WOLFEBORO, N.H. - Republican Mitt Romney, the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party, sat in the Wolfeboro Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday as, one by one, members of his congregation credited him for bringing the faith more into the public eye.
"There has never been as much positive publicity about the church ... thanks to the wonderful campaign of Mitt Romney and his family," J.W. "Bill" Marriott, the chairman of Marriott International, said. Marriott was the first in the congregation to take the podium to offer testimony - examples of his own life experience and how it's affected his faith, a tradition on the first Sunday of every month in the Mormon church.
"Everybody is looking at us and saying, 'Are you as good as the Romneys?' " Marriott said. "Today we see the church coming out of obscurity, and we see that 90 percent of what has been written and said ... 90 percent of it has been favorable," he said. "And that's a great tribute to Mitt and Ann."
Many Americans have long viewed Mormonism skeptically, and the Salt Lake City-based church has fought for decades for recognition and acceptance as a faith.
In the eyes of Mormons gathered here Sunday, Romney winning the nomination has been overwhelmingly positive for their church.
"He's a marvelous ambassador of who we are," said a member of the Archibald family, another large Mormon clan that, like the Marriotts and the Romneys, vacations in Wolfeboro.
The Marriotts and Romneys are close friends; the hotel magnate is a major campaign donor, and the candidate used to serve on the board of Marriott International.
Romney had long shied away from talking about a faith that has shaped his life, from his childhood to his college years as well as his marriage and business career. He occasionally has recounted his time counseling families who were struggling members of his Boston congregation. He usually doesn't touch on his two years serving as a missionary in France for the church. And he typically doesn't mention that he at one point rose to a rank equivalent to a bishop and presided over a group of congregations.
In recent weeks, Romney has started to open up about his faith and mentioned it during his Thursday night acceptance speech after members of his congregation took the convention stage to praise his work in the church. Said Romney: "We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan. That might have seemed unusual or out of place, but I really don't remember it that way."