Aaron Bludworth was born in a religious family that belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. Both his parents were members of the church and he grew up attending services regularly, participating in Sunday school and became himself one of its official members when, at the age of 8, he got baptized.
Growing up he also received religious teachings and good values from his parents. They would have regular family evenings when they will all meet, pray, read the scriptures and address their various needs.
“This is something I still do now with my wife and five children,” says Bludworth. “It gets us closer together and strengthens our faith.”
Bludworth also participated in the church’s youth program, meeting socially with others his age, learning from retreats and conferences; also helping others whenever possible.
He attended public school in Salt Lake City then went for college to the University of Utah, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Political Sciences and Business Administration. While in college, he continued his involvement with the church, but also became interested in politics, standing on the conservative side, helping Republican campaigns and supporting conservative candidates locally and state-wide.
“I am a conservative in beliefs,” he says, “and one with traditional values.”
Right after college, Bludworth decided to take two years off and joined one of the missions of his church, in North Carolina.
“Our church has 400 missions throughout the world,” he states. “Their purpose is to spread the word and faith of our religion, proselytize, convert and recruit others to it.”
In fact the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages its young members, men and women, ideally ages 18 to 20 but no older than 25, to devote two years of their life as missionaries, working side by side along another mission companion, to teach others about their religion. At the same time they would provide charitable services, where they are, to help individuals and organizations whenever needed.
“These are two very tough years,” says Bludworth, “but also transformational. You learn to live in a different unfamiliar context, with companions you did not choose, who sometimes do not speak your language. You learn to accept and love them and rely on them in your day to day work. You learn also to deal with rejection and hurt feelings…”
During these missions, the two companion missionaries try to meet people on the street, through friends or on social media, to introduce them to their religion. They may be rebuked or even insulted. They also live with very little money and few means, away from home and with very limited contact, allowed only two phone calls to their family a year, on Christmas and mother’s day, and no dating.
“This experience did me a lot of good,” says Bludworth. “It changed me, helped me grow and mature. My oldest son, 19 years old, is right now on such a mission in Guatemala and I like to think that he will be getting 20 years of life experience out of these two years. He is very happy despite his homesickness and all the encountered adversity.”
After he returned from his mission, Bludworth married his wife, now of twenty years, who had also returned from a similar mission, but in Scotland, and he pursued professionally a career in trade show business that he had started while in college. He worked for the same company for 15 years in Salt Lake City, then spent a year in Las Vegas before moving to Cincinnati where he bought his own company in the same field.
“I am President/CEO at Fern Exposition & Event Services,” says Bludworth. “We provide the infrastructure for shows and events of trade associations and we have 400 employees in offices throughout the USA.”
Because of his job Bludworth travels extensively both throughout the United States and world wide.
“My travels have opened my eyes,” he says. “I have been exposed to different people who live differently, many on the streets who are poor and homeless. I make a point to talk to them whenever I can, to learn about them, their situation, their experience, and to help them in any way I can. A couple of years ago I also started photographing them.”
Interested in photography for a long time, Bludworth started using it to document the individuals, mostly homeless, he would encounter during his trips, and to tell their stories. His conversations with them would bring visibility and recognition to them. And sharing their pictures and stories through social media, primarily Instagram and Facebook, would help draw others into their circumstances, open their eyes to their existence, and possibly encourage them to understand them and see them differently.
“In a recent comment on homelessness, our Church leadership stressed that its causes were multiple,” says Bludworth, “and that our response to those in need defines us as individuals and communities.”
And when asked what prompts him to do this, he is quick to answer that it is his faith and that, as a follower of Christ, he believes that everybody is a child of God and that, in a similar situation, “Christ wouldn’t just drive by.”
“We have an individual obligation to help those in need when we have the ability to do so, whatever the circumstances, and not only those who are like us,” he adds.
