Royal Commoners


There is something so British about royalty.

If you take a map of Great Britain and draw a line from the north of Scotland down to the Isle of Wight, then one from Aberystwyth in Mid Wales to Great Yarmouth on the East Coast, where the lines intersect is the ancient royal town of Sutton Coldfield.

Sutton is the home of 21 seminary students, equally “royal” but not quite so ancient. The claim to royalty of these 14- to 18-year-olds lies in priesthood callings for the young men and the way in which the young women honour and sustain the priesthood.

Sutton Coldfield’s royal title dates back to 1528 when Henry VIII was out hunting in the local park. Disaster nearly occurred when a wild boar appeared, charging menacingly at the king. Before any harm could be done, an arrow sped from the undergrowth, killing the boar. The king was surprised when, on asking to see the person who had saved his life, a young lady came before him.

As well as praising the girl, King Henry invited her to name her reward. She requested a pardon for her father, who had been unjustly outlawed, then asked that a royal charter be given to the town. Both these wishes were granted. Henry honoured the young lady with the gift of a rose, which became the emblem of Sutton Coldfield.

Sutton seminary could well use the rose for their own emblem as they rise pure and beautiful above the thorns of today’s challenges. These 13 young men and 8 young women strive willingly to complete their home-study booklets and attend a lesson each Tuesday night, plus monthly stake meetings. Some even have to walk miles through rain and fog to meet at the chapel—a converted mission home.

Matthew Robertson, a first-year student, once made the trek carrying a large box containing 21 copies of the Book of Mormon for a lesson on missionary work. Matthew’s muscles and willing help could have far-reaching results. Six students have enjoyed bringing school friends to various activities since that lesson. Martin Reynold’s friend, Stuart Bell, has started attending seminary and is completing the student booklets.

David and Linda Bradshaw, Rachel Bennett, Martin Reynolds, and Gwen Craig are the only Latter-day Saints at their school, so seminary has proved especially helpful to them when their peers have questioned their beliefs.

“My close friend, Mandy, came to school loaded with anti-Mormon literature,” says Linda, “but because I had studied the scriptures I was able to find answers for her that I wouldn’t have known two years ago. Even if she doesn’t accept the gospel now, at least I’ve been able to put right all the strange ideas she had about the Church. And who can tell,” she added, “as Mandy grows older she may remember and inquire again.”

Missionary work is well to the forefront of British seminary students’ minds, though most don’t have to suffer as dramatically as 18-year-old David Clinch in order to go on a mission.

David is a dedicated fourth-year student who works in a factory on a Government Youth Training Scheme. Unfortunately, due to an uneven floor, a trolley load of heavy metal bars fell on his leg last October. As he reached out to fend off the bars, he lost the tips off two fingers and received a severely broken ankle.

David had a priesthood blessing, and in far less time than the doctors predicted, David’s body healed. The bones in the ankle knitted perfectly, and he was mending so fast the doctor prescribed ointment to slow down the finger skin growth.

Despite pain and inconvenience, David kept up with his seminary booklets and accepted the challenge of using the time to learn scriptures. His favourite has become D&C 14:7 about enduring to the end. A surprise blessing was in store. His employers paid enough compensation to allow David to go on a mission next year.

Another potential missionary, David Bradshaw, completed his last year of seminary and says, “I wish I had worked harder at learning the scriptures during the last few years because I can now see the value as my mission draws near.”

André Robertson, 18, whose brother just returned from a mission, wants to follow in his footsteps. André has difficult working hours in the catering business. Keeping up with seminary has taken tremendous effort. He says, “I find it hard not being able to come to class and monthly meetings as often as I should, but I know the gospel is true and want to serve the best I can.”

There are a few hurdles along the way in seminary study—scripture tests for one. Even good students shy away from the dreaded “test.” An amusing incident occurred when the teacher had to leave a telephone message with her 11-year-old son, Jeffrey, for the seminary supervisor. Wanting to make sure the request for 21 copies of the scripture sheet for pretesting students would be given correctly, she asked Jeffrey to repeat back the message. He read, “Please send 21 copies of the scripture sheet for protesting students!”

Despite the occasional need for tests, most lessons are aimed at stretching and unfolding the students’ knowledge. Many teaching moments have happened at the very instant they were needed most. Like the week two young ladies became angry with each other on the way to seminary. They sat down and the meeting began. Their faces were preoccupied and gloomy. The scripture discussed in Scripture Mastery seemed to apply to them. In Doctrine and Covenants 64:9–11 they learned about how to truly forgive. [D&C 64:9–11] By the end of the meeting both girls were back to normal.

Is there any contrast between English and American seminary? Gwen Craig, an exchange student from Utah, compares the two.

“I have noticed many differences in the few months I’ve been here. Previously I’d taken seminary every school day, and although I enjoyed the classes and had terrific teachers, I still feel I missed out. With the home-study course,” Gwen continues, “I take time out of my daily schedule to do booklets, cross-referencing and reading, where in the United States I wouldn’t bother because I knew the teacher would explain things in class. But I missed out on the actual knowledge penetrating by not doing it myself. As we only meet here once a week for a lesson, I feel that those attending do so because they really want to. My testimony has grown so much in these three months. I have come to love the seminary programme.”

Having a class with 3 American and 18 British students often gives rise to moments of humour, one occasion being the study of Unit 4, Booklet 3, on dating. Some of the ideas suggested for dates caused much laughter and needed explanations from Todd, Chad, and Gwen. Ideas such as “pull taffy,” “Icee race with straws,” “pumpkin caroling,” “have a hayride and hootenanny,” and “tubing down a stream” all needed defining. The students weren’t too sure whether the counsel to “wash all the dogs in the neighbourhood” was recommended with or without the owners’ permission.

Admittedly, there is a shortage of dating ideas in Sutton Coldfield. Duck hunting, water-skiing, and drive-in restaurants do not exist. Nor are there frogs wandering around in abundance for frog races. But other good ideas stimulated further British thinking on the subject. Mostly the Saints here rely on walks, sports, cinema, parties, dances, and other Church-oriented activities for dating, restrictions being placed by lack of facilities, weather, transport (most teenagers do not have cars here), and a more reserved nature.

Linda comments, “I think the Americans can give our boys a few tips on how to have fun dates and not be so serious. I like to have a good time, yet not feel too pressured in any way.” She goes on to say, “It would be nice if we could ‘twin’ with another seminary somewhere in the world and exchange ideas.” In England, towns are “twinned” with places in Europe and friendships established by letters and visits.

When the question of going out with nonmembers arose, Heidi Grey, 17, had this to say, “Having tried it, I can look at both sides of the issue. It is hard to keep your standards when you’re going with boys oblivious to those ideals. They don’t know and can’t accept the high principles we have, and it makes life tough many times. But now I’m dating someone who is very strong in the Church and at last my head is above water. I can see where I want to be going.”

Fortunately, Sutton’s group of 21 is large enough for general crowd fun and successful seminary outings achieving good will and harmony among the youth.

One outing to the Malvern Hills, a Worcestershire beauty spot, proved wet, windy, and wearing on the legs. There are seven humps in the Malverns. Most cheated and used transport between humps, but Jonathan Fell and his friend hiked bravely on, covering more miles than the rest put together.

The highest peak, known as the Herefordshire Beacon, was eventually reached. This historic point contains the ruins of a fortress apparently built by ancient Britons. It was to this spot in 1840 that Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards came, following the work of Brother Woodruff at Benbow’s Farm, where many were baptised. On top of the Beacon, prayers were given, and they discussed publishing the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon and 3,000 copies of the hymnbook for British Saints.

There is still a pioneer quality about British youth today. It shows itself every time the stake monthly meeting for seminary takes place. Some travellers cover 60 miles in the evening. But all consider the journey worthwhile. As Caroline Gibson says, “I get really excited about monthly meetings. There is a wonderful atmosphere there, and you just know the Spirit is with the teacher and students. Knowledge seems to flow so easily.”

As autumn comes, the Sutton seminary looks forward to an activity enjoyed by both family and friends. It is the ward Bonfire Night, held on November 5th to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.

“Only the British would think of celebrating for hundreds of years because Guy Fawkes failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament,” comments Todd Smith, a 16-year-old American boy who has spent three years in England with his family.

Nevertheless, Americans and British alike gather to chat around the roasting fire, piled high with old beds, rabbit hutches, and other flammable junk, including the Guy (someone’s old clothes stuffed with newspaper). The November air is damp and chill as fireworks shower and sizzle, but the bishopric’s hot dogs and soup bring a welcome tingle back to fingers and toes.

The warm feelings continue throughout the year as the royal youth in Sutton learn to rely on the truths they learn in seminary.

[photos] The Sutton Coldfield seminary students do a lot of home-study work, then meet each Tuesday night at the chapel, which is a converted mission home. Some have to walk miles through rain and fog, but all agree it’s worth every effort.