Brian and Anne Paterson and their four children are shoehorned into a modest apartment in Livingston, Scotland, near Edinburgh. Both Brian and Anne work to help pay the bills, so they faced a hard decision when Brian was offered a promotion at the garden center where he is employed. The job would have required Sunday work.
Brian, first counselor in the bishopric of the Livingston Ward, Edinburgh Scotland Stake, regretfully turned down the promotion.
Family members who had opposed Anne’s decision to join the Church (in 1995, before she met Brian) could not understand. Some had been critical when they learned Brian and Anne were giving 10 percent of their modest income as tithing. Trying to explain that sacrifice is a matter of faith and the Lord blesses them in return, Brian said, “We can’t afford not to pay tithing.”
Brian and Anne and their children—his three sons and her daughter, by previous marriages—sometimes face challenges to their Church membership ranging from confrontation to good-natured teasing. They have looked forward to the Preston England Temple open house so they can invite friends to tour the temple with them and perhaps be touched by the spirit of the place. The Patersons know from experience how the temple can touch lives.
With the new temple only four hours away—half as far as London—what more could the Patersons hope for? “A temple in Scotland!” Brian answers. He and Anne, sealed in London in 1996, hope to set the example of what temple marriage can be and help their children catch the vision of eternal possibilities.
“They have to have their testimonies built up before they can survive or win out,” says Anne, who teaches 12- to 14-year-olds in Sunday School. “There’s a lot of pressure that comes at them to conform to what the world’s standards are.”
In many ways, the Patersons’ situation mirrors the spiritual, social, and economic challenges faced by other Latter-day Saints in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
But Church members are finding the answers to those challenges in living the gospel, say the members of the Europe North Area Presidency: Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, Elder Spencer J. Condie, and Elder Wm. Rolfe Kerr of the Seventy. Through the power of the gospel, members are growing in both numbers and spiritual strength.
“Statistically, it’s a first-generation church,” Elder Samuelson observes; the majority of members did not grow up in the Church. “There are, as in the United States, some pockets of concentration. But in general, Latter-day Saints are a small part of the population.”
Yet, happily, not so small as they once were. Elder Samuelson and Elder Kerr served as missionaries in the British Isles a generation ago. “We now have stakes here where we didn’t even have missionaries then,” Elder Kerr says. Indeed, the United Kingdom is covered by stakes—44 of them—and there is also a stake in Dublin, Ireland. These stakes have nearly 170,000 baptized members, though not all are active or can be found. The eye of faith sees opportunity here; work among less-active members is a fertile field for full-time and local missionaries.
The Church is becoming known in the United Kingdom as a defender of traditional Christian values. The building of the Preston temple (see accompanying sidebar) has afforded many additional opportunities for Saints to teach gospel principles with friends or in their communities.
In training priesthood leaders to strengthen active members and activate others, “we’re focusing on all the basics,” Elder Samuelson explains: personal scripture study, individual and family prayer, temple worship, and other principles and activities that lead people to come unto Christ.
England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are known for the character of their people and perseverance of their traditions. Centuries of strength and endurance are etched in epitaphs on rows of gravestones in parish churchyards. Culture and tradition fairly breathe from palaces and historic buildings in the cities, from sprawling country manors, from small white cottages behind stone fences in rolling green hills. The picture postcard images are all true.
But they don’t show the shopping centers, tucked inside remodeled old buildings, where high-fashion shops and fast-food franchises sit side by side. Commuters use cellular phones to reach out from the crawl of traffic on winding city streets and crowded motorways. Entertainment and advertising rise—or sink—to a level now common in modern society. All the moral and spiritual challenges of the world, coming ever faster and more insistently, threaten to overwhelm tradition and perseverance.
In this atmosphere, living the gospel obediently “comes down to commitment. We need to hear and follow the words of the prophets,” says Bishop Kalbinder Sagal of the Sandwell Ward, Birmingham England Stake. Through the gospel he has found blessings he might never have expected when he was a boy, and now his children are growing up with Primary, family prayer, and other spiritual advantages he never had.
He has been living the gospel since he was a teenager, though the fact that his family are traditional Hindus made it challenging at times. He met the missionaries at 14 through LDS neighbors. When he was 17, it took months to win his parents’ permission to be baptized and, later, more months to reconcile them to the idea of his going away on a two-year mission. There was difficulty with his family when he passed up the marriage that had been arranged for him as a child. After he married Carole, whose family had introduced him to the Church, in the London Temple, his family accepted her only gradually.