Juggling family, work and social life, Bludworth continues his committed involvement in the church, filling daily responsibilities such as meeting with families he has been assigned to, and helping other members whenever needed. He is an ordained priest and performs many of the temporal religious tasks. He serves also on the high council of the “stake” (diocese) of his church, visiting other congregations and addressing their needs, also helping organize, a couple of times a year, spiritual and educational conferences. In 2015, with leaders from Thomas More College, Hebrew Union College and other local religious and educational institutions, Bludworth, representing his church, helped found the Institute for Religious Liberty with the aim to celebrate and educate others about the constitutional privilege and right to freely worship and practice religion. The Institute, based at Thomas More College, organizes regularly academic symposia and lectures featuring internationally renowned speakers to address various issues that pertain to religious freedom. Bludworth is also one of the initiators of an ongoing dialogue between his church and the greater Cincinnati Jewish community in order to foster deeper understanding and exchange.
Outside the church, Bludworth continues his many charitable and humanitarian activities, often involving both his family and his business. He helps, for instance, cleaning after tornadoes, helps homeless individuals he encounters and lends a hand at homeless shelters, gives food distribution with his family, supports financially and provides services to various organizations, such as “Be Concerned” and “Isaiah’s House”… During the recent homeless crisis on 3rd street downtown Cincinnati, when he heard of a need for transportation to help relocate the homeless, Bludworth immediately offered the trucks and drivers of his company. The relocation however did not occur.
“If I can use the ability and resources of our company to help our community, and if it is the right thing to do, I would not hesitate,” he says. “I always try to involve others in the decision but in case of emergency, I use my prerogatives of CEO and make the decision myself.”
Last year, for instance, following the devastating hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas, the trucks of the company were used to drive collected goods from Cincinnati to the affected areas. And in Indianapolis, where there is a big tent city next to the Fern’s office, the company allows the tapping of its water and electricity to benefit the residents.
As for politics, Bludworth who once ran for chairman of the Utah Republican party and almost won, says he is now non partisan and anti party. He has been drifting away from the today Republican party disagreeing with its current leadership and with some of its values.
” I am still very much a conservative,” he states, “but regarding emigration, for instance, I would personally welcome bringing more people in our country as we are a rich country with a lot to offer; we can help many others improve their lives.” “Within security limits, of course,” he adds.
Thinking of the future, Bludworth has no specific aspirations except to help where he can. He would like to continue meeting and helping those in need, especially the homeless, learning about their story, photographing them, and sharing who they are and their humanity with others.
“This also affects me directly,” he says. “Every conversation with someone else changes me, expands me and adds a new human dimension to me.”
More important, however, for Bludworth, this will be living according to the principles of the Gospel and in the steps of Christ and His disciples.
“If I see someone struggling in the street and do not stop and help I would not be living my faith,” he concludes.
What is the Mormon Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), aka the Mormon Church, is a Christian church which is neither Catholic nor Protestant. It does not embrace the creeds developed in the third and fourth centuries, now central to many Christian churches. It believes that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save all mankind from death and their individual sins, but it is non trinitarian considering Father and Son as two separate beings who, nevertheless, along with the Holy Spirit, are one in will, purpose and love. It is restorative, considered by its members to be the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is central to the lives of the Church members who seek to follow His example by being baptized, praying His holy name, partaking of the sacrament of Eucharist, doing good to others and bearing witness of Him through both word and deed. LDS Church maintains that without the sacraments of the church, salvation is impossible, but also that the Church is universal and timeless, simultaneously open to anyone, living or dead. It also stresses community as an element of salvation, members establishing a web of eternal relations with other human beings and with God. LDS Church was started by Joseph Smith in Western New York in the 1820s. It takes its original name from the Book of Mormon, a religious text that Smith published, and which he said he translated from "golden plates," with divine assistance, after the angel Moroni appeared to him. The Book contains writings of ancient prophets and gives an account of God’s dealings with the peoples on the American continent. For LDS Church the Book of Mormon stands alongside the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as holy scripture. After Smith was killed in 1844, most Mormons followed Brigham Young, his successor, to the area that became the Utah Territory, and changed their name to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Joseph Smith, founder of LDS Church, wrote, “The fundamental principles of our religion are … concerning Jesus Christ that He died, was buried, rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” LDS Church believes unequivocally that:
Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of the loving Heavenly Father
Christ’s Atonement allows mankind to be saved from their sins and return to live with God and their families forever.
Christ’s original Church, founded on "one faith,” as described in the New Testament, had been gradually undermined after the death of Christ’s apostles, that it needed to be restored, and that LDS Church is its restoration in modern times.
Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.
It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.