For more than a century the restored gospel has been taught in continental Europe. During that period many successes, disappointments, challenges, and events of great consequence have been faced by the Saints there—not the least of which were the two world wars of the twentieth century.
How does the Church fare today in these lands? What is the attitude and tenor of present-day Saints in Europe where, despite our long history among them, the Church continues to face new vistas?
To answer these and similar questions, the Ensign turned to Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve, who, over many years, has frequently visited the Saints throughout Europe.
—Jay M. Todd, Managing Editor
ENSIGN: Elder Hinckley, would you please describe the Church’s involvement in Europe.
ELDER HINCKLEY: The Church has been actively engaged in Europe since shortly following the opening of the work in the British Isles in 1837. We had a small branch in Germany as early as 1843, which was four years before the Saints came to the Salt Lake Valley. So our roots go back a long time in Europe, almost to the beginnings of the Church. In the century or more since then, thousands have been gathered out of the nations of Europe and have come to the United States.
However, in more recent years the Church has endeavored to take the full programs of the Church to Europe and has encouraged the Saints to remain there and build up Zion in their native lands. The establishment of the temple in Switzerland did much to stabilize the work in Europe. The Saints now have available to them most, if not all, of the facilities for Church activity that they would find anywhere in the world.
Missionary work over the many decades has gone up and down as far as productivity goes. But that is to be expected. This is something that happens almost everywhere. For example, there were times when Germany seemed more fruitful than it appears today. But we do not always know the facts when we say such things. We are prone to look to the past as a great time of harvest and to judge the present as a time of gleaning, and that is not necessarily true. The German-language missions produce many converts yearly. Among them are men and women with great ability, capacity, faith, and enthusiasm for the work. Furthermore, a large percentage of them come in as families.
It is my judgment that the work today is on a more stable basis in Europe than it has ever been. We have stakes of Zion. We have strong missions. We have capable local leaders. We have Regional Representatives of the Council of the Twelve from those nations. We have mission presidents coming out of those lands, and missionaries who are working among their own people as well as going to other lands to serve. There is stability in the work in Europe such as I think we have never before had. This is most encouraging.
I think it would be of great satisfaction if those who pioneered the work on the continent were to see the work today. They would know that a miracle has happened. Where once these good men labored valiantly to gain only a listening ear, there are now six thriving missions in the German-language nations, and flourishing stakes in Zurich, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Berlin, Frankfurt, Switzerland, and Holland. Something marvelous has surely come to pass.
ENSIGN: How did the Church fare through the two world wars?
ELDER HINCKLEY: Of course, the two great world wars in Europe were catastrophic. The effect upon the people was terrible. The Church was fortunate in having men and women of faith in the nations concerned who held together the gains that had been made up to that time. Too much good cannot be said for their tremendous faithfulness. Prior to both world wars there was much emigration of converts. But following the Second World War, and more particularly since the construction of the Swiss Temple, there has come the establishment of a solid footing on which the people now stand.
Now the European Saints can obtain in Europe that for which they once journeyed to Zion. They have the advantages of seminary and institute programs for their young people. They begin the new courses of study each year at the same time Saints elsewhere do. They have Regional Representatives among them, some of their own people. They hold family home evening with the same degree of faithfulness that others do. With stake conferences, they have regular attendance of General Authorities on the same basis of frequency as do others. And they have all of the advantages of that other great segment of church responsibility: temple work, and the associated work in behalf of the dead.
So there is nothing that we have here in the way of Church programs that they do not have there. And now with Europe prospering as it is, the Saints generally are happy in their lands, and they are doing the Lord’s work in building up his church.
ENSIGN: What is the stature today of the Church among non-Mormons in Europe? How are we viewed?
ELDER HINCKLEY: The Church does not have the good image that it deserves. This comes from two or three factors. First, we do not have a large membership to create that image. The more members we have in a given area, the better we are known. Second, our building program, while it is highly significant, is not as widespread as it is in North America, because we do not have the membership that we have in North America. Our presence, therefore, is not so obvious, and, accordingly, we have not had the good press that we have enjoyed in North America. But this is beginning to change as we become better known.
Let me return again to the Swiss Temple dedication in 1955. The Tabernacle Choir made a significant tour of Europe at that time. Not only was the Church seen as a great institution fostering the cultural influences of life, but our membership took a new pride in the Church and some of the things it does. The truth is that we are now getting more factual treatment by the press, and I think this will increase. As a side-light, the conference in Munich will focus attention on the Church in Europe. While there is so much yet to be done, we have every reason to be encouraged.