“When I joined the Church, I made a promise to my parents that the gospel wouldn’t change me, except to improve me,” he recalls. Before their deaths, they came to love “the values the Church teaches,” and his brothers and sisters have come to recognize the strengthening power of those teachings.
Since his baptism in 1982, Bishop Sagal has watched attitudes toward the Church in the United Kingdom as a whole change for the better. The example of Church members has had much to do with that, he says; people are learning that the beliefs of Latter-day Saints are “not just a Sunday face.”
Neal Verman, second counselor in the Coventry England Stake, is one who has had opportunities to help nudge this change along.
He is a policeman in Solihull, where the Church’s area offices are located. Trying to treat the people he deals with on the job as children of God minimizes problems, he says; in more than 12 years, he has never had to use the truncheon he carries as a weapon. While he cannot teach doctrine in his work, gospel principles have been invaluable in helping him deal with troubled youth.
Bishop Verman’s standards are known among his colleagues and in the community. He has been invited to make presentations in the local schools, as part of the curriculum, on the Church and its beliefs. So too has his father-in-law, John Ashmead, a retired policeman and a Church member for more than 40 years. These have been valuable opportunities to help people in the community learn what Latter-day Saints stand for.
Emlyn Davies, patriarch of the Merthyr Tydfil Wales Stake, and his wife, Edna, made plans several times over the years to emigrate from Wales to the United States, but instead they heeded prophetic counsel to stay and strengthen the Church in their area. Perhaps they would have been better off economically now if they had left, Brother Davies says. But they are glad they stayed.
Times are changing in Wales. The area seems to be enjoying a cultural and political resurgence; in 1997, the voters of Wales, like the Scots, approved establishment of a regional parliament to govern many of their own affairs. Grass grows on the slag heaps of abandoned coal mines as today’s workers go to jobs in aircraft plants and high-tech companies. For the Davies family, however, spiritual riches are the most important blessings of this era. When he was baptized at eight, all the members of the small branch could gather at one end of a room for a picture. Now the Davies’ grandchildren enjoy the blessings of seminary and other Church programs, and Latter-day Saints are numerous and well accepted in the community. This acceptance has come, he says, as members have quietly lived the gospel and continued to reach out to others.
A measure of that acceptance was seen two years ago when members in Merthyr Tydfil staged a “pantomime,” one of the musical comedy shows so enjoyed by the Welsh. When the Davies were first married nearly 50 years ago, one of the few things likely to draw others to an LDS meetinghouse was a pantomime. The 1996 pantomime drew some 2,500 people to the stake center over nine nights. One visitor noted that when she was a girl, her mother had taken her to pantomimes at the LDS meetinghouse, and now she was bringing her children.
William Forward’s life was shaped by a family heritage of gospel service. He is a sixth-generation member of the Church. As a small boy, he was deeply affected by his grandmother’s strong example of Church service before she, like so many members of the family before her, emigrated to America to live among other Latter-day Saints and be near a temple. Over a lifetime, he has served in a wide variety of callings.
Currently mission leader in the Cwmbran Ward, Cardiff Wales Stake, Brother Forward believes that service should be our purpose in life and gospel brotherhood our goal.
“We’ve got to become friends instead of Church acquaintances.” Prosperity and involvement in the affairs of the world seem to distance people from each other, he says, but we need to learn to reach out to others spontaneously, to help each other with the challenges in our lives. “We would do it because we want to. This, to me, is living the gospel,” Brother Forward explains. “If we are sensitive to the Spirit—and this is a sensitivity we have to develop—then we can see what the need is without asking.”
The spiritual isolation that Church members may sometimes feel is seen most plainly perhaps among the youth. On a day-to-day basis, they may have few opportunities to feel the support of other Latter-day Saints.
“In an average school, they’re lucky if there are two,” says Oreoluwa (Lou) Ogungbayi, Young Women president in the Clapham Common Ward, London England Wandsworth Stake. Her husband, Tundé, is first counselor in the bishopric, so both work with the youth. They are originally from Nigeria. The ward is in an inner-city area where members of ethnic groups are in the majority.
The ward has a dedicated group of active youth—10 young women and 6 or 7 young men. They face strong challenges to gospel standards, particularly chastity, Lou observes; on the streets of the area, teen girls pushing strollers with their babies in them are far too common. Youth leaders try to stay close to the young people to support them, Tundé says, and encourage them to support each other as much as possible. Leaders try to provide extra opportunities for socialization.
