“The Church in Europe,” Ensign, Aug. 1973, 16–35
Munich, Germany, August 1973. The area general conference, a milestone in the Church’s history in continental Europe.
It’s been over a century since the first Latter-day Saint missionaries were sent to continental Europe. Today there are more than 55,000 Saints in Europe. The Saints who gather in Munich will come from Germany, oldest of the European mission areas; from Spain, newest of the missions, and from other countries in continental Europe, all of which have risen above cultural differences and personal hardships to share the common thread of the gospel.
Church membership in Europe is again surging ahead, and many stakes and missions are fully organized and support all of the Church programs with great enthusiasm.
Who are the Saints in these areas? Where do they come from? What attracts them to the Church? What has been the history of the Church in their native lands? Members of the Ensign staff have delved into current as well as past history to bring to our readers the following reports on the Church in Europe.
With great rejoicing and thanksgiving, the Saints gathered on the Huber dairy farm in Haag-Rottenbach, Austria. The time: 1965. The occasion: the centennial of missionary work in Austria.
Members, mostly old-timers, came from all over Austria and camped on the farm or were lodged in the huge dairy barn where meetings had been held as long ago as 1902. The farm where this celebration took place is still operated by members of the Huber family, longtime members who have held firmly to their faith despite severe persecution and the ravages of war. Nearby is the modern little branch chapel at Haag. Although Mormons in and around Haag number less than five percent of the local population, Haag is known to many Austrians as the “Mormon Village.”
The little country of Austria today (an area about equal in size to that of Scotland or the state of Maine) is far different from the sprawling land mass of which Elder Orson Pratt of the Council of the Twelve wrote to his wife in 1864, after being called on a mission to that country:
“Austria is one of the largest empires of Europe, and is situated on the east of Germany, being about 800 miles long from east to west and 500 miles broad from north to south. … The population is about forty millions … the empire consisting of many kingdoms, but all under one head who is called an emperor. The religion is Roman Catholic; all other religions are strictly prohibited by law, except in one or two small provinces, where the Lutherans and Calvinists are tolerated. German is the prevailing language. … The whole country swarms with police officers whose duty it is to put about one hundred and one questions to all travelers.”
When Elder Pratt and Elder William W. Ritter arrived in Austria on January 18, 1865, they met a chilly reception. They were unable to proselyte, but before being banished from the country, Elder Pratt bore his testimony to the authorities.
Not until twenty years later was another attempt made to open a mission in Austria. In 1885 Elders Thomas Biesinger, a German convert, and Paul E. B. Hammer were successful in performing a few baptisms; but religious intolerance, including a 68-day jail term for Elder Biesinger for preaching and distributing literature without a license (the government would not grant one), brought an end to proselyting in Austria, and the elders were forced to return to Germany. Their missionary zeal lived on, however, for as late as 1923, at the age of 80 years, this same Elder Biesinger was preaching the gospel in Vienna.
By 1902 a branch was organized at Rottenbach, with upwards of 30 converts. Before the missionaries were banished again, they ordained two local elders to preside. A second branch was organized in 1909 in Vienna. The devoted Saints acquired a meeting hall and furnished it, and all went well until 1914, when their branch was dissolved by the government and all property confiscated.
Then came the end of World War I and the beginning of religious freedom in Austria. Separated from Hungary, Austria was reduced to a population of 7 million people, the monarchy was dissolved, and a democracy was set up. In the peace treaty signed at St. Germain, freedom of religion in France was guaranteed, and meetings could now be held without harrassment. The Church in Austria began to grow.
However, another war was in the making. In 1938, when Hitler’s army goose-stepped into Austria, eight elders were laboring in the Austrian District of the Swiss-Austrian Mission. Germany absorbed Austria, and the elders were brought home in the summer of 1939.
After the war Austrian soldiers returned to their homes and the branches were revived. Allied occupation forces included many Latter-day Saints who helped to alleviate the suffering of the Saints and build chapels. In 1946 Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve, while on a tour of Europe, reorganized the Austrian District and it again became a part of the Swiss-Austrian Mission. Saints all over Europe rejoiced in the mid-1950s in the erection of a temple in Switzerland, and when it opened in September 1955, 12 Austrian Saints were there to receive their endowments in the first session. By 1972 the yearly number of endowments performed by Austrian Saints numbered well over two thousand.
