In Kentucky, R. Randall Bluth wore the familiar missionary uniform of a white shirt with dark tie and slacks as he bicycled around Louisville to share the gospel of Jesus.
In Baton Rouge, his roles have included serving as bishop and welcoming the worldwide leader of his church to town for the dedication of a new temple.
And in his latest volunteer assignment for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bluth, 53, of Prairieville, is watching weather reports.
“I’ve got to assume there’s a pretty good chance that a major hurricane will hit somewhere in the area we are in,” he said recently. “From Texas to North Carolina, wherever it is, we’ve got to make sure we are prepared to respond.”
Bluth this spring was named a member of the church’s Sixth Quorum of the Seventy, a position which gives him regional responsibility for, among other things, responding to disasters.
“Seventy is a biblical term,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that’s how many there are per se. It’s a term used in the gospels (Luke 10) to spread the gospel. The 70 are asked to go out and build up the church.”
Today, the church has multiple quorums of “seventies” with varying responsibilities.
“Mormonism for Dummies” by Mormons Jana Riess and Christopher Kimball Bigelow cites a reference to the seventies as “ecclesiastical middle management.”
In the Mormon church, there are no professional clergy. Instead, lay leaders serve unpaid in such roles as bishops over congregations - what Mormons called wards - and presidents over stakes, which are groups of wards.
Bluth has served in those positions as well as others, all while juggling his volunteer church responsibilities with the demands of full-time employment. He is president of an investment subsidiary of Hancock Bank.
As a seventy with the Sixth Quorum, his responsibilities could include assignments anywhere in a geographic region covering much of the United States and Canada, he said, “basically anywhere east of Utah.”
So far his new role has sent him to West Virginia, Florida and Alabama.
“I spent a lot of time in Alabama after the tornado, because we mobilized somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 workers,” he said. “I’m concerned that we are seeing a lot of natural disasters.
“I’m really kind of constantly thinking now about how we not only provide relief, but are prepared for these disasters whether it is hurricanes off the coast, or inland tornadoes or flooding,” he said. “How do we provide relief both instantly and by way of housing and also long-term stuff?”
Mormons are known for showing up with chainsaw crews to “get the trees off the house” as well as providing other forms of ongoing relief and assistance, he said.
But Bluth’s responsibilities go beyond disaster preparedness, relief work and ministry to such spiritual work as mentoring new bishops and mission presidents.
“Having a lay ministry, there are a lot of things they have to learn pretty quickly for a new calling,” he said.
Because of his time in Baton Rouge, Bluth’s well acquainted with starting new congregations and outreach efforts.
Like the majority of Mormons in the area, he’s a transplant from elsewhere.
He was born in Spanish Fork, Utah, grew up in California and first moved to Louisiana in 1989.
Except for a couple of years when Bluth moved the family to Kentucky, he’s lived about 20 years in the Baton Rouge area.
“I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life,” he said.
During those decades, the Baton Rouge Stake has grown from about a 3,000 members to just shy of 4,000.
Though after Hurricane Katrina, the stake transferred wards from Thibodaux and Houma to bolster the New Orleans Stake, which had dropped from 3,000 members to only 1,800.
“That brought our stake population down to about 3,300,” he said. “The overall object is to continue to grow.”
Being a member of a minority religion in an area dominated by Catholics, Baptist and Pentecostals, Bluth has had to address misconceptions about his faith.
“Every time I introduce myself as a Mormon, they ask me how many wives I have,” Bluth said.
He has one, Becky Jean, with whom he has four daughters, all adults now.
Polygamy was officially rejected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago, but remains an image issue today along with criticism about church theology.
Mormons teach that theirs is the only true church - a restoration of the authentic church of Jesus, which they say was lost soon after New Testament times. Christian leaders of many denominations reject that teaching and also often object to Mormons’ use of additional scriptures such as the Book of Mormon as well as Mormon doctrines that differ from Catholic, Protestant and evangelical teachings on the afterlife and the relationships between Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit.
Mormonism was an issue in the last presidential campaign with the candidacy of Republican Mitt Romney, and with Romney running again, it is uncertain whether the faith could be an issue in the 2012 election.
A scientific Pew Research Center Poll conducted May 25-30 among 1,509 adults found that 68 percent of Americans say it wouldn’t matter to them if a president candidate was a Mormon, up slightly from 64 percent in 2007, while 25 said they would be less likely to support a Mormon, down from 30 percent. The recent poll reports a 95 percent confidence level with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
Last year, Baton Rouge was one of the test markets for a new advertising campaign the church launched in an attempt to dispel perceptions that their members are much different from other Americans.
The “and I am a Mormon” ads feature church members from a variety of locations and life situations talking about their lives, families and dreams in an attempt to emphasize what they share in common with their neighbors.
What effect the campaign has had is unclear.
“The only evidence I have is anecdotal,” Bluth said. “From what I have hard, almost all of it has been very complimentary. ? I think it is doing what they hoped it would do.”
What Bluth hopes to do is faithfully serve in his newest assignment to help his church be ready for whatever challenges may come, hurricanes or otherwise.