The Saints around the World: Strong Saints in Scotland


When Henry McGibbon and his wife attended their first Latter-day Saint meeting in the 1950s, they were shocked.

Not because they had to walk one and one-half miles across rough ground to catch a tram from their home in Barlanark, Scotland, to the meeting place in Airdrie, a considerable distance away. They had accepted that. But, once there, they found the meeting in a goods station terminal at an old railway hall. They were not prepared for such an unusual setting: missionaries had told them of Church buildings in the United States, and Mrs. McGibbon regularly attended a church that met in a conventional chapel.

Henry, however, was not deterred. “It looks as though they need all the help they can get if they are going to build the Church strong in Scotland,” he remarked. They were baptized in 1956, joining thousands of others who, since 1839, have faced opposition and helped the Church grow.

Scotland has long been a fruitful ground for missionary work. However, in the early days of the Church, emigration, persecution, and economic difficulties spurred thousands of Saints to leave their homeland and emigrate to the United States. Those who remained—and their descendents—have seen the Church grow and flourish.

It is clear from Church history that the Saints in Scotland have weathered opposition, some of it still evident today in pockets of ill will.

More than one branch, unable to obtain use of public facilities for meetings and baptisms, has solved the problem by meeting in a rented house and performing baptisms in the sea.

The Church has recently grown rapidly at Elgin and at Inverness in northern Scotland, opening two new chapels. Despite—perhaps because of—some local agitation, many people there are listening to the missionaries just to find out what we really do believe.

Richard Van Hagen is one of those. Driving through the mountains, he was listening to a favorite radio program when interference caused him to switch to another station. That station was broadcasting a program about the Mormon pioneers. As he listened, he concluded that the pioneers were to be admired. A short time later he saw a television program that presented the Church in an unfavorable light. He didn’t think the program was well done, and his sympathies were with the Church.

When two missionaries knocked on his door a few nights later, he was sufficiently interested to listen to their message. Both he and his wife listened to the discussions, at first with no intentions of joining the Church. However, as his wife began to accept the gospel, Richard had a strong desire to find out if it was true. He climbed Corstorphine Hill, a favorite scenic spot in Edinburgh, and prayed vocally on three or four occasions. He received a sure witness of the gospel’s truthfulness, and he and his wife were baptized.

Many recent converts have listened to missionary discussions, and then for several years have pondered and compared religions before committing themselves to the Church.

We cannot generalize, though. John Grant of Galashiels was baptized only four days after meeting the missionaries. He was ill in bed when the elders called on him sixteen years ago, and after a brief discussion they left him the Book of Mormon to read. He did this immediately, as he had nothing else to do. He soon knew the book was true, and he believed the testimony of Joseph Smith. He knew nothing else about the Church, but on the strength of that testimony he decided to be baptized. Now he is a counselor in the mission presidency.

The restored gospel of Jesus Christ first reached Glasgow in December 1839, when Elders Samuel Mulliner and Alexander Wright arrived. Appropriately, both had been born in Scotland. Both independently emigrated to Canada, joined the Church, and then made their ways to Missouri and Ohio to join the Saints. They eventually met and were called to serve missions in their native land.

They began their preaching in Bishopton, a village near Paisley, on 10 January 1840. Four days later, Alexander Hay and his wife, Jessie, were baptized in the River Clyde. As interest in the gospel grew, so did opposition. For a while the elders taught in the area, holding meetings in a rented hall in Paisley, but they were finally forced to leave the area amid a shower of stones, rubbish, and abuse. But they recorded feeling an inward peace and joy in the knowledge of duty well performed.

When Elder Orson Pratt arrived in Scotland in early 1840, he found eighty members of the Church. On 8 May 1840, he organized at Paisley the first branch of the Church in Scotland. A few days later he traveled with Elder Mulliner to Edinburgh, the capital. On the day after his arrival there, he climbed a rugged, rocky hill that rises in the middle of a natural park, commanding a magnificent view of the ancient city. Locally it was called Arthur’s Seat, but it is affectionately known by the Saints as Pratt’s Hill. There Orson Pratt pleaded with the Lord to give him two hundred souls to convert. The Lord heard and answered that prayer.

By 1853 there were 3,291 members of the Church in Scotland. In those days—and until about 1950—emigration was encouraged. Thus many well-known, well-loved men in the Church have their origins in Scotland. Charles W. Nibley came from Hunterfield, where his father, a coal miner, was branch president. He later became presiding bishop of the Church and, in 1925, second counselor in the First Presidency.

