Mormons enlist NBA aide in Pa. push

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Mormon missionaries have found western Pennsylvania to be one of the hardest places in the country to gain converts, so the church has asked an NBA team’s marketing guru to lead a missionary push in the region.

Jay K. Francis, 59, has taken a three-year leave from his job as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Utah Jazz and the Larry Miller Group, the entity which controls all entertainment enterprises for Jazz owner Larry Miller.

“If someone is interested in learning more about the church, great,” Francis said. “We would hope the spirit would touch their hearts. You don’t sell someone into joining the church the way you sell Jazz tickets.”

Francis, who is a lifelong member of the church, will oversee 120 missionaries aged 19 and 20 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in western Pennsylvania, and parts of West Virginia, Ohio and New York. The mission field Francis will oversee stretches from Uniontown, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, to Jamestown, N.Y. That area has about 10,000 Mormons, with most living in greater Pittsburgh.

“Pennsylvania has the smallest number of Latter-day Saints per person of any state in the union,” said Evan Stoddard, mission leader for a Mormon congregation in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

Stoddard, associate dean of liberal arts at Duquesne University, a Roman Catholic school, said the stable, traditional, family-oriented outlook of people in western Pennsylvania – many of whom have family ties to churches – make it a difficult place to win converts.

Sweden approves same-sex blessing

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – Sweden’s Lutheran Church has authorized special church ceremonies for same-sex partners, but the ceremonies will not be traditional weddings.

The Swedish Church Assembly, the decision-making body for the Church of Sweden, voted 160-81 last week to approve the blessing ceremony. The issue has been debated since the Scandinavian country recognized civil unions for same-sex couples in 1994.

Sweden has a liberal attitude toward homosexuality, but gay marriage is not legal. Later this year, a government-appointed committee is expected to file a report on whether the law allowing civil unions between same-sex couples should be changed to include marriage as well.

More than 7 million of Sweden’s 9 million residents belong to the Church of Sweden, but few attend church regularly.

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