Editor’s note: This is part of a four-story package on Quartzsite, Arizona — a snowbird mecca that draws a huge cross-section of Americans, including hundreds of retired Latter-day Saints.
QUARTZSITE, Ariz. — Only 18 individuals regularly attend the small LDS branch located in Quartzsite, Arizona during the summer season despite the 65 year-round members on the roster.
But in a desert town that hosts more than 2 million visitors a year, the branch gets hit with more than 30 times its average summer attendance in the winter months.
“We used to have around 1,100 in the winter, but this past winter we had about 700,” Branch President Dan H. Pace said. “It’s difficult because in the winter, it’s like leading a stake but in a branch (capacity).”
According to the 2010 census, the population of Quartzsite was 3,677. The winter months, however, boom with an influx over 2 million snowbirds — people who go to a warmer climate in the winter — and travelers passing through, which significantly impacts how the branch functions on Sundays.
The chapel can hold about 500 people. When the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City heard about the small branch’s dilemma, audio speakers and cameras were installed so all extra rooms, such as the Sunday School, Primary and Relief Society rooms, could be used as overflow. There is no need for the extra features during the summer, but these modifications are essential for the building to function during busy winter months.
“The church has done a great job at helping us down here,” Pace said.
Pace was assigned as president of the Quartzsite Branch about four years ago. Prior to this calling, Pace was a counselor in the branch presidency for two years, despite not being a resident of Quartzsite.
Pace and his wife are from American Fork, Utah. They still have their home roughly 600 miles away, but have lived in this small Arizona town for the past six years since they received their assignment.
In fact, that is the case for all members of the branch presidency in Quartzsite. The first and second counselors are from Boise and Provo. All members of the presidency alternate vacations during the summer months to visit their homes, but during the winter, it’s all hands on deck.
“Really and truly, the Quartzsite Branch is not unusual, but very dynamic,” Relief Society President Beverly Cunningham said. “If you ever have a chance to speak with anyone during the winter, you feel the Spirit. You cannot deny that this is a place where the Spirit of God dwells.”
Cunningham has served as Relief Society President in Quartzsite for the past two years. Since joining the LDS Church in 2001, Cunningham has loved the small branch in Quartzsite, regardless of the season.
“No matter what, we make it work,” Cunningham said. “No matter what the challenge, we still find a way. I would truly say the Spirit is here in Quartzsite, and it’s very strong. Our sisters are always willing to help each other. I don’t think I would be happy in any other branch as I am here.”
Cunningham is one of the youngest members in the branch at age 66. The average age of the congregation is 77. Although there is no Primary or youth program, the Quartzsite Branch still recruits for a scout troop.
“The scout troop has eight people recruited. They are all nonmembers, but we recruit still,” Pace said.
Even with the wave of new or returning snowbirds, there are still several missionary opportunities. Regular baptisms still occur, and the branch averages about 4-6 baptisms a year.
When missionaries are assigned to Quartzsite, the elders or sisters spend the summer months teaching the members and working at the food bank. The winter months are spent teaching the snowbirds and visitors who come to the city in several large movements.
According to the 2017 Quartzsite Tourism Guide, within the Quartzsite community, there are 11 different churches to worship in, including the LDS Church. All of the churches are some branch of Christianity.
What makes the LDS branch different is it is one of a handful of churches that stays open year-round. The other church congregations only open during the winter seasons.
The Quartzsite Branch is a part of the Lake Havasu City Arizona Stake and the Las Vegas mission. The branch also enjoys monthly temple trips to the new Phoenix temple located a little more than 100 miles away.