What happens to the Lord’s work on a battleground that has for hundreds of years fielded two highly principled but opposing religious alliances, both of which are Christian? How much spiritual progress can be expected during the agony of Northern Ireland’s raging hostilities?
Clyde J. Summerhays, president of the Ireland Mission, commenting recently on the upheaval in Ulster and how it has affected Latter-day Saints there, said that “the missionary work has continued to go forward in a way that would make you wonder if there were any trouble at all. When the elders sense the presence of danger in troubled areas, they stay away from it. The elders are strong, courageous, wonderful representatives of the Lord.”
President Summerhays said that many people have a feeling of security when the missionaries are in their homes. It is reported that some homes may have been spared from arson attempts because Mormon elders were in them.
Transportation is a serious problem in Belfast. Bus service is sporadic, the vehicles are subject to hijacking, the system itself is often close to a complete shutdown. Many members brave the barricades and make their way across the city on foot to attend their meetings. As a result, attendance at Church functions is holding up, despite the dangers in the streets. There are times when the crackle of gunfire and the blasting of bombs are so severe that the mission presidency has considered canceling some of the meetings, but after fasting and praying about the matter, they have concluded that the Lord wants his work to go forward regardless of the dangers. Even baptismal services continue to be conducted every week in three of the chapels, and in others when necessary.
“We have some of the most heartwarming and spiritual meetings because of the loyalty and the faithfulness of the Irish Saints,” reported President Summerhays.
“Ireland is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he added. “It is beautiful to look at, beautiful to be in. It brings joy and happiness to everyone who sees it as it really is. There are some people, however, who become despondent as the upheaval continues, and they begin to wonder if Ireland offers much of an opportunity for them and for their children. Some have left Ireland and its beauties, its grandeur, and its friendliness, hoping to find these things in far-off Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, or elsewhere. Many are already coming back; in time more will return.”
Dermot Sheils, first counselor in the mission presidency, credits a great deal of the missionaries’ success to their following the principles of the Articles of Faith, particularly the 11th and 12th, which state: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, and what they may,” and “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
“These have been great guidelines for all the Saints,” said Brother Sheils. “With few exceptions, the Church members here are converts. The old tradition of judging a person solely on his religious beliefs is becoming a thing of the past as the members grow in the gospel.
“Latter-day Saints here are as much involved as the rest of the community in traffic snarls, searches, and restrictions imposed by the government to protect citizens against terrorist activities.”
While the policy of the mission presidency is to encourage the branches and districts to hold all their meetings on schedule, the community in general expresses the same determination by displaying the words “Business as Usual” on the plywood or cardboard that replaces broken shop windows.
“With the understanding that we are going about the Lord’s work, we can expect and do receive his protection,” said Brother Sheils. “This attitude has brought success in strengthening the Saints and building membership.”
“The Church is benefiting from the situation in many ways,” reports Andrew Renfrew, president of Ulster District 1. “People who are disillusioned with their present church affiliation because of its teachings are turning to our church, seeking the truth and finding it. Members of the Church are more respected now than ever because they hold the unusual position of being in neither camp and are therefore readily approachable from both sides for help and advice.
“To live in Belfast at the present time and to have the attention of the world focused upon them affects people in different ways,” added President Renfrew. “Some people revel in the limelight, while others are somewhat embarrassed at having their local problems flashed all over the world. The people of Belfast would rather live in peace, of course, and go about their normal activities without danger or trouble, but the situation exists and they must face it and do all they can to obviate conditions.
“Great credit must be given to the businessmen, office girls, and shop assistants who keep the heart of Belfast pulsating each day by showing up at work despite the possibility that their building might be selected as a bombing target. It is this unquenchable spirit that will eventually bring Belfast and all of Northern Ireland through these troubled times.
“In general, the members of the Church are of one accord, trying to keep going regardless of the problems facing them each day. They know that the work of the Lord must go forward, even more so now that the adversary has stepped up his action. The feeling among Church members and their leaders here is that if they have faith in the Lord and keep his commandments and take all possible precautions, they will be blessed in their activities that they might in time have peace.”