not prepared to be fully immersed in a predominantly LDS culture,” Ross told the Deseret News. "I was feeling classic culture shock."
Ross faced the struggle to adjust. She became paranoid that she was just a missionary opportunity to her new neighbors, and was concerned that her children wouldn't fit in. She didn't want their LDS friends to get scared away by "seeing a coffee pot on the counter, beer in the refrigerator or bottles of wine on the floor of the pantry," she told the Deseret News.
Nevertheless, Ross loved the feel of her new town. There were plenty of kids for her children to play with, the neighborhood was pretty and they lived right across the street from a park — something that, in other communities, would not be a plus.
“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.”
Ross decided to accept the good and, rather than live with bad feelings about the people and her new surroundings, she decided to learn more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members in Utah.
"Organized religion fascinates me. I'm drawn to rituals and traditions," she wrote on her blog chrisyross.com. "I'm truly tolerant and accepting of the beliefs of others. I don't judge my devout, or non-devout, friends. I suppose because I'm human, I'm prone to a bit of judgment, but my intentions are to understand."
"When Chrisy Ross and her family moved to a small-town LDS community — one she affectionately refers to as Mayberry — she underestimated her readiness as a nonmember for what turned out to be a cultural immersion. Sure, she knew Mormons didn't drink caffeine (cough), and they never swore (double cough), but life with family-centered folks would be cozy and wonderful. She could smell the fresh-baked bread just thinking about it."
So, Ross said, she did her homework to eliminate her misunderstandings. She read the Book of Mormon and some of the Doctrine & Covenants, and spent a lot of time exploring the church's website, LDS.org. She studied the terminology her Mormon friends so frequently used, and she felt more at ease when she realized they weren't passing around scoreboards and "getting points for inviting me to Relief Society."
She grew to love her community all the more, and the people in it. "Simply put, we're happy," she says.
Ross did not become a convert of the LDS Church, but said she has developed an understanding and respect for a "widely misunderstood religion and has found a comfortable spot in her town, the community and the culture."
This experience left its mark on Ross, and she chronicled what she learned by writing a book, "To Mormons with Love (a little something from the new girl in Utah)."
“People seem so fascinated about my experiences,” Ross told the Deseret News. “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.”
She had other advice for those in a similar situation: “You can go to the picnic at the church. It’s just a way to socialize with your neighbors and be part of the community.”