175th Anniversary Concert in Preston
Contributed By Paul Oliver
“Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matthew 7:7).
Following the wettest April to June since records began, with thunder storms forecast, weather forecasters telling us to prepare for a month’s rain in 24 hours, and news bulletins of floods across the country, 7th July arrived with clouds set in a bright blue sky. So, who had been asking? Probably, the organisers of the 175th Anniversary celebration concert in Avenham Park, Preston, possibly the 3242 people who had requested tickets!
Civic leaders and dignitaries, area seventies, members of the Church and their friends gathered for a celebration concert on the site of the first baptisms outside North America, where, in 1837, at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, George D Watt won the race into the waters of the River Ribble to be baptised by Elder Heber C Kimball.
A choir of 200 from the stakes in North-West England and Huddersfield, under the direction of John Saunders, presented a programme of unusual arrangements that inspired and entertained. Solos from Emma Kerr and James Loynes with readings by Rebecca Wilde (Mary Fielding Smith), Christian Lucas (Heber C Kimball) and President Walker, Preston MTC were included. President Walker is the son-in-law of Gordon B Hinckley; he read a passage that was written by President Hinckley as he recalled his assignment to serve in Preston where Heber C Kimball and his fellow missionaries laboured.
“...I have never forgotten that love and respect and appreciation for the people of Britain. In the providence of the Lord, I, like Heber C Kimball and his associates, 96 years earlier, was sent to Preston. That was my first assignment and my first field of labour. I became as familiar with the places they knew and the streets they walked as they had been nearly a century earlier. My companion and I walked up and down the same roads where they had seen the banner, “Truth Will Prevail”...I raised my voice and preached the same gospel as those first missionaries had preached.”
Even a short spell of rain could not dampen the spirits of all present as we sang with exultation the patriotic words of the hymn, ‘Jerusalem’.
Concluding the presentation Elder Stephen C Kerr, Area Seventy, spoke with clarity and precision. Nobody was left in any doubt as to the beliefs and teachings of the Church as he declared, with boldness, the circumstances surrounding the arrival of the first missionaries and the faith and miracles that accompanied their work. He ‘lifted his voice like a trumpet’ (see Isaiah 58:1) as he testified of the First Vision and calling of Joseph Smith.
He concluded, “I testify to you today of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of which we are not ashamed. We testify that Jesus is the Christ. We don’t say to any of our brothers and sisters who join us today who are not members of our Church that we are in some way better than or more holy than you. We don’t say anything other than this. We have found something that goes so well with what you already have. It adds colour, and detail, and purpose, and majesty to our lives...We testify to the world that our best and only hope is to follow Jesus of Nazareth. To take upon ourselves the cross, that he has invited us to take, and to be like Him, to live our lives, to do good, to be serviceable, to add value to the lives of others through generosity and love and kindness.”
The Vicar of Preston, Timothy Lipscomb, commented, “It was a very welcoming opportunity this afternoon. I feel it was a very warm atmosphere despite the weather. It didn’t actually harm the beautiful music and the warm feelings of the prayers and thoughts. I was very grateful to be here and glad to be part of this community.”
The Worshipful, Brenda Warrington, Mayor of Tameside, said, “Coming here today we really did not know what to expect. Having met so many lovely people and having sat through an absolutely brilliant concert, I think it’s been a tremendous day. It’s such an honour for me to have represented Tameside here at the 175th anniversary of the first baptisms on the banks of the River Ribble in Preston. I’m really delighted to have been here and been part of your celebrations.”
“It was a wonderful evening. It’s one that I’ll remember for a long time to come. To be able to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Church coming to the British Isles is a tremendous thing. I can’t think of a better place to do it than in Avenham Park where the first baptisms took place. Everybody had a great time. It was tremendous to be able to welcome the Mayor of Tameside and other civic leaders to come and join in these celebrations. She and others have pointed out what a spiritual and memorable occasion it was. It was wonderful, and thanks to everyone that took the time to organise it!” David Rutley, Member of Parliament for Macclesfield.