Richard Ballantyne, who started the Church’s first Sunday School in the Rocky Mountains in 1849, was born just outside Galashiels.

President David O. McKay was proud of his Scottish ancestry. His grandparents, William and Ellen McKay, lived in a two-room croft (cottage) in the far north of Scotland, at Janetstown, just outside Thurso. The missionaries who found them surely must have been inspired and guided by the Lord, since the home is so remote that even today it is difficult to find.

The croft still stands, built solidly of stone, although the roof and windows have gone. No one has lived there for thirty-five years, but it is still referred to locally as the “Mormon croft.”

As a young man, David O. McKay served a mission in Scotland. Among the many stories told by him of that time, the best known is probably of the stone that now stands in the Church Office Building. President McKay first saw the stone on an unfinished building in Stirling. Carved in the stone was the motto: “Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.” President McKay said: “That afternoon, by the time we found our lodgings, I accepted the message given to me on that stone, and from that moment we tried to do our part as missionaries in Scotland. And so, I give you that message, youth of the Church, ‘Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.’” (“My Young Friends …”: President McKay Speaks to Youth, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973, p. 39.)

Church leaders have had a significant impact on the growth of the Church in Scotland. Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve served as mission president there, and Elder Bernard P. Brockbank of the First Quorum of the Seventy was the mission president when the Scottish Mission was formed in 1962. He was instrumental in acquiring many valuable sites on which new chapels have been erected. Derek A. Cuthbert, also a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, received his call while serving as president of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission.

The history of missionary work in Scotland reflects this growth. Scotland was a district in the British Mission until 1960, when it became part of the North British Mission as the British Mission was divided. In 1961 the Scottish-Irish Mission was created, and then the Scottish Mission and the North Scottish Mission. The Glasgow Stake was formed in 1962—the first in Scotland. The two missions were combined again in 1965, and a second stake was organized in Dundee in 1975.

Because of political troubles in Northern Ireland, the mission was again divided in 1976. The boundaries of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission stretch from the Shetland Islands on the north to the English border on the south. The Scotland Glasgow Mission covers the Glasgow Stake, the Kilmarnock District, and Northern Ireland.

The two missions are headquartered in very different cities. Glasgow’s tall office buildings, busy city blocks and motor ways, and one-way street systems testify that it is the industrial center of Scotland. Like other modern cities Glasgow wrestles with its share of problems: a current slump in the ship-building industry has resulted in considerable unemployment.

Edinburgh, unlike Glasgow, is an ancient, royal city, its traffic still using many of the original cobbled streets. Edinburgh castle stands high on a rock overlooking famed Princes Street, a busy shopping attraction for the thousands of tourists who throng there yearly.

Scotland’s rural landscapes are magnificent, too, varying from high rugged mountains, often capped with snow, in the north, to gently rolling green hills and neatly kept farms in the south. Rich forests, sparkling lochs, sandy beaches, and miles of peaceful, unspoiled countryside grace the land.

A long-haired breed of highland cattle bred in Scotland can withstand the fierce winter winds. Other specialties are the Shetland pony and sheep. Many buildings are of stone, built solidly to keep out the winter chill and the summer warmth.

Scots are noted for their endurance and determination—traits that have helped the Church grow stronger. One sign of the progress in Scotland is the members’ involvement in Church programs. All the auxiliaries operate, and seminary and institute programs were recently introduced. Students study mostly at home and meet with teachers weekly.

Bruce Flinn, Scotland area director of seminaries and institutes, says that 248 students are enrolled in seminary, and 235 participate in the institute of religion. Because of travel difficulty, students meet in the evenings, after school or work. Brother Flinn holds a morning class in his home ward at East Kilbridge for seven seminary students who attend the same school.

For him, a sign of growth is the number of youth participating. “When I was a boy, there were only my brothers to have activity with,” he says. “But my children have friends who are members of the Church, and there are plenty of group activities for them.”

A genealogy seminar was recently conducted in Edinburgh by James (Jimmy) Thompson, a high councilor in the Dundee Stake. David Burns, an avid genealogist who also conducted a session at the seminar, has watched the progress of the Church in Edinburgh. He was serving as branch president in 1969 when he captained the Scottish soccer team in the Church All-British Finals. The team went on to win the Mark E. Petersen Cup.

Of the five hundred small islands scattered off the coast of Scotland, about one hundred are inhabited. London-born convert Margaret Hamblin settled on the isle of Shapinsay in the Orkneys seven years ago to be near her daughter’s family. When they left, she realized that the peace and beauty of the islands held her; she decided to remain. Sister Hamblin held her own private Sunday School, singing hymns and reading the scriptures by herself. Eventually missionaries arrived in Kirkwall to establish the Church. Now Sister Hamblin travels by boat on Saturdays, staying overnight with another member so that she can attend Sunday meetings. She is Relief Society president and Sunday School teacher.

