“Orlando, Florida: Increasing Zion’s Borders,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 69
“We are living in a great time for the Church in Florida,” says James C. Watkins, president of the Lake Mary Florida Stake. “Opportunities abound to lengthen our stride and increase the borders of Zion.”
These opportunities have come about in part because of Florida’s robust growth as a state. What was once largely a swampland dotted with orange groves, cattle ranches, and coastal resorts now ranks as the fourth most populous state in the nation. The Orlando area increased in population from 24,000 to 1.5 million in the past century.
Many Latter-day Saints have moved to the Orlando area to make it their home, and the effects have been positive for the three stakes there. As Joel H. McKinnon, president of the Orlando Florida Stake, observes, “Joining newly arrived members with the local Saints, who have a heritage of sacrifice and dedication, provides a great recipe for strength and progress.”
That heritage of faith dates back some 100 years, when fully organized missionary work took root in Florida. Missionaries proselyted first in the northern part of the state, then spread slowly into central and southern Florida. At one point opposition to the work was so strong that missionaries in the Orlando area were removed for a time. But eventually membership grew, and the area’s first stake was established in 1958. Thirty-six years later, Church members rejoiced as they reaped a great blessing of those early labors—the dedication of the Orlando temple.
Barbara Boyd of the Winter Park Ward, a Florida native who serves as an ordinance worker, recalls with gratitude her family’s heritage. “My grandmother Lula Milton King was the first in my family to accept the gospel in 1902 in Daytona Beach,” she says. Sister Boyd herself became a member of the Church in 1930 when she was 11.
Even as the Orlando Saints draw strength from the past, they take steps to move the kingdom forward, drawing a new generation into the gospel. Two recent converts are Brandon Bishop of the Oviedo Ward and Margaret Granito of the Goldenrod Ward, both 17. Impressed by the example of a Latter-day Saint classmate, Brandon agreed to listen to the missionaries and was baptized. His example in turn impressed Margaret, who learned about the gospel and felt the Spirit’s influence lift her out of sadness she had been experiencing.
Being an influence for good in the community is an important priority for Church leaders in Orlando. “We need to stand up and be counted as a unique and leavening influence in our area,” says President McKinnon. “Members of the Church need to extend themselves beyond the boundaries of their homes and families. We need to become part of the essential glue that holds this community together.”
One group of Orlando Saints extend themselves through music. For nearly a decade the Central Florida Messiah Choir has observed the Christmas season by giving public performances of selections from Handel’s Messiah. The participants see the concerts as their gift to the community.
Such endeavors point to the “great depth and character” that President McKinnon sees in the central Florida Saints. “There is a ‘salt of the earth’ heritage in our members that will bring the blessings of the Lord if we will continue to strive toward the goals of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Orlando Tri-Stake Area
Names of stakes: Orlando Florida, Orlando Florida South, Lake Mary Florida
Number of members: 10,250
Number of units: 22 wards, 2 branches
Missionaries serving from area: 67
Temple district: Orlando Florida Temple