Despite the pressures, the youth seem to be coping well. “When it comes to their duties [in the priesthood and Young Women], they are very responsible,” Tundé observes. Lou adds that the dress of LDS young women is much more modest than the current fashion, and all of the youth “seem to have a good grasp of what the gospel’s about.”
The challenges to youth are not confined to inner-city areas.
Suzanne David is Young Women president in the Merthyr Tydfil Ward, and her husband, Stephen, is first counselor in the Young Men presidency. They are only a decade or so older than some of the youth they lead, yet the young people face challenges Suzanne and Stephen never had to deal with. “The worst thing that happened in my youth was if someone had a cigarette behind the school,” she says. Now smoking is less of a problem because its well-publicized dangers make it seem antisocial, but the youth see others using drugs she has never heard of.
In many ways, they “are stronger than I was,” Sister David says. Youth in the ward reach out to strengthen each other and to bring back those who may be missing. They “do marvelous missionary work,” Brother David adds.
What do the youth themselves say about their challenges?
Living gospel principles seems to lead to similar experiences with their peers. While they may find themselves alone at times for adhering to their standards, their true friends eventually come to recognize the strength in their beliefs.
Jennifer Edwards, 16, a member of the Catford Ward, London England Wandsworth Stake, found that some of her friends began going out with boys as early as 9 or 10. Some yield to peer pressure in their choices because they haven’t been taught ways to cope with it. But the gospel, Jennifer reflects, “gives you courage to say what you believe. When you’re faced with a sticky situation, you know what to do. You can say no.” Now some of her friends, seeing stability and happiness in her life, come to her for help with their own challenges.
Lisa Richardson, 17, a member of the St. Helens Ward, Liverpool England Stake, says friends understand that her standards are “just part of me”; some peers have said they wish they could live those standards the way she does. Seminary lessons and gospel teachings help her realize that others have faced the same problems in life and that she can handle them too.
Another member of Lisa’s stake, 18-year-old James Smith of the Liverpool Ward, found his loyalty to his beliefs sorely tested in secondary school when he was bullied because of his religion. Reports of bullying in the schools are not uncommon. (Latter-day Saints are sometimes victims not because their beliefs are truly the focus but simply because bullies need a target whose differences stand out. They sometimes even face the problem from the other side—pressure to join in bullying someone else.) James says he withstood it because he had learned for himself that the gospel is true. “You know what’s right and wrong. It’s up to you.”
Like Lisa Richardson, James is attending college now. Commonly in the United Kingdom, young people finish their secondary schooling at 16 and go into a college for specialized education that may, if desired, lead them to a university. His new situation is far different. Many classmates tell him they know it is a good thing that he has avoided drinking and smoking. Some of the young women in his classes have told him they appreciate the way he respects them.
Young people are not the only members who may feel lonely in the crowd.
Hermia Bell says that if adult members want to survive spiritually amid the pressures of the world around them, they have to take refuge in the same principles and practices they’re teaching their children. A counselor in the Relief Society presidency of the London England Hyde Park Stake, she says family scripture study every morning, with a hymn, testimony bearing, and family prayer, strengthens not only their children but her and her husband too.
It’s important to take advantage of every spiritual opportunity. “The gospel is there for us to use to build ourselves, to prepare to meet our Maker. I use it every day,” she says.
Her husband, Julian, first counselor in the stake presidency, is a political campaign organizer for Britain’s Labour Party. He often rubs shoulders with the famous and influential. That can be exciting, he says, but it’s not nearly so important as what the gospel brings into his life and into his relationships with his wife and children.
Marie Goble, Relief Society president and former Primary president in the Liverpool England Stake, knows that members of the family grow together when they strengthen each other.
“We’ll do anything; we’ll take our children anywhere, anytime, so they can have friends in the Church.” She and her husband, Eddie, Young Men president in the Crosby Ward, do a lot of driving so their daughter Claire, 16, can take part in ward and stake activities or spend time with friends from other wards. They support Craig, 14, a soccer standout, in his decision to turn down invitations for Sunday league play. Sister Goble, who was able to avoid working outside the home while her four children were small, needs added support from her family now that she teaches 12 hours a week. Colleagues praise her work, urging her to make it a full-time career, but she finds more lasting fulfillment in her roles in the home.
She notes that Relief Society sisters grow when they share love and strengthen each other. In the Liverpool stake, they have an opportunity to do this each Sunday. At ward Relief Society meetings, sheets of paper are passed around bearing the names of women who will not be there because they are serving in the Primary or Young Women. Sisters can take one of the sheets, make notes on the day’s Relief Society lesson, then pass the paper on to the sister whose name is on it.
Sister Goble and her presidency focus on strengthening sisters as individuals, knowing that those who are married will become better companions and those who are not will get more out of their life’s experiences.
Understanding proper roles of men and women in our Father’s great plan of happiness strengthens both the sisters and their marriages, Sister Goble says. In this opinion, she is joined by Jean Logan, president of the Relief Society in the Edinburgh Scotland Stake. Both women speak of the traditional pattern of marriage, common even in some LDS homes, that has the men commanding while the women do not realize that they can and should be full partners in the relationship. When men and women learn this, Marie Goble says, marriages can move beyond that traditional and oft-times unhappy model. As marriage partners, Jean Logan points out, “You’ve got to keep your love alive if you want it to go on into the eternities.”
Knowing “that you’re Heavenly Father’s daughter gives you such a quiet confidence—at least it does me,” she says. “I am a very different person from the mouse I was [before she joined the Church]. And I was a mouse.” A single mother with two small children when she was baptized in England in 1967, she took gospel teachings about education to heart, went back to school, and became a teacher. She has learned to reach out to others through service in the ward Primary and ward and stake Relief Society and Young Women, but she credits her own growth to the gospel and to those who reached out to her in the beginning—“an awful lot of members who cared about me.”
George Sharkey, first counselor in the bishopric of the Springboig Ward, Glasgow Scotland Stake, affirms that the gospel can help men cast off the traditionally dominating role and become much better marriage partners.
Other Scots will tell you that theirs is a “macho” culture, particularly in the west of Scotland, with a tradition of drinking and proving masculinity in a very worldly way. Brother Sharkey describes it as sometimes “warriorlike.”
But the gospel can bring men a spiritual sensitivity that is “like being set free—free to be a loving father and husband,” free to be more Christlike, he says.
When he let the missionaries teach him the gospel, he marveled that two 20-year-olds could know things he had never discovered, though he had been involved for many years in evangelical Christian activities and Bible study. “I saw things that were incredible—truths I had been searching for all my life.” Baptized in October 1993, he married his wife, Eileen, in the London Temple in January 1995. Not fully active in the Church before she met him, she had nevertheless encouraged him to listen to the missionaries, knowing he would find the answers he was seeking. As he discovered the gospel, she was reactivated.
What changes has the gospel wrought in Brother Sharkey’s own character? “I’mnot quite as arrogant,” he responds. “I’ve discovered that I have a great deal to learn, whereas before I thought I had a great deal to teach.”
Liam Gallagher, president of the Dublin Ireland Stake, did not realize it when he was invited to a close friend’s baptism in the late 1980s, but he was prepared to hear the gospel. He had already given up gambling and drinking because of strong feelings prompting him to put his family first. He was shocked to feel those same spiritual promptings when he visited the LDS meetinghouse, and he felt as though the missionary who spoke at the baptism that day was talking directly to him.
Later, his wife threatened to divorce him when she first learned he was considering baptism. Some members of his family did not speak to him for two years after he was baptized in 1988. But his wife, whose heart was softened, joined the Church about six months afterward, and his father would later acknowledge that joining the Church was the best thing Liam had ever done for his family.
President Gallagher understands the importance of member friendshipping and involvement in bringing people into the gospel and keeping them active when the pressures of family and social opposition can be so strong. In response to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s request to all members, he has made member involvement a priority in missionary and activation efforts. Ward and branch leaders assign home teachers to investigators after the third discussion with missionaries. First counselors in elders quorum presidencies have the responsibility to see that this is done, that the man is ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood after baptism, and that a married couple receive callings. First counselors in bishoprics and branch presidencies, assigned as liaisons with the missionaries, supervise.
After baptism, the second counselors in elders quorums and bishoprics or branch presidencies take over, ensuring that the man moves toward Melchizedek Priesthood ordination and the couple toward temple covenants one year later.
“We’re not waiting,” President Gallagher says, to let conversion and retention activities occur at a casual pace. “We’re trying to be more proactive. We’re trying to be better prepared.”
The strongly entrenched social habits of the Irish can be challenging to retention. The neighborhood or village pub is commonly a social center throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than in Ireland. It is not only a place to drink and eat but the place to find or visit with friends. One who stops going to the pub to avoid the drinking also cuts himself or herself out of the circle of some friendships. Under those circumstances, there must be strong support from new friends in the Church, particularly for young single adults.