The present Austria Mission was organized in 1960. By the end of 1972 there were 2,675 members, 11 branches in four districts, and seven chapels; 136 missionaries were laboring in the country, and 132 baptisms were performed that year, 88 of them being convert baptisms. In keeping with the Church’s plan to take the seminary program to all young people of the Church, the seminary home-study program was introduced there, with an enrollment last year of 250 students.
Walk into a Latter-day Saint chapel in Brussels, Belgium, on a Sunday and, at various times of the day, you might hear the speaker address the congregation as “freres et soeurs,” “bruders en zusters,” or even “brothers and sisters.”
Belgium is a multilingual nation, where French, Dutch, Flemish (a form of Dutch), English, and German are all widely spoken. It is also a cosmopolitan nation, the headquarters for many American businesses in Europe as well as for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Thus, the Brussels chapel is center of activity for three branches of the Church: the Brussels Branch of the Netherlands Mission and the Brussels French and Brussels English branches of the France-Belgium Mission.
The diversity of languages can present problems for missionaries, who never know when they knock at a strange door what language they will be greeted in. While they are assigned to areas where a predominant language is spoken (generally French or Dutch), they must be prepared to converse at least nominally in other languages.
This diversity of languages and cultures has often been a cause of tension in Belgium, particularly between the French-speaking and the Flemish-speaking people. In the Church, however, the brotherhood of the gospel has been a unifying factor in bringing people together. When the Brussels chapel burned down a few years ago, the Saints banded together to rebuild, despite language barriers, and a beautiful new chapel was dedicated last February.
Church membership in Belgium today numbers about 3,500, in a country with a population of nearly ten million. The France-Belgium Mission, with headquarters in Brussels, has three districts in Belgium: Brussels-Liege District, comprised of the Brussels French, Herstal, Liege, Seraing, and Verviers branches; Charleroi District, with branches at Charleroi, Jumet, and Namur; and English-speaking District, comprised of the Brussels English and SHAPE Servicemen branches. The Antwerp district of the Netherlands Mission has four branches: Antwerpen, Brussels, Gent, and Michelen.
The restored gospel has been in Belgium since 1888. The previous year Mischa Markow, a Hungarian, was baptized in Constantinople, Turkey, and ordained an elder. A multilinguist, he subsequently traveled over various parts of Europe, preaching the gospel wherever he could find listeners. In Antwerp he baptized six members of a family named Esselman.
Before returning to Turkey, Markow wrote to the president of the Swiss-German Mission and reported the baptisms. Three missionaries were then sent to Belgium; within two months they had baptized 80 persons and had organized branches in Liege, Brussels, and Antwerp.
In 1891 Belgium was made part of the Netherlands Mission (which for a time was known as the Netherlands-Belgium Mission). Several branches were transferred to the French Mission in 1912, and others in 1924, with only the Flemish-speaking branches remaining under the jurisdiction of the Netherlands Mission.
Proselyting in Belgium, as in many other areas of Europe, was not easy in the early years. In 1896 a mob estimated at nearly 500 people threatened to kill a missionary in Liege. Elder John Ripplinger had been holding meetings at the home of a prominent citizen, and articles in a local newspaper had aroused sentiment against the missionaries. Elder Ripplinger was saved from the mob, which stormed the citizen’s home, when police arrived to disperse them. He was later able to meet with local clergymen and explain the principles of the gospel, and by the time he was released from his three-year mission, he had baptized nearly 10 persons.
Today missionaries in Belgium fare better, for there is religious freedom in that nation. However, they do find that people are generally conservative and that families have deeply entrenched traditions in a predominantly Catholic nation. Their greatest success comes in metropolitan areas, where people have been exposed to persons of other cultures and nationalities and are generally more receptive to new ideas.
