“Unprecedented” Visit to England Opened Doors for the Church, Elder Holland Says

Contributed By Tad Walch, Deseret News staff writer

  • 28 November 2018

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shows British Prime Minister Theresa May a bound copy of her family history records, including photographs of census and marriage records, as David Rutley, a member of Parliament, and Yvonne Kerr, wife of Stephen Kerr, a member of Parliament, look on at the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, November 21, 2018. Photo by Tad Walch, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The Church’s image is improving in the United Kingdom.
  • Service is the vital lifeblood of human connection.

LONDON, ENGLAND

In a first for the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 21 during a groundbreaking weeklong trip to Great Britain.

Elder Holland also spoke alongside a former Archbishop of Canterbury on a panel blessed by the head of the Catholic Church in England, gave a lecture to theology students in a 1,000-year-old church at the University of Oxford, participated in a public interfaith conversation with a reverend of the Church of England, and more.

“It was a wonderful trip,” Elder Holland said. “I think for the combination of the experiences, it would be as important a trip as any apostolic visit I know of to the United Kingdom. In a single visit, the significance of that is, I think, without precedence in our apostolic ministry.”

Elder Holland visited May in her office and gave her bound copies of her family history as well as a wall-hanging of her family tree and a gift copy of the Book of Mormon. The prime minister sandwiched the appointment between a contentious appearance in the House of Commons attended by Elder Holland and a flight to Brussels to meet with European Union leaders as she negotiated highly controversial terms for Brexit, the proposed British exit from the EU in March.

He said she was gracious on a day filled with genuine international tension.

“I said, ‘Given the kind of day that you had and the week that you are having, this is meant to be a kind of a respite,’“ Elder Holland said. “And she said, ‘This is a true interlude. This is a happy moment.’”

May shared brief family stories as she thumbed through the two volumes of her family history—one each for her maternal and paternal lines.

“She seemed very taken by those and very touched,” Elder Holland said. “It is clearly a very personal gift.”

Elder Holland delivered a specially made copy of the Book of Mormon to the House of Commons Library, which had requested one. He deposited another to the House’s collection of sacred texts for use in swearing in new Latter-day Saint members of Parliament. He presented additional gift copies to the deputy speaker of the House of Commons and to the chaplain of the chapel in Westminster Hall.

“There are more copies of the Book of Mormon in Parliament now than ever in history,” he said. “We may not have flooded the earth, but we’ve flooded the royal palace.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland presents British Prime Minister Theresa May with a portrait of her family tree in her office at the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, November 21, 2018. Photo by Tad Walch, Deseret News.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks about the beliefs and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Clore Old Library at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin at the University of Oxford on Thursday, November 22, 2018.

The Palace of Westminster at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday, November 21, 2018. Photo by Tad Walch, Deseret News.

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided a signed inscription inside a gift copy of the Book of Mormon presented by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the British House of Commons at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

Elder Holland also conducted a question-and-answer session with more than a dozen members of Parliament, including two Latter-day Saint members of Parliament, Stephen Kerr and David Rutley.

The visit showed the Church’s image is improving in the United Kingdom, Elder Holland said: “As a young British missionary, I would have loved to get in any door in the country and never had the idea that they would open the doors of Parliament to me. For a former British missionary, it is very gratifying to see the image of the Church elevated in the eyes of the people, in the press, and in the people holding political office.”

On November 23, Elder Holland joined prestigious British political and religious leaders on the “Inspiring Service” panel at the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College. The other panelists were Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury and a member of the House of Lords; Lord David Alton, a Catholic member of the House of Lords; and the Rev. Frances Young, an ordained Methodist minister and emeritus professor of theology at the University of Birmingham.

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, sent a blessing for the event in which he called service “crucially important to the health of our society.”

The speakers shared lessons from their heroes of service and invited Christians to use service to confront an age of what Lord Alton termed “toxic loneliness.” They said service is the lifeblood of human connection and vital to Christianity, democracies, and communities. Elder Holland said that is true of families and marriages too.

Williams, who now is master of a college at Cambridge University, attacked as “toxic fiction” what he said is an increasingly popular notion that “there is some way of literally or metaphorically fencing off what is good for me so that it’s completely irrelevant to what’s good for you—‘I can keep myself safe, and your security and your well-being are of no interest to me.’”

Elder Holland said service is Christ’s royal law and was the Savior’s first and foremost duty prior to the Atonement and Resurrection. He called it a great honor to be instruments for inspired and inspiring service.

“We need God,” he said, “but He also needs us. It is an inspiring thought to think that not only humankind but divinity itself needs our heart and needs our helping hand. Surely that must be one way that we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”

He also provided an example from Christ’s life for those who would serve but feel overwhelmed by the immense needs of the world. He recalled how Judas Iscariot complained that Mary was wasteful when she anointed Christ’s head with expensive burial ointment. Christ told him, “She has done what she can.”

“She has done what she can,” Elder Holland repeated. “What a succinct formula.”

