Hyde Park Chapel Rededication Inspires Hearts
Contributed By Malcolm Adcock & Paul Fugal
The Hyde Park building, in the heart of London, will be a beacon of light, hope and truth for people from all over the world. That was the powerful message during rededication services for the British capital’s most prominent Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.
Elder Erich W Kopischke, President of the Europe Area, who presided at the meeting, said: “My hope is that...literally hundreds of thousands of people over the years will come into the building and that this building will have a kind of an attraction to the people to learn more.” His vision is “that we can create a spirit that will attract people here” so that “people will learn, as it says in the scriptures, about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and so this is going to be one way that the Gospel is going to be preached all over the world.”
Offering the dedicatory prayer, Elder Kopischke expressed “That the elect will be attracted to come here and receive Thy word, Thy hope, and Thy salvation...that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of this building will feel Thy power and feel constrained to acknowledge that Thou hast sanctified and accepted it.”
Alan T Phillips, President of the London Hyde Park Stake, addressed the congregation and referred to the events leading up to the historic rededication as “steps,” noting that they were not merely coincidence. “For me it is not a coincidence that this road is being pedestrianised... It is not a coincidence that the museums have opened up, that local government are literally forcing the 2 million visitors to come up above ground or, scripturally perhaps, ‘to arise’ and to walk this street, the very street whereby a site was acquired and a building was built whereby they pass it now.”
Congregations totalling nearly 1,000 participated in two sessions within the ‘landmark’ building, originally dedicated by President David O McKay in 1961 and later rededicated – after refurbishment – by President Gordon B Hinckley 34 years later.
Although more than 50 years have passed since the first dedication of the Hyde Park Chapel, President Phillips noted, “The message was the same as it was five decades ago: God the Father lives. His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind. His Gospel has been restored, in its fullness. In and through Him, all mankind may find ‘peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.’”
1st July marked the exact day, 175 years ago, that Heber C Kimball and others set sail to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in England. President Phillips wondered, “What was occurring in the hearts of these men at that time. There must have been some anxiety about leaving family and loved ones behind, but there must have been some excitement as well in anticipation of the mission upon which they had been sent and a fervour within them that truth will prevail.” He added, “Today we have over 14 million members, nearly 200,000 in this land, meeting in 332 congregations, two temples in this land, and 136 around the world with others in construction.”
The Hyde Park building houses a new, interactive visitors’ centre on the ground floor, including a display with personal stories from the I’m a Mormon campaign. The centre is located in one of the UK's most popular tourist areas, attracting over 11 million visitors a year.
Visitors to the Hyde Park Chapel, as well as passersby, are greeted with a new addition to the building –Thorvaldsen's Christus, the magnificent marble statue of Jesus Christ. This powerful depiction of the Saviour gives a welcoming feel to the newly-refurbished space and plays a pivotal role in inviting people into the new Visitors’ Centre.
Elder Kopischke, in his address to the congregation, spoke of changes made to the building. “The Hyde Park Chapel, as it is designed and situated today, has become more than a meeting place for the saints.” He said, “It is a beacon to the world for all of those that visit the beautiful city of London and as a fulfilling of prophecy, it is meeting the purposes of the Lord. The building is only part of it. What really will fill it with life is your and my determination to open our mouth and send the message of joy that we feel; we have to send it out to the world.”
Elder Arthur Brooks, the new director of the Visitors’ Centre, believes, “One day people will ask direction to the Science Museum and they will be told, ‘it’s right across from the Hyde Park Visitors’ Centre, because it will be so popular here.” He went on to say, “We’ve seen virtual miracles happen. When the promises are given, we not only listen to them but we believe them. When the Lord’s servant says something is going to happen, it will.”
The chapel was built on a site that had remained empty since being bombed in WW2. The Church bought the land for the Hyde Park building when not a single member lived within a seven-mile radius. In 1954, Clifton Kerr, President of the British Mission, received directions from President David O. McKay to find property for a chapel in the centre of London where “we can take anybody, regardless of their situation in life”.
Prominent British architect Sir Thomas P Bennett, CBE, was appointed to the project in April 1959. He had earlier been the consulting architect for the London Temple in Newchapel, Surrey completed in 1958.
More than half a century following its initial construction, the chapel is now centre for the London Hyde Park Stake, comprising seven congregations and 2,000 members from 115 different countries.
Hyde Park ward is the English-speaking family congregation, Britannia is a ward for young singles, and South Kensington Branch is the Portuguese speaking congregation. Between the three units, around 600 people attend Sunday meetings.
Since its establishment, the Hyde Park Chapel has played an important role in the lives of church members within the UK and abroad. It is widely regarded as one of the most well-known meetinghouses within the Latter-day Saint community, largely because of the diversity of members who flock to London from all over the world.
Elder Herbertson, Area Seventy, sees a promising future for the Church in London. “There are a growing number of members of the Church in London actively involved in government (national and local), the voluntary sector, entertainment and the arts. Using their time and talents in such a way is something that touches and blesses the lives of many.”