Belgium has, throughout its history, been the scene of many famous and devastating battles—Waterloo, Verdun, the Battle of the Bulge. And the Belgians have suffered greatly in periods of enemy occupation. Missionary activity during World Wars I and II had to be suspended, and much property of the Church and of individual members was destroyed. But today the members are prospering, and the Church in Belgium is gaining strength. Thomas H. Brown, former president of the France-Belgium Mission, sums up the missionary efforts: “While progress is slow, those who do join the Church are developing solidly and firmly, and the leaders we have are great leaders.”
In 1845 an unnamed Scottish elder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went to France, reportedly made two converts, and stated that if the gospel were “preached in the language of the country … thousands [would] embrace it. …”* He was no doubt sincere, but his enthusiasm belonged to another century.
It would be 1972, for instance, before membership would rise above five thousand; by that time also there would be 63 active branches in three missions, and 334 missionaries would be engaged in proselyting. Missionary efforts in France, however, would have a seesaw history before that could happen.
Despite political and economic upheaval in France in the mid-nineteenth century, missionary work was going well across the channel in England and it was felt that France too should be opened for the preaching of the gospel. In June 1850 Elder John Taylor, the apostle who later became president of the Church, officially opened the French Mission. Some tracts were translated and public meetings held, but Louis Napoleon’s government forbade the gathering of more than 20 people at a time, and it was very difficult to distribute literature or get people to come to meetings. Though membership was small, four branches were eventually organized. In 1852, largely due to the efforts of Elder Louis A. Bertrand, one of the first French converts, the Book of Mormon was published in the French language. Despite all efforts, however, the work did not flourish, and the mission closed in 1864. Though it would not open again for nearly half a century, missionary work did continue among French-speaking people in the Swiss-German and Netherlands-Belgium missions.
By 1912 there were 400 French-speaking members in Europe, most of them in Belgium and Switzerland. Twenty-eight elders were laboring among the French, and one of them, 23-year-old Edgar B. Brossard, was called to preside over the newly organized French Mission, which would encompass all of French-speaking Europe. Sixty-two converts were baptized that year, but World War I broke out in August 1914, and the mission was closed until 1924.
During the 1930s interest in the Church picked up with the introduction of elders’ basketball teams. One team in 1937 defeated the Belgian team that was to represent Belgium in the Olympics. The favorable publicity, of course, paved the way for gospel discussions.
World War II brought the elders home in 1939, but the mission reopened in 1946. Two years later 80 elders and sisters were laboring there, and many programs were undertaken to combat adverse publicity the Church had received in France over the years. The elders were able to get the French National Broadcasting System to play recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with explanations of the history of the choir and the Church. A missionary quartet toured 30 cities with favorable reception, and other musical groups were also well accepted. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir concluded its tour of Europe in 1955 with a concert in Paris.
There are 11 lovely chapels in France now, and missionary work is going on among the French in three missions: France, France-Belgium, and France Switzerland (formerly French East).
An energetic move has been made in recent years to transfer branch leadership from missionaries to local members. Who could have foreseen the impact this would have on the membership? In 1968–69 in the France-Switzerland Mission, for instance, tithing increased 80 percent and the mission became financially independent for the first time in history. In fact, members there were asked to contribute financially to the support of other missions. Also, with the missionaries freed for proselyting, baptisms increased 500 percent. A similar pattern of growth has been evident in other areas of France as local members have assumed a sense of responsibility and the pride of leadership in the Church.
Prison … exile … war … hunger. …
These are the fires that have forged the Church in Germany. Out of the prison and exile of the early missionaries and out of the war and hunger of two world conflicts, the Church has emerged with six stakes and more than 130 wards and branches serving more than 20,000 Saints.
More members of the Church speak German than all other continental European languages combined, and there are now six stakes in western Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany).
The Church in Germany today is no longer afflicted with poverty, the threat of war, and religious persecution.
Today’s statistics count the German family home evenings, not missionaries in jail, and note that 1,000 students are involved in early morning home seminary rather than that 1,000 people have departed by ship for New York and on to Salt Lake City.
The German Saints in 1973 are not found meeting in hiding or in bombed-out buildings; they are found in modern meetinghouses and planning week-long temple trips.
Today the Saints are affluent by any comparison with the past and by comparison with most of the countries of the world. That affluence has brought great blessings as well as new problems. The need for sacrifice that welded the Church together in unhappier times is no longer there. Today’s German Saints are comparatively prosperous and must struggle to live the gospel in a time of indifference rather than a time of persecution.
The early missionaries to Germany, beginning in 1851, met with indifference, which soon turned to persecution. Many were jailed or invited to leave town on the same train on which they arrived. Daniel Garn became the first president of the German Mission in 1852, the same year that George Dykes, a banished missionary from Scandinavia, translated and published the Book of Mormon in German.
Over a period of many years, a nucleus of Church members formed branches in several German cities. In 1868 Dr. Karl G. Maeser, a convert from Germany who had joined the Church in 1855 and subsequently immigrated to the United States, returned to Germany as mission president. The following year he founded a periodical, Der Stern, which is still published today as one of the Church’s unified magazines.
The greatest periods of growth for the Church in Germany came immediately after the beginning of the new century and again in the early 1920s. In 1921 there were almost 1800 converts, and the new Saints were counseled not to emigrate but to remain in Germany and build the Church there. The Swiss-German Mission had, at that time, the largest missionary force in the Church.
Beginning in 1935 the Church began to feel the pressure of National Socialism in Germany. Books were burned and banned from libraries. In 1938 missionaries were transferred out of Germany. They later returned but were evacuated under the direction of President Joseph Fielding Smith just one week before the beginning of World War II.
Local German leaders presided over the Saints during the war and continued to hold meetings in many cases, often finding their meetinghouses bombed by allied planes. Many German Saints served in the army.
Following the war, Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve, as president of the European Mission, had the responsibility of rebuilding the spiritual and physical lives of the Saints who had been living in war zones. Many members of the Church today recall the miracles of receiving food, clothing, and shelter from their fellow Saints when these were unavailable anywhere else.
The Church was granted legal status in 1953 and experienced a new surge of rapid growth in the early 1960s. Four missions were organized in Germany, with additional German-speaking missionaries assigned to Switzerland and Austria. More than 2,500 convert baptisms were performed in 1961, the same year that the first German stakes were organized (Berlin, Stuttgart, and Hamburg).
Today perhaps one of the greatest evidences of the strength of the Church in Germany is the fact that 26 young Germany men and women are serving as missionaries in many missions throughout the world.
On September 23, 1972, President Harold B. Lee made a milestone visit to Italy. Hundreds of Italian youths and their parents and missionaries from the two Italian-speaking missions were there to greet him.
This youth conference visit of President Lee marked the first time in this dispensation that a president of the Church has visited Italy. Youths from the missions gathered at a coastal resort town near Rome to hear him and Sister Lee and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve and Sister Hinckley.
On Saturday evening the two General Authorities spoke to members of the priesthood, while their wives addressed the young sisters. The following morning President Lee and Elder Hinckley addressed a combined session of several hundred young people. The historic weekend closed when they visited a branch meeting in the afternoon and held a meeting with Italian-speaking missionaries in the evening.
Today, after nearly a century of virtual inactivity of the Church in Italy, there has been a rebirth of missionary effort. Last year Church membership in Italy increased by 25 percent, and it now totals about 3,000. An Italian native will leave this year on a “foreign” mission, and next year Italian youths will begin the early-morning home seminary program.
Church activity now extends from the southern tip of the Italian “boot” to the Piedmont Valley in the north, home of the original missionary successes more than a century ago.
One of the first missionaries to Italy was Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Council of the Twelve, who was later to become president of the Church (1898–1901). In 1849 he climbed a mountain that he named Mount Brigham, where, standing on the “Rock of Prophecy,” he dedicated the land to missionary work.
It was with the Waldenses, a Protestant sect living in the Piedmont Valley, that Elder Snow and his companion, T. B. H. Stenhouse, found their first converts in Italy. They were led to these people by Joseph Toronto, a seaman who had been converted in Boston.
For several years the missionaries found success among the Italian people, and by 1854 three branches had been organized. Emigration took a heavy toll, however, for more than half the early converts left to join the body of the Saints in the Rocky Mountains soon after their conversion. In 1854 the proselyting efforts in Italy began to decline and the mission became a part of the Swiss Mission. In 1862 proselyting work ended in Italy completely.
It was not until 103 years later, in 1965, that missionary work began again in that country. Missionaries were sent in from Switzerland as soon as the Italian government granted permission for missionary work to resume. Milan became the headquarters of the Italian zone of the Swiss Mission, and soon missionaries were serving in Rome and Naples as well.
In 1966 another member of the Council of the Twelve, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, visited Italy and found what he believed to be Mount Brigham. There, standing on the “Rock of Prophecy,” he rededicated the land to missionary work. Then he organized the Italian Mission (now the Italy North Mission), with the work centered in northern Italy and headquarters in Milan. As the missionary work spread south, a new mission was organized in 1971, the Italy Mission, with headquarters in Rome. Today the two missions have seven districts, including the islands of Sicily and Malta. And today the Italian missions are among the fastest growing in Europe.
Recently a group of Latter-day Saint priesthood holders rushed from their places of employment on Friday evening to the Holland Stake Center at The Hague, boarded a bus, and were soon on their way to Switzerland. Their destination? The Swiss Temple, where on Saturday, after a 13-hour all-night journey, they participated in several temple sessions. Immediately after, they boarded the bus for the return trip, and by Sunday morning all were in their priesthood meetings. A strenuous trip? Yes, but for these devoted members of the Church in The Netherlands, the privilege of doing temple work brings rich rewards and blessings that far overshadow the personal sacrifices involved.
“Temple work is one of the greatest blessings for our members,” reports President Cornelis de Bruijn of the Holland Stake. “We feel so blessed to have two temples to which we can go. The stake sponsors three excursions by chartered plane to the London Temple each year, and the mission sponsors three or four excursions to the Swiss Temple. Many of our families have now been sealed for time and eternity, and this has brought great spirituality and strength to all of our members.”
The Church’s presence in The Netherlands goes back 133 years, to 1840, when Elder Orson Hyde spent more than a week in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, explaining the gospel to Jewish rabbis, while on a missionary journey to Jerusalem.
The first missionaries assigned to labor in The Netherlands arrived August 5, 1861; by May 10, 1862, they had baptized 14 persons in Amsterdam, and the first branch was organized there. For the first three years the area was part of the Swiss and German Mission. The Netherlands Mission was established November 1, 1864.
For many years the Church was not allowed to own property in that country, and even today it is difficult to get permits to purchase land for chapels. Official recognition of the Church came in August 1955, after almost twenty years of petitioning. This was considered a major breakthrough, for legal recognition grants to the Church the right to hold property, exemption from taxation on Church properties, and, perhaps most important in the eyes of many, a certain amount of prestige.
In the first hundred years of the Church in The Netherlands, some 4,500 missionaries served there and more than 14,000 persons were baptized. A large percentage of these converts immigrated to the United States; however, in recent years, with temples more accessible, few members have emigrated, and today there are many second-, third-, and even fourth-generation members in the wards and branches.
A major milestone in the Church’s history in The Netherlands was the organization of the Holland Stake on March 12, 1961. This was the first stake in Europe and the first non-English-speaking stake in the Church. Today there are over 7,000 Latter-day Saints in The Netherlands, a nation of 13 million people. In Holland Stake are four wards and four branches; The Netherlands Mission has four districts in Holland as well as a district in Belgium.
The Dutch are family-oriented and maintain strong family ties. Thus, the Church’s family home evening and genealogy and temple programs are particularly appreciated. The youth also enjoy getting together, since many are in wards and branches where there are few other young Latter-day Saints. A special annual event is an MIA youth conference in May, with sports activities, a fireside, socials, and a testimony meeting in a beautiful forest setting.
Perhaps indicative of the great love of the Dutch Saints for the Church is an event that happened shortly after the end of World War II. Few areas of Europe were more ravaged than The Netherlands, and at the close of the war the members were scattered, most Church literature had been destroyed, and many people had been left homeless and starving. Leaders of the Church in The Netherlands encouraged the Saints to help each other, and a welfare project was begun, with potatoes planted wherever there was even the smallest amount of land available. As a result, they were able to harvest far more potatoes than they could use themselves, and some 70 tons were shipped to the Saints in Germany.
