Known to local residents as the “Silver City by the Sea,” Aberdeen, Scotland, sits on a 33-mile stretch of North Sea coastline. It is known for its buildings made of the local silver-gray granite. Now the oil center of Europe, Aberdeen has come a long way from the ship-building, fishing, and granite industries for which it was formerly renowned.
Scotland is famous worldwide for its kilts, bagpipes, lochs (lakes), and its traditional meat dish, haggis. At the New Year, Latter-day Saints in Aberdeen join with the rest of their Scottish countrymen in festivities that include honoring the birthday of their national poet, Robert Burns. They celebrate “Burns Night” with poetry reading, singing, and participation in traditional highland dances. The celebrations would not be complete without Scotch broth, tatties (potatoes), neeps (turnips), and the haggis itself—brought in, traditionally, to the tune of the pipes and celebrated in song and poetry.
Aberdeen itself is quaint and beautiful, with well-maintained flower beds around the city. It has won the “Britain in Bloom” competition for so many years that the city had to withdraw from the contest for three years to give another community a chance!
Latter-day Saints in Aberdeen have made their own contribution to the beauty of the city. The Aberdeen Ward meetinghouse and its grounds have won twenty-six local awards in the category of best-kept church and community building. Ward members attribute this to the hard work and dedication of Brother Thomas Thomson, who has worked as custodian since the dedication of the chapel in 1967.
“We haven’t always had a beautiful chapel in which to meet,” recalls Georgina Thomson, the oldest member of the Church in Aberdeen (and no relation to the custodian). “I remember when the elders first met my husband in the marketplace in 1922. He brought them home with him. We were baptized four years later in the River Dee. There were only four members here then,” she says.
“There was nowhere for us to meet, so we met in each other’s homes and missionaries ran the branches. We had to wait nearly forty years for a temple in London so we could be sealed,” Sister Thomson says. “My husband was the branch president in Aberdeen when President David O. McKay dedicated the London Temple and subsequently made a visit to Scotland, the place his father had lived.”
The staunch devotion of Sister Thomson and her husband has been a model for their children. Their daughter was the first member from the area to serve a mission, laboring in England. Their son Stanley has served in many leadership capacities in the Church.
The gospel first came to Scotland in December 1839. From that time through the first fifty years of this century, membership in the Aberdeen area fluctuated because of emigration to America, Australia, and South Africa, and because of the two world wars. In recent years, though, growth has been significant.
When the plans for the first Church-built chapel in Aberdeen were developed several years ago, some of the thirty-four members in the city questioned the need for such a large parking area; only one family among them owned a car. But mission president Bernard P. Brockbank (now a General Authority Emeritus) told them they would see the day when the Saints in Aberdeen wouldn’t be able to get all their cars in it. That day has arrived. The stake now has more than 1,600 members.
The Aberdeen stake spans the width of Scotland. Dedication is required of members like Roddy and Phyllis Ross of Inverness, who must travel more than one hundred miles one way for stake meetings and conferences. When they go to the temple, it is a two-hour trip to the stake center, then twelve hours more to the temple. But despite the distance, Aberdeen Saints travel often to the temple, and some spend a week or more at a time there doing work for the dead.
Well-known Scottish storyteller Stanley Robertson lives in Aberdeen. He joined the Church in 1965 and has since brought thirty members of his extended family into the Church. He is known at home and abroad for his books, ballads, and songs. But “I couldn’t have done anything without the Church,” he says. “The first time I sang was at a Relief Society party, and now I travel the world singing my songs.”
Brother Robertson’s prominence has been an asset in his current calling as stake public communications director, as he has done much to promote the image of the Church in his native land.
Public attention can be very important. Generally Latter-day Saints are not well known in Aberdeen, explains stake president James Rae Dressel. It is important that other Scots come to know them and the quality of their lives.
The gospel is crucial to the quality of Scottish Saints’ lives, says President Dressel’s wife, Patricia. “Emphasis on family unity has given us a goal to work toward as we counsel and teach the principles to our children. We know the gospel will carry them through their lives,” she says. And personally, she adds, the gospel “enables me to do things I would never have the courage to do otherwise.”
The hardy Saints of Aberdeen stand out as Scots, President Dressel says, and they are consistently gaining in spiritual strength through membership in the Church. “Ours is a proud heritage and a promising future.”
Correspondent: Leslie Smith, assistant press officer for the Church in the British Isles.