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'It's an opportunity to serve'

A Mormon doctor is named to oversee more than 3,600 church members in the area.

Published July 20, 2007


SEMINOLE - Dr. Nathan Emery is accustomed to dispelling popular misconceptions about his Mormon faith. No, despite the premise of a popular television show, he and fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - popularly known as Mormons - don't practice polygamy. And, yes, he's Christian.

Emery, an ophthalmologist, also happens to be the newly appointed president of more than 3,600 members of the Mormon church in Pinellas County and western Pasco County. In May, top church leaders traveled from Salt Lake City to interview more than two dozen men for the position. At the end of a period of fasting and prayer, they invited Emery, 36, and his wife, Lori, 35, to meet with them and offered the eye doctor the unpaid, but honored, position. Emery, who has a long line of Mormon ancestors, is settling into his new role.

"It's very overwhelming. It's very humbling, and there's obviously a little excitement as well," said the Utah native, who rose from bishop, a position of leadership over a congregation or ward.

"It's an opportunity to serve," he said.

Serving means spending most Sundays worshiping apart from his family. As the spiritual leader of what is formally referred to as the St. Petersburg Stake, Sundays have him visiting one of the nine wards scattered from Lake Maggiore in southern Pinellas County to Hudson in west Pasco. He also attends weeknight meetings, guides and trains bishops and other church leaders, and confers with his chosen assistants, Tom Cavanaugh of Largo and David Biliter of Palm Harbor.

In a faith where family is central, his is a delicate balance of home, job and religious duty.

"I'm getting it figured out. Fortunately, I have a wonderful wife," said Emery, who met his wife, Lori, while studying at Brigham Young University.

"My role basically is to be supportive of him, mainly to be understanding when he needs to be out. I try not to be upset or complain," Lori Emery said.

With two daughters, Gabrielle, 12, and McKenzie, 4, and a baby on the way, the couple make a point to carve out family time.

Monday nights are inviolable. Designated as "family home evenings" by the church, Monday nights typically find devout Mormons at home praying, singing, reading the scriptures and enjoying the company of family.

That was the case early this week when the Emerys - minus Gabrielle, who was visiting her grandparents in Utah - gathered in the family room of their Seminole home.

Elements of their faith are a natural part of their environment. Two personal compendiums of the standard Mormon scriptures - the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants - lay on a coffee table beside a large, colorfully illustrated version of the Book of Mormon. Photographs of the Salt Lake City Temple, where Nathan and Lori Emery were married, were displayed with those of family members. An 18-inch Lladro image of Christ, similar to one seen on the church's Web site, sat on a bookshelf.

Before the start of Monday evening's informal program, Lori Emery helped younger daughter McKenzie sweep up dinnertime crumbs. Her husband put away the dishes and emptied the garbage. Then the family knelt to pray, sang songs and read from the Book of Mormon. Illustrated cards were used to tell McKenzie the story of Moses and - from the Book of Mormon - about a bad king called Noah and a prophet named Abinadi. The family evening program concluded with a Disney memory game and warm homemade chocolate chip cookies that McKenzie made.

Some people are surprised to learn that Mormons are just normal people, said Emery, whose practice is at Pasadena Eye Center in St. Petersburg. It's one of the reasons he's personally glad to see Mitt Romney, a Mormon, running for president.

"It obviously brings the church into a lot of discussions by people who may not know a lot about it," he said. "His religious beliefs should really not have any bearing on his political campaign, but my guess is, should he end up being the Republican nominee, that it will be more intensely scrutinized."

Emery said shows like HBO's Big Love, with it's focus on plural marriage, "perpetuate stereotypes." Mormons haven't practiced polygamy in more than 120 years, he said.

"I think the largest misconception is that we're not even Christian," his wife said. "Our faith is based solely on Jesus Christ. I think people think that we do strange, secret things. If we do, I don't know what they are."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or

Fast Facts:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

Worldwide membership: 13-million

Tampa Bay area: 10,000-plus members

Founded: in New York by Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830

Standard scriptures: Bible, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants

Clergy: prophets, apostles, stake presidents, bishops, elders and priests

[Last modified July 19, 2007, 23:01:33]

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