Later, President David O. McKay commented, “This is one of the greatest acts of true Christian conduct ever brought to my attention. The Dutch Saints are to be congratulated that they can perform this act of welfare service to members of the Church who live in a country which has caused so much suffering and hardship during recent years.”
And now, just one generation later, the Saints from The Netherlands are traveling to the area general conference in Munich, Germany, where they will share with the Saints from all over Europe their great love for and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Church is gaining in strength in the family-oriented land of Spain, where Christianity traditionally was introduced by the apostle Paul.
Although there is no evidence that Paul completed his planned journey to Spain (see Rom. 15:24), it has been claimed that some of his contemporaries may have established the early church in the Roman city of Acci in the southeast. And although legend has it that there are apostolic origins to the establishment of Christianity in Spain, there are no written records on which to base such claims. But by the third century A.D. Christians in Spain were undergoing persecution for their faith.
In more contemporary times it was not until 1966, with passage of the Organic Law of the State, that non-Catholic churches received government recognition.
Prior to that year, the only organizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Spain were the United States servicemen’s branches and groups at U.S. military bases. Spaniards who worked on the bases and who came into contact with the Church would participate in Church activities through the military branches.
With government recognition came LDS missionary efforts leading to the formation of the Spanish-speaking Madrid Branch, a dependent branch of the Madrid American Branch. Both were part of the France Mission (Spanish).
This mission received its first missionaries shortly after Spain was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel by Elder Marion G. Romney of the Council of the Twelve (now second counselor in the First Presidency) on May 20, 1969. The missionaries were transferred from the Argentina North Mission and later were joined by those assigned directly to Spain or transferred from the Uruguay-Paraguay Mission.
In July 1970 the Spain Mission was formed, with headquarters in the capital city of Madrid. Thirty-six missionaries were initially assigned to the mission. More than a hundred are now serving there, and 81 convert baptisms were performed in 1972.
As with any new mission area, the Saints in Spain meet in rented quarters ranging from homes to offices. But property has now been acquired in Madrid for a meetinghouse.
Family ties have always been strong in Spain, and the Church’s emphasis on sustaining the family relationship strikes a responsive chord. Family home evenings are a welcome activity, often serving as a missionary tool to attract nonmembers. Another attraction for the families is the seminary home-study program introduced recently to some 150 students. This program has proven successful as a learning experience not only for the students themselves but also for members of their families.
“When they become converted to the gospel, the Church becomes the most important thing in their lives.” That observation by Elder Percy K. Fetzer, Regional Representative of the Twelve, says much about the Swiss Saints. Resolute, dedicated, and enthusiastic describe the Swiss, who are seldom lukewarm about anything they do.
Swiss family loyalties are very strong and traditions run deep. But by exercising boundless patience, prayer, and loving persuasion, missionaries and members who have been converted to the gospel and have been touched by the Spirit have helped the Church to grow steadily in that country.
The Switzerland Mission extends back to 1851, when Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Council of the Twelve, who with others was proselyting in Italy, sent Thomas B. H. Stenhouse over the mountains into Switzerland, carrying among his personal belongings a handful of gospel tracts that had been translated into French.
By late fall of that year, Elder Stenhouse had baptized several persons from the Geneva and Lausanne areas, and on November 24 the Swiss Mission was officially organized. The Millennial Star reported that 20 converts were baptized that year in Switzerland.
Translation of the Book of Mormon into French and German in 1852 and the publication L’Etoile du Deseret, established by Elder John Taylor in France, helped to greatly accelerate the effectiveness of the proselyting in Switzerland; and on Christmas Day, 1853, and the following day, the Swiss Mission held its first conference.
From 1857 to 1860, 211 Saints emigrated from Switzerland to Utah, part of the cost of their passage being supported by the “Penny Emigration Fund,” a means whereby the Saints saved a penny a week to help defray the cost of their trip to America.
