August 30th, 2012
03:53 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Mitt Romney is famously quiet about his Mormon faith, but his campaign has said that some of Thursday’s speakers at the Republican National Convention will shed light on the candidate’s role in the church – and that Romney may open about his faith, too.
Thursday’s invocation will be delivered by Ken and Priscilla Hutchins, Mormons whom Romney befriended in their Massachusetts ward – the word Mormons use for church. Another Romney Mormon friend and former co-worker, Grant Bennett, will deliver a prime-time speech.
The speakers are part of the campaign’s broader attempt to humanize Romney at this week’s convention, which has played host to a prominent speech by Romney’s wife, Ann, and will feature speeches from more Romney friends on Thursday.
Campaign aides have hinted that Bennett would talk about Romney’s leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bennett was a bishop in Romney’s ward, serving after Romney had been bishop – the rough equivalent of a minister or priest – in the early 1980s. The Romney campaign has said that a church leader would speak Thursday about the experience of trying to “"fill Gov. Romney's shoes."
That leader appears to be Bennett, who talked to CNN’s Gloria Borger this year about following Romney as a bishop.
As soon as he stepped into the bishop’s role, Bennett told Borger, he was moved by his predecessor’s humility. Romney had just stepped down as a Mormon stake president – the rough equivalent of a bishop in the Catholic Church. But Romney immediately approached Bennett about his next assignment, saying he’d “look forward to any assignment that you’ll give me.”
That first post-leadership assignment turned out to be Sunday school teacher.
“It was a wonderful example of the idea that in the church we rotate and serve each other and learn from each other,” Bennett said.
He also spoke of Romney’s frugality. After a busy day of church meetings, a volunteer would always be tasked with making sure every light was turned off and that all the doors were locked. Romney has a “sort of a visceral dislike for waste,” Bennett said, and “would never leave the building without walking through every room and turning off every light.”
A key episode in Romney’s stint as bishop was a destructive fire at his ward’s almost-completed Mormon meeting house in Belmont, Massachusetts. It was a suspected arson, though the cause of the fire was ultimately unknown.
Following the blaze, various nearby houses of worship – Catholic, Protestant and Jewish – invited the Mormon ward to meet in their buildings while it rebuilt. Bennett said that Romney’s response was telling: He decided that the ward would meet in a handful of different houses of worship as a way to build ties in a community that seemed suspicious of Mormonism.
“He did it that way both to express appreciation to accept the offer of help but also to simply get to know our neighbors. … He saw this as a bridge-building opportunity,” Bennett said. “And it really did set the stage for the church being in Belmont, perhaps more actively involved really in interfaith kinds of relationships certainly than we had been.”
Bennett worked under Romney at Bain Capital but said he was always impressed with Romney’s emphasis on family and service rather than just making money.
Could some of those themes emerge in Bennett’s Thursday speech? He didn’t reply to requests for comments this week.
Ken Hutchins, who with his wife will give the invocation Thursday, is not expected to speak specifically about Romney’s faith. But he told the Deseret News this month that Romney, while serving as stake president for the church, tapped him to be a bishop. The Deseret News paints a nice picture of the relationship:
"We had some just outrageous, wonderful, memory-stoking youth events," Hutchins told the Deseret News. "Mitt was an integral part of those memories. I spent time with him there and talked with him and got to live with him so to speak. He was a terrific leader."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.