FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- The Mormon church has consolidated its European headquarters to Germany as it undertakes a bid to increase its membership across the continent.
In August, the church -- which boasts some 13 million members worldwide -- consolidated its former western European head office in Birmingham, England, with its central European offices in Frankfurt in west Germany.
More than half the members of the Salt Lake City-based church, live outside the U.S., with about 450,000 members living in Europe.
The newly appointed senior church leader, or elder, in charge of European operations, Robert C. Oaks, a retired U.S. Air Force general, said the aim was to improve efficiency as the church strives to increase the ranks among Europeans.
"From the fusion, we expect more efficiency and closer cooperation between local management of the church," Oaks said Friday.
He said he also hopes to raise membership and to improve the quality of the weekly sermons and teachings in Frankfurt and across Europe.
"We wanted to give more ecclesiastical responsibility to individual churches. We wanted to reduce the number of headquarters."
Oaks served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and commanded combat pilots at the U.S. air base in Ramstein. The 64-year-old was raised in the Mormon church and participated actively in it ever since.
Oaks explained his unusual background for someone that has become the leader of a church. He told reporters the ability to make choices is a necessary part of religious worship, and said Mormons have a tradition of defending that freedom.
"Freedom is a critical tenant for God's plan," he said. "There has to be a system where people can make a choice."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)