He provided Mother Teresa as an example of one who did what she could. When a journalist told her that statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing, she said her work was not about statistics but love.

“Faced with a staggering number beyond her reach,” Elder Holland said, “she could keep the commandment by serving those in her reach, with what resources she had.”

Between the visit with the Prime Minister and the panel on service, Elder Holland spoke November 22—Thanksgiving—to Oxford theology faculty and students at the storied University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. He outlined Latter-day Saint theology, then engaged for more about an hour in a rare interfaith question-and-answer session with the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal of the Church of England.

Elder Holland said Latter-day Saint doctrine is grounded in “what I consider straightforward Biblical theology” and used the Bible to explain how the Church is different from Christianity rooted in 4th- and 5th-century creeds. One difference is that the Church believes the scriptural canon is not closed, he said, describing the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of biblical prophesy (see Isaiah 29:11, 18–19).

“I, for one,” he said, “would feel to walk on hot lava and chew broken glass if I could find a document, any document anywhere, containing any new words of Christ—50 words, 20 words, one new word from the Son of God—let alone hundreds of pages that record the appearance, teachings, covenants, and counsel He gave to a heretofore unknown audience.”

Rev. Teal, a Pembroke theologian, asked questions exploring Latter-day Saint doctrine on the Trinity, the Fall, priesthood ordination, temples, baptism for the dead, and even dancing. Teal said his goal was to ask questions with integrity and intellectual honesty and conduct a dialogue free of defensiveness or tribalism. Elder Holland said he succeeded and praised his preparation.

The two men embraced after their conversation to delighted applause from the audience in a room that once was home to the first library of the oldest English-speaking university in the world.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal embrace after their public conversation about the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the University of Oxford’s University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Thursday, November 22, 2018.

Elder Holland said significant differences between the churches have in the past interrupted what could be “larger, warmer, wonderful conversation,” and Rev. Teal said each sees themselves more clearly when engaged with the other.

“There was a real sense of glowing and no falseness, no feigning at University Church,” Rev. Teal said. “My heart burnt within me. There was a real sense, ‘God is here.’”

Rev. Teal organized and conducted the panel on service. He also opened Pembroke College Chapel, where he serves as chaplain, to Elder Holland for the meeting with young married members. (See related story.)

With notable openness in the chapel's intimate setting, Elder Holland shared pain from his own life about his father's opposition to his mission, his bout with depression as a young husband, a relative who is unable to conceive, and the tears he has shed over unanswered prayers. He told the young married members that when they feel pain or doubt to keep walking in faith. “I know you will get to the meadowlands again.”

To those who asked about unanswered prayers, he said, “When you feel blocked or limited, maybe it is stretching,” he said, adding, “I have shed tears over prayers I did not think were getting very far, but with greater hindsight I could see that was a lesson in maturity and growth.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks as part of a distinguished panel of religious leaders discussing “Inspiring Service” in Pembroke College’s Pichette Hall at the University of Oxford on Friday, November 23, 2018. He also spoke at the college’s chapel to several scores of Latter-day Saint young married couples, answering their questions about their challenges and about the gospel.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shares a light moment with the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal during a public conversation on Latter-day Saint beliefs and doctrine at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin at the University of Oxford on Thursday, November 22, 2018.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, deputy speaker of the House of Commons, greets Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Patricia Holland at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

Elder Alan T. Phillips, an Area Seventy; David Rutley, a Conservative member of the British Parliament; Yvonne Kerr, wife of Stephen Kerr, member of Parliament; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; British Prime Minister Theresa May; Sister Patricia Holland; and Stephen Kerr, member of Parliament, pose together in the prime minister’s office after Elder Holland presented May with her family history at the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, November 21, 2018. Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided a signed inscription inside a gift copy of the Book of Mormon presented by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the British House of Commons at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents a leatherbound copy of the Book of Mormon to Philippa Helme, principal clerk of the Table Office of the House of Commons at the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, deputy speaker of the House of Commons, left, talks with Stephen Kerr, member of the British Parliament; Yvonne Kerr; Sister Patricia Holland; and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

Hannah Russell, head of Operations and Engagement at the British House of Commons, receives a Book of Mormon for the House of Commons Library from Sister Patricia Holland and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

The title page of the leatherbound copy of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s family history provided to her by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her office at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

Elder Holland enjoys a lighter moment during his visit to the House of Commons at the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles answers a question about the beliefs and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a public conversation with the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal, chaplain and lecturer in theology at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford, in the Clore Old Library at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Thursday, November 22, 2018.

Young married members of the Church visit after meeting with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the Pembroke College Chapel in Oxford, England, on Thursday, November 22, 2018. Photo by Tad Walch, Deseret News.

A painting in the Pembroke College Chapel in Oxford, England, on Thursday, November 22, 2018.
Photo by Tad Walch, Deseret News.

The altar at Pembroke College Chapel in Oxford, England, on Thursday, November 22, 2018.
Photo by Tad Walch, Deseret News.