ENSIGN: What are the major challenges facing the Saints in Europe as they build up the Church there?
ELDER HINCKLEY: The Saints in Europe face many of the same problems as do Saints everywhere, including the United States. But the Europeans face these challenges with some additional handicaps. The Church is not so well known, and the youth feel a little more lonely than they do where there are substantial numbers. As with most of the world, including the United States, the moral climate of Europe generally is not good. Temptations are everywhere present. But be it said to the honor of our young Latter-day Saints in Europe that they have demonstrated their strength and capacity to stand up to temptations, to be true to the faith, to keep themselves morally clean. I think our youth are growing tremendously, constantly. It is such a heartening thing to see these great young people, students who are thrown into a climate that would be destructive of faith and morality, stand up and hold their own, assert themselves, and go forth living the gospel.
Another difficulty lies in the fact that in some areas communication between scattered members is not easy. For instance, telephones are not common. Automobiles are not so generally owned in many areas, and people must travel long distances to meetings by bus or train. This makes participation for many somewhat more difficult. But again, be it said to the great credit and honor of our faithful people that they hold their heads up and carry forward the programs in a marvelous way. The Lord is blessing them and they know it.
ENSIGN: What are our expectations for the future?
ELDER HINCKLEY: I feel there are great expectations. We have every reason to feel encouraged. It will not be easy. It never has been, but the work will go forward. I look for the time when the missions and stakes of Europe will produce most of the missionaries needed in those countries. I think that day is coming. I look for an increase in the number of stakes—a steady increase as districts become strong and local leadership is developed. I look for a generation of leadership coming out of today’s youth who will be educated, refined, holding positions of responsibility in business and commerce, education, government, and the professions and who will be a great credit to the Church as well as to the vocations in which they serve. This will not happen in a day. But the seeds are planted and many of them have taken root. You will see a blossoming, more and more, of the Church in Europe.
Truth meets the same responsive chords in the hearts of people everywhere, regardless of national or ethnic background. People respond in the same way to the same message. For instance, people everywhere respond to our emphasis on the family. They inherently recognize that the family is a divine institution. This one single truth, for example, touches a responsive chord in the hearts of people regardless of where that message is taken.
I have every confidence that the Church will grow and become ever stronger on the substantial and solid base already established, particularly that of strong local leadership. This is a world church with a world mission. We have an obligation to establish leaders wherever we go who will direct the affairs of the Church in their respective lands. To me it is a most heartening thing to see the remarkable leadership that we have in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, France, and now developing in Spain and Italy.
It was my privilege to attend a youth conference in Italy last summer in company with President Lee. It was a most heartening experience to meet with these young people who were gathered from many areas, to hear their testimonies, to feel the strength of their convictions, and to see them in substantial numbers, as the future leaders of the work in Italy. The year prior to that, I attended a similar youth conference in Switzerland, where the German-speaking youth gathered. It was a tremendous experience to see these young people who will be the leaders of the future, who today are solid in their faith, strong in their testimonies, convinced in their hearts that this is the Lord’s work and the way of life that they should follow. It was a joy to observe their attitudes, the goodness of their lives, and their desire to seek education and increase their capacity to occupy positions of trust and importance in the Church and in the secular world of the future.
Now I have just returned from a great youth conference in South Africa. While that is not Europe, it afforded the same kind of experience. To see and hear hundreds of bright, clean-cut young Latter-day Saints was an inspiration. They are educated. They are refined. They are clean. They are articulate in speaking of the things of the Lord, as are their young brethren and sisters in Europe.
We have every reason to be optimistic about the future of the work in Europe. And this great forthcoming conference to be convened in Munich, I am satisfied, will mark a tremendous milestone. The thousands who will gather there will leave with a firmer resolution to be faithful and true and to share with others the light of the gospel.
More and more of our people are saying, here is where we and our children and our children’s children will build our Zion and strengthen the cause of the Lord and be a party to sharing the gospel with legions of others who, through our efforts, our sacrifices, and our enthusiasm, will come to know the sweetness of the restored gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the great story of the Church in Europe today. I never fail to be moved as I contemplate it and the Lord’s goodness to all of his children everywhere as they mold their lives after his pattern.