Jan. 15, 2002

The Mormon volunteers are stumped.

In their LDS Church-sponsored training for their roles during Salt Lake City's Winter Olympics, they easily translate various terms for "restroom." They breeze through questions about good restaurants, the nearest hospital, favorite Utah tourist attractions and public transportation.

But then comes a tough one: Where to find a drink? One man quips, "At a drinking fountain."

A few volunteers suggest hotels, hospitality tents and beer gardens. One man comes up with the location of a state liquor store. But when a woman says she is uncomfortable helping people find alcohol -- forbidden to devout Mormons -- she is gently set straight.

"Now, remember. You are making a judgment," says workshop trainer Kathy, like the rest going only by her first name. "We need to be careful not to withhold information because we don't want people to have it."

This is, after all, one of many sensitivity training sessions for the more than 5,000 Mormon volunteers who will greet people from other faiths, cultures and countries when they visit church sites.

The first thing the 50 trainees meeting at the Relief Society building see is a poster with the acronym "F-R-I-E-N-D-S," standing for qualities they should embody -- friendly, respectful, informative, enthusiastic, nonjudgmental, dedicated and spiritually prepared.

The other workshop leader, Carolyn, asks how many are currently serving as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nearly half raise their hands.

"The black plastic name tag we usually wear has our name and the church's name. It shows we are specifically called to share the gospel message," Carolyn says. Now look at your Olympic volunteer badge, she continues. "It says your name. Period. Nothing else."

Volunteers will work on Temple Square, in the Family History Library, at the Beehive House, the Museum of Church History and Art and on Welfare Square. They may answer an occasional question about the LDS Church, but should direct lengthy inquiries to Temple Square missionaries or designated public affairs specialists.

Like most volunteers, these trainees will be relating person-to-person, Kathy says. No proselytizing. No holier-than-thou attitudes.

Imagine a fictitious couple, Carolyn says, Stephen and Elizabeth Dunlap and their two little girls. Elizabeth had dreamed of being a champion figure skater. They have come from London for the Games.

Then she flashes a picture on a big screen. Stephen has spiked pink hair. Elizabeth sports multiple body piercings and is holding a cigarette. There's a collective gasp.

"I probably would have called security if I saw them," says a man in a dark suit and tie.

Carolyn shakes her head. Scour your minds, she says, for biases, preconceptions and stereotypes.

"We make judgments about people just by looking at them and we express it in our body language," she says. "If we communicate censure or disapproval, we might miss a chance to get to know someone we might enjoy and we might send them away with a bad feeling about Utah."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus