Dating from 1837, England’s Preston Ward is the oldest continuous unit in the Church.
Preston’s Proud Saints03116_000_016
On the coat of arms of Preston, England, appear a lamb and below it two Ps. Traditionally, the initials have stood for “Prince of Peace,” but today another interpretation has been added: “Proud Preston.” For Latter-day Saints in Preston, both interpretations apply.
The first members of the Church in Europe were baptized in 1837 in the River Ribble which flows through the town. Today, Preston Ward is the oldest continuous unit of the Church in the world—a proud heritage indeed.
In the market square stands an obelisk, restored to its nineteenth century splendor and unveiled in May 1979 by the Queen as part of the town’s octocentenary (eight-hundredth year) celebration. Heber C. Kimball had, from the steps of that obelisk, preached the restored gospel, beginning thousands of baptisms that sent a steady stream of converts to Ohio, Illinois, and later Utah.
Long part of the British Mission, Preston Ward came into being in June 1976, when President Spencer W. Kimball presided over formation of the Preston Stake. The ward boundaries took in members from Chorley and Leyland lying about ten miles away. In January 1979, Chorley was organized as a branch, presided over by Neil Colclough, a data processor who was a month short of having been a member for two years.
The summer before, Chorley and Preston had entered a float in the 1978 Chorley Town Festival Parade, themed Anglo-American relations. The Saints scoured the area for handcarts, borrowed enough to make a group, and made period costumes to wear as they sat on, walked alongside, or pulled their handcarts behind a large banner carried by “missionaries” in nineteenth-century top hats and tails. For nonmembers, the “float” was a refreshing change from the other mechanized entries and a historic reminder of the mass exodus of nineteenth-century Mormons from the Preston-Chorley area. For members, it was a symbolic way of saying that they were not leaving but that Chorley members were establishing a strong Church unit on their own.
In Preston Ward, nineteenth-century commitment has met twentieth century diversity to produce a strong and lively ward. Its priesthood quorums include a postman, a retired policeman, a teacher, a polytechnic lecturer, a builder, a painter and decorator, a foundary worker, a trade union official, and a number of salesmen. John Keith Bishop, archivist of the Lancashire County Council, was a member for three years before leaving for Strasbourg to be archivist for the Council of Europe. The priesthood quorums turn out unitedly to help remodel homes or plant gardens; single-parent families and single sisters get special support and attention. The elders quorum president, seventy-six-year-old Stanley Castle, provides energetic leadership and was only slowed down temporarily when he was knocked down and seriously injured by a car in December 1977.
Brotherhood had a special meaning when James Ponde, a black native of the West Indies, joined the Church in December 1977. Members throughout the entire stake wept with joy when the declaration granting the priesthood to all worthy male members was announced on 9 June 1978; but Preston Ward was particularly grateful. Within twenty-four hours, Brother Ponde was interviewed and ordained a priest. Later in the year he was ordained an elder and now serves as counselor in the elders quorum presidency and as seminary teacher.
Preston’s youth, under the direction of youth leaders Carole Clitheroe, Barry Carter, and Richard Gould, have thrown themselves energetically into numerous ward and stake socials, roadshows, and festivals. Their enthusiasm and vitality are infectious and the commitment they communicate has unobtrusively closed the generation gap. They are registered in the community with the voluntary agencies’ organization—the priesthood quorums are too—and regularly spade up gardens, decorate homes, and visit the old and sick.
Members also set missionary activity and missionary support as a high priority, and in August 1978 sent out Peter Trebilcock, the first missionary in a number of years. He is currently serving in the Bristol England Mission. Kevin Bentley and Timothy Ambrose followed him in 1979, and more young members are preparing to go. These three missionaries were, like their friends, eager students in seminary and institute classes, and all of them held responsible callings in the ward before receiving their mission calls.
The Preston Ward Relief Society is also very active. Spontaneous acts of love among sisters have become a way of life. As just one example, during the harsh winter months of early 1979, one of the sisters living alone had a bad fall and broke her kneecap. When it was time for her to be released from the hospital, another sister convinced her that she should stay with her rather than return to a cold, empty house. The second sister nursed her until she was able to walk again.
Three months later, the second sister herself became ill and had to have an operation. When she returned home the Sister who had broken her kneecap, still walking with the aid of a cane, helped take care of her.
Through both experiences, many of the women in the Relief Society assisted these two sisters, helping to care for their needs.
Year by year, the Mutual ranks are swelled by graduates of a large Primary, some of them third-generation Mormons. Under the direction of President Alice Hughes, and thanks to the effort and sacrifice required to transport the children to the chapel, Preston Ward has the highest Primary attendance in Preston Stake. The children are thoroughly involved in roadshows and musical performances at ward meetings and socials.
Music is an important part of Preston Ward, and members are proud that William Clayton, the composer of “Come, Come Ye Saints,” was born in Penwortham, a suburb of Preston. The Saints’ love of music was strong enough to motivate the sacrifice necessary to purchase a fine organ for the chapel. A four-part mixed choir sings frequently in ward meetings, supplemented by groups drawn from the Relief Society, priesthood, Primary, and Mutual. Young people are deeply involved in this aspect of ward life. Before his mission, Timothy Ambrose was the ward organist, and Lynn Harrison, another teenager, was the chorister. After May 1979, they were replaced by eighteen-year-old Marcel Brathwaite and twenty-year-old Elaine Dilley. The ward has many fine instrumentalists who perform at the frequent ward socials and at informal gatherings as well.
The ten-year-old chapel, lovingly maintained by John Ambrose, is the physical house of the ward, but the committed members, unified and loving, are its heart. They take seriously the injunction to the Saints: “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith, and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). The kindness and enthusiasm of the members are surely one reason why the number of active members has more than doubled in three years.
Proud of its unique heritage, Preston Ward is not living in the past. Members are working to make visiting and home teaching more effective and giving increased support to missionary work. And they plan to be even prouder of their future.