Another thriving island branch is in the Shetlands, where two members were residing when the missionaries went there in October 1976. Now the branch has twenty-five members. They hold Relief Society and Primary, have started a building fund, and encourage each other in welfare storage.

At one time men holding the priesthood were so scarce in Scotland that some young men were encouraged not to go on missions. Instead, they were asked to accept leadership positions. James Irving, one such young man, was ordained a high priest at the age of twenty-one. He has been branch president of a new unit, and is now a counselor in the Edinburgh Ward bishopric. He is anticipating the day when his two sons, now young, will have the privilege of serving missions. Brother Irving was very young when his parents, Robert and Georgina Irving, joined the Church in 1956. At that time, the whole Scottish membership used to travel to Glasgow for district conference. Now Scotland has two stakes, five districts, and two missions, comprised of fifty wards and branches and fifteen dependent Sunday Schools. Church membership totals more than 9,400.

Young men are encouraged to serve missions nowdays. Missionaries from Scotland are serving in such places as New Zealand, Canada, and the British Isles. Some, such as Elder Thomas Easton, serve in Scotland. Elder Easton has served at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. His parents, Thomas and Helen Easton, joined the Church in 1957 and have been pioneers. When they joined, the Church only owned one building—Claremont Terrace in Glasgow, which is still in use today. Since musical ability and talent were lacking among the membership, Sister Easton insisted that her daughters learn to play the piano. This foresight has greatly benefitted the Saints ever since. Now Glasgow and Dundee Stakes have good choirs.

James Eakins, district president of the Kilmarnock District, and his wife, Christina, supported two sons on missions in England at the same time. Both parents worked during the days, and President Eakins played in a band in the evenings to earn extra money.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) McKenzie of Dundee, whose grandfather, James Campbell, and mother, Margaret Campbell, were baptized in 1873, recalls the hard times her mother endured because she was a Mormon. The missionaries who taught her mother had to leave the area because of the persecution, and the little family was left on its own. But they were faithful. Lizzie’s mother died in 1926, having requested that Lizzie write to the Church leaders at Glasgow to ask the elders to attend her funeral. This they did, but there was no organized unit of the Church in Dundee for ten more years.

When the missionaries did return, there were four McKenzie children to baptize. The missionaries held meetings in Sister McKenzie’s home until they could rent a hall. When World War II broke out, the missionaries were recalled, and the meetings dwindled. In 1946, Sister McKenzie’s husband died, and she prayed for the Lord to send missionaries. Some time later, her prayer was answered when she saw two young men walking along the road. She went over to them and asked if they were looking for a McKenzie. Surprised, they replied, “How did you know?”

They met in her house with her family until there were enough members to rent a hall. At the formation of the Dundee Scotland Stake in November 1975, with tears in her eyes she said: “I was at the groundbreaking of the chapel at Bingham Terrace, Dundee. I always wished to see the chapel full. My dreams and prayers have been answered this day. The Lord blessed me. My grandson, Joseph Leece, his wife, Lyn, and their four children are my blessings, as they are the fifth and sixth generation in the Church. I was with them as they were married in the London Temple. I am also sealed to my husband. What more could I wish for?”

The wishes and prayers of many Scottish Saints are becoming realities. In this sturdy land of strong and gallant people, the McKay family’s “Mormon croft” is more than a landmark. It is an unmarked monument to the faith and perseverance of Saints who, like the stone homes that dot the countryside, stand firm amidst trial.

[photos] Photography by Daniel Bolz, Steven Baxter, Gary Mauger, and Michael Robertson

[photo] Of his first contact with the Church, William Black recalls, “The Book of Mormon seemed familiar to me, and I knew it was true.”

[photo] Members of the Kirkcaldy Ward, Dundee Scotland Stake, picnic in a lush, green setting typical of Scotland’s countryside.

[photo] Duncan McGibbon, seen here with his wife, May, is president of the newly formed Galashiels Scotland District. His father, Henry, is serving as Galashiels Branch president for the second time.

[photos] Top: A Primary chorus provides music for a well-attended Dundee Scotland Stake conference. Bottom: Edinburgh Ward Relief Society members display their knitting and needlework.

Muriel O. Cuthbert, mother of ten children, is the wife of Elder Derek A. Cuthbert of the First Quorum of the Seventy.