In 1868 the name of the mission was changed from the Swiss, Italian, and German Mission to the Swiss and German Mission, there being only one branch in Italy at the time. The mission was separated in 1897 into the Swiss Mission and the German Mission, but they were rejoined in 1904 with 15 branches in Switzerland and 18 in Germany and a total of 1,634 members.
The mission has a unique international flavor, for assigned to it are servicemen’s branches and members in such distant places as Turkey, Ethiopia, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Crete, Iran, Israel, Malta, Afghanistan, Baghdad, and the Republic of Chad, as well as the Bern-Luzern District in Switzerland. In 1961 the Swiss Stake was organized, and it now consists of four wards and nine branches.
The Saints of Switzerland rejoiced with other Saints in continental Europe when the first Latter-day Saint temple in Europe was dedicated at Zollikofen, near Bern, in 1955. A visitors center and bureau of information were also constructed nearby.
At the end of 1972 (latest available figures), the Saints in Switzerland numbered 4,553. They are strong in the faith, and their valiance and sacrifice for the cause of the gospel and for their families stand as a beacon to inspire all those who would see.
Forty-four changes of bishops and branch presidents within a three-year period might cause great disruptions for some stakes of the Church, but for members of Servicemen’s Stake Europe, a willing acceptance of such changes has provided a rallying force for their continued spiritual growth and prosperity.
Despite its transient makeup, with membership ranging from 1,850 to a current figure of 2,588, the stake has an enviable activity record. Attendance at sacrament meetings averages 55 to 60 percent; more than 50 percent of the members hold family home evenings; and home teaching accomplished is more than 80 percent, a notable achievement considering the difficulty of locating individual servicemen and meeting them in barracks.
Even though Servicemen’s Stake Europe is large geographically—13,500 square miles—it carries out all Church-sponsored programs with the exception of a stake welfare project. Special emphasis is placed on youth conferences, festivals, and athletics. Nearly two-thirds of the members attended one recent stake conference, a particularly high figure when one considers the two- to three-hour travel time necessary for many of them to attend.
Servicemen’s Stake Europe was organized during the 16th Annual Servicemen’s Conference held in October 1968 at Berchtesgaden, Germany. Twelve hundred members attended the conference, with some coming from as far away as Greece, Turkey, and Libya.
Originally it was thought that all servicemen’s units in Europe could be included in this new stake, but because of logistic problems, it was deemed advisable to include only the servicemen’s districts in the Germany West Mission. The stake is now comprised of three wards, nine independent branches, and five dependent branches, with membership ranging from as few as 40 per unit to a high of 800 per unit. Another worthy achievement of the Saints in the stake is their consistent and vigorous temple and missionary activity. Although the Swiss Temple is five to seven hours away for members of the stake, they manage to perform more than 3,000 temple endowments a year.
Elder Percy K. Fetzer, Regional Representative of the Twelve assigned to the stake says of the diligence of the Saints there, “Wherever the servicemen have shared their zeal with the missions of the Church in Europe, those missions have benefited greatly. An unusual missionary spirit prevails among the servicemen, and their conversion rate among their own is a wonderful achievement.
“The great miracle of this latter-day work is manifest among these military people. Their hearts have been changed and no assignment is too burdensome. Under the rotation process of the military, many good men and women have been afforded opportunities in leadership not so readily possible in any other way.”
Thousands of other Latter-day Saint military and civilian personnel and their families scattered abroad do not belong to Servicemen’s Stake Europe or to the Switzerland Mission, which supervises many of the small Church units in the Mideast. These groups are organized into servicemen’s membership districts and miscellaneous group branches or function under the direction of the recently organized International Mission. Formation of these groups into a stake seems improbable because of their far-flung distribution—from Iceland to the Malagasy Republic in Africa, and from Munich to areas behind the Iron Curtain.
The fidelity to the Church of these geographically separated Saints is heartwarming and even remarkable. It is a common occurrence, when these groups hold conferences in Germany, for members to come by auto caravan from Tehran, Iran, a 15-day journey, or from Ethiopia or Malta. The organizational ability and unity of purpose of these diverse geographical units when they assemble for a conference is extraordinary. Within an hour after their arrival, they are able to assemble an accomplished 50-voice choir that is ready to sing for conference visitors.