Members in Ireland “have to fight for their testimonies,” says Donna Mathews of the Dublin stake’s Dundalk Branch, but the experience can be strengthening. Family and friends often want to know more about the Church, says her husband, Stephen—and yet they don’t really want to know. They don’t really want to know if it’s true because that would require change, he explains.
In Dundalk, a town of about 35,000, Latter-day Saints are still a rarity. The branch has about 32 active members. When Stephen and Donna were married in July 1997, he was first counselor in the branch presidency and she was Young Women president. The branch had two active young women—not yet baptized—one active young man, and five Primary children.
The Mathewses’ wedding was a missionary opportunity in itself, “a very, very spiritual experience,” Sister Mathews says. (A civil wedding is required by law; the couple flew to England and were sealed in the London Temple the next day.) Family members and friends were touched by what they felt and the counsel given by President Gallagher. In a country where families are so highly valued, she would like to share the message that the gospel can bind families together for eternity. But she and her husband can share no more than others are willing to hear.
Seeds now planted with family and friends may bear fruit decades hence. That happened with Roger Payne, mission leader in the Olton Ward, Coventry stake.
As a youth acquainted with the Church through a good friend, he came close to joining, but eventually adulthood enmeshed him in the ordinary activities of life and he simply drifted away. What he had learned of the gospel remained, though, as a “guiding light. It burned like a beacon.”
He had served in the army, married and divorced, and built a career when one day he opened the Book of Mormon he had kept for 30 years and began reading it again. When he closed the book, he knew he had to look up the Church and begin attending. He was baptized in 1996. “It’s a nice feeling to know that the slate has been cleaned,” he says. “I’m as determined as humanly possible to keep it clean.”
Stuart Burch, second counselor in the bishopric of the Mitcham Ward, Wandsworth stake, had to make a more radical shift in his life when he joined the Church. A priest in the Church of England, he knew the Bible thoroughly and sometimes invited LDS missionaries in when he wanted a lively conversation. He knew how strongly they would testify of the Book of Mormon. But at a point when he was questioning the faith he had been taught, he let one pair of persistent missionaries get well into their discussions before he finally said something he now realizes was very rash; he told the LDS bishop whom the missionaries had brought in, “When the Lord gives me a sign, then I’ll join!”
In view of the spiritual perils of sign seeking, he is grateful that the Lord was kind. In a discussion with the missionaries a day or two later, he received his own personal, uncontestable witness that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is “to bring men to Christ and to be reconciled to him, and then to join his Church” (Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 6). “Once you get something like that, there’s no going back,” Brother Burch says. Reviewing his life, he now understands that he had been prepared to reach the point where he could accept that witness.
Since his baptism in October 1994, he has come to love the Book of Mormon and the opportunity to drink deeply at the spring of gospel study. “What I like is the certainty that we have a living prophet,” he says, noting that there was no assurance of revelation in the ecclesiastical direction he received before joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We know what we believe. We are certain of where we stand. We know we are the true Church of the Lord.”
The import of what he had gained by joining the Church—doctrinal purity and simplicity, love and kindness of other members, opportunities to serve, possibilities of eternal growth—all coalesced for him in what he felt the day he received his own temple endowment.
“It was the most amazing peace!” he recalls. “It was like coming home.”
When Bryan Grant began working for the Church in 1979, most of his time was spent trying to persuade the media to accept information about the Latter-day Saints. Now Brother Grant, director of Public Affairs for the Europe North Area, spends most of his time responding to requests for information.
At present the Church occupies a kind of middle ground in the minds of the media and many citizens in the British Isles and Ireland, he says—no longer a fringe group but not yet on a par with traditional churches. Still, it is evident that the Church is coming out of obscurity.
Here are a few of the recent developments that have helped.
The Religious Affairs correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Alex Kirby, visited the site of the Preston England Temple and recorded a news story that gave the Church favorable notice in more than 180 countries last October via the BBC-TV World Service.
Schools throughout England have been given copies of the Faith in Every Footstep CD-ROM produced in 1997 during the sesquicentennial celebration of the arrival of LDS pioneers in Utah. These provide accurate information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to students where none was available before and can correct information that is outdated or misleading.
Students in many British schools are using a game featuring Latter-day Saint pioneers as part of their prescribed curriculum on colonization of the American West. The game, adapted from one produced by the Church Educational System, teaches no doctrine but involves students in making the kinds of practical decisions pioneers made as they prepared for and carried out their trek to Utah.
At the request of Evans Brothers, one of the top publishers of school texts in the United Kingdom, the Church provided information for a book about Salt Lake City as one of the holy cities of the world. Part of a series, the text is a “cross curriculum” book for geography, history, and religion classes for students up to age 12.
A series of how-to booklets has been produced to help citizens in the United Kingdom who want to get involved in their communities. Written by Church members with personal experience and inside information, the booklets offer practical tips to those who want to help in public schools, in ministering to those in prison, and in other civic service activities.
The FAR formula has been developed to help leaders and members who may find themselves involved in speaking or responding publicly about LDS beliefs. F stands for family (“We’re a family Church,” Brother Grant says), A stands for answers (“to the great questions of life: Who are we, why are we here, where are we going?”), and R stands for restoration (“We are restored Christianity”). It is possible even in a 30-second response to make these essential points about the Church.
From a spot in their front yard, Peter and Beth Trebilcock can pick out the spire of the Preston England Temple on the horizon. It has been gratifying for them to watch the temple rise. Peter, an architect, was the leader of the team that designed the temple complex. Beth, a talented musician, is directing the Preston England Stake choir in one of the temple’s dedicatory sessions.
They remember well the Church of their childhood 30 years ago, centered in struggling branches. A temple in Preston would have seemed like a remote possibility then. Now it is a reality that will bless the lives of the Trebilcocks and thousands of other Latter-day Saints. Even in areas far away, outside the temple district, priesthood leaders report that its coming has moved members to reorder their lives and prepare to enjoy temple blessings.
The temple will serve more than two dozen stakes spread over central and northern England, Scotland, and Ireland. Situated on a hillside above the M61 motorway in the borough of Chorley, it has become a landmark for motorists who pass by daily. Perhaps only those who are Latter-day Saints fully appreciate the spiritual milestones represented in the temple complex. It includes a missionary training center, a stake center that will seat 1,000 people, a family history center, and a distribution center for Church materials.
It was near here that the Church first took root in the British Isles. The Preston Ward, its oldest continuing unit, was founded as a branch in 1837 by the first Latter-day Saint missionaries sent to England.
Called in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles led that mission. Among his companions were Elder Orson Hyde of the Twelve; Willard Richards, who would be ordained to the Twelve before his service in Britain was completed; and an English-born convert from Canada, Joseph Fielding, who hoped to share the gospel with relatives in England. His brother James, a minister in Preston, would extend the missionaries their first invitation to preach publicly, and his brother-in-law Timothy Matthews, also a minister, would similarly open the way in Bedford.
The successes of those first missionaries brought the beginning of a flood of converts from the British Isles. Elder Hyde and Brother Fielding preached largely in Preston. Elder Kimball, less educated but a man of great humility and warmth, was very effective among people in the country villages. On his return home, he mentioned to the Prophet Joseph Smith the remarkable outpouring of love and the power of the Holy Spirit he felt in the Chatburn area. “Did you not understand it?” the Prophet replied. “That is a place where some of the old prophets traveled and dedicated that land, and their blessing fell upon you” (Deseret News Weekly, 22 Apr. 1857, 52).
Thousands of converts immigrated to the United States, lending their strengths and talents to the young Church at a critical time. The outflow of emigrants from the British Isles continued for more than a hundred years, long after Church leaders had ceased calling for converts to gather in Utah. This exodus, combined with factors including two world wars and the economic difficulties between them, kept many branches small and struggling. That was the situation when young Elder Gordon B. Hinckley arrived in Preston in 1933 to begin his mission; the district had nine branches with fewer than 800 members in total.
As late as 1951, there were only 6,500 Latter-day Saints in the United Kingdom. But changes in the approach to proselyting, along with growth in the missionary force, made that a breakthrough year; almost 1,000 people were baptized, marking a new beginning for missionary work in the country.
Peter Trebilcock’s father, James, now stake patriarch, recalls vividly the days of rented buildings and efforts to prepare districts to become stakes 30 years ago. Thirty years from now, he suggests, there could be six stakes in Preston, not one.
Barrister David M. W. Pickup, first counselor in the Preston stake presidency, says the temple is putting Latter-day Saints and their beliefs in the spotlight. “No longer are members here able to stand on the sidelines. They’re being challenged by friends and neighbors: ‘Tell me about this temple of yours.’”
He believes the members are up to their challenges. The heritage of strength that for so long flowed out of the British Isles to America is still found here, he says. “I think the people are of the same pioneer spirit, the same strength.”