“British Saints Celebrate 150th Anniversary,” Ensign, Oct. 1987, 70–75
When twelve thousand Church members gathered in Manchester, England, in 1971 for the first-ever area conference, President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke prophetically about future growth of the Church in the British Isles:
“We hope to see the day when there will be stakes of Zion in every part of the land.” (In British Area General Conference Report, Aug. 1971, p. 6.)
Sixteen years later, in July of this year, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh Saints saw fulfillment of that prophecy as approximately thirty-five thousand members from forty stakes and two districts gathered in six separate conferences to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the gospel in their lands.
Attending the conferences were President Ezra Taft Benson and President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency; Elders Marvin J. Ashton, David B. Haight, Russell M. Nelson, and M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy; Elders Carlos E. Asay, Derek A. Cuthbert, Jack H Goaslind, Russell C. Taylor, and Hans B. Ringger of the First Quorum of the Seventy; and Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
The weekend of activities was highlighted by official visits to England’s queen and prime minister, an anniversary banquet in London’s prestigious Savoy Hotel, dedications of new LDS markers at eight historic sites, and six conferences on Sunday.
A new volume of Church history and a new thirty-minute video, both telling of the Church’s 150 years in the British Isles, were produced for the occasion, as were a cassette tape of British songs sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a new musical written by British members, and a map and guidebook to Church historic sites in Great Britain.
Greetings to the Queen and Prime Minister
On Friday morning, July 24, Arch J. Turvey and Kenneth Johnson, regional representatives, and Wendell J. Ashton, president of the England London Mission, visited Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street and presented to aides of the queen and the prime minister a copy of the Book of Mormon, a copy of the new pocket edition of the four standard works, and letters of greeting from the First Presidency.
The presentation to the queen mirrored that made in 1841 to Queen Victoria by Lorenzo Snow, on behalf of Brigham Young. Queen Victoria’s personally inscribed copy was found earlier this year in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle; on the front cover, inscribed in gold, are the words: “To Queen Victoria, 1841,” and on the back, “Presented by Brigham Young.” The copies given to Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher are replicas of the 1841 copy, except that their names are inscribed on the front cover, and “Presented by Ezra Taft Benson” is inscribed on the back.
That evening, four hundred guests gathered at London’s Savoy Hotel for an anniversary banquet, funded through private contributions of U. S. members of the Church in appreciation for their British Isles heritage. Prominent Church members from both sides of the Atlantic attended. British members were represented by their five regional representatives, forty stake presidents, and two district presidents, along with the eight mission presidents then serving in the British Isles.
Many prominent non-LDS guests also attended, including former British prime minister Rt. Hon. Edward Heath; former British cabinet minister and currently Member of Parliament Rt. Hon. Sir Rhodes Boyson; leaders of British industry such as Sir Kit McMahon, chairman of the Midland Bank; Rt. Hon. Lord Thomson of Fleet, chairman and president of Thomson Newspapers, owners of more than 130 newspapers in the U. S. and Canada; actress Jane Seymour; and noted symphony conductor Sir Charles Groves.
The proceedings of the evening were signaled by The Trumpeters of the Life Guards, who play for the Royal Family on ceremonial and social occasions. The stirring fanfare for the anniversary banquet was based on “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”
President Benson extended his greetings and expressed appreciation for the contribution of the British to the free world. He recalled his visit to Britain in 1946 on assignment from Church leaders to help arrange the distribution of food, clothing, and other necessities to members of the Church in war-torn Europe. He closed by paying tribute to the British today:
“In 1987 we have new cause to be thankful to you, our British friends. What an example of ennobling the individual your government, under Margaret Thatcher, is showing all of us, gloriously and globally. By motivating each able-bodied man, woman, boy, and girl to be or prepare to be self-sufficient, you are making this one of Britain’s finest hours.”
The guests then viewed a specially prepared video of U. S. President Ronald Reagan, who extended his greetings and recounted the arrival of the Church in Britain and the early LDS emigration to the United States. “The Mormon contribution to American life is beyond measuring,” he said, “and the contribution of the British Isles and Ireland to the Mormon Church is also immense. They are the contributions of love and joy, of faith and family, of work and community. They are a dedication to the values that are at the heart of free nations—and good ones—and they are a faith in the promise of tomorrow.” His message was greeted with applause.
Responding to President Reagan’s message, the Rt. Hon. Sir Rhodes Boyson also gave a warm tribute to the Latter-day Saints: “There is no one who cannot admire the Mormon people. The emphasis on the family—that basic building block of society—is a lesson to us all. The emphasis on self-discipline, cheerfulness, tolerance, education, civic duties, the tithe, and the primacy of religion in your lives has built a great church and a great people, and I am proud to count so many of you among my closest friends.”
He closed by referring to the close ties that unite the British and American peoples. We have “a common blood and heritage and a total dedication to a religious and political view of man,” he said, “which gives him liberty and dignity and hope, under the fatherhood of the Almighty.”
After an introduction by Lord Thomson of Fleet, President Hinckley gave the keynote address. “The saga of a century and a half of the Church in Britain is a moving drama of courage and faith, of false accusation and bitter persecution, of tragedy and triumph. It is an epic of grand proportions, a chronicle of sacrifice, of struggle, of life and death, of appreciation and gratitude to God.”
He recounted his experiences when he arrived in Britain as a young missionary, and told of the deep love and respect he had for Britain and its people.
After reviewing the history of the first LDS missionaries in Liverpool and of their subsequent journeyings and work, he spoke of some of the fruits of that effort. He told of a thirteen-year-old girl who, with her family, joined the Church in Brighton, and of the hardships and ordeals they endured while traveling to Utah. After quoting from her journal, he said, “The little girl who wrote those words became the grandmother of my wife.”
President Hinckley concluded by expressing appreciation for the strength of Church members in Britain: “We are grateful for that faith in God which is of the very nature of so many of the people of Britain. On this inherent faith we have built, through knowledge and testimony, a constantly growing membership of Latter-day Saints, who are a credit to the Church and an asset to the nation.”
Music was provided by Tabernacle Choir soloist JoAnn Ottley. The evening came to a fitting close as a quartet of British members sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints” while scenes of LDS British history and contemporary life were projected on a huge screen. Then the assembly rose and sang “God Save the Queen.”
Saturday Events and Sunday Conferences
London. On Saturday, President Benson stayed in the London area, making a trip to the London Temple, and returning that evening for the premiere of the new British musical, Truth Will Prevail, in the Hyde Park chapel. More than eight hundred people were present. All but two of the forty-two members of the Truth Will Prevail cast were from the Yate Branch—approximately half of the entire branch membership. The one-hundred-voice London LDS Choir sang.
Earlier that morning, a special dedicatory service was held in the Hyde Park chapel. Elder Marion D. Hanks presided, and Elder Carlos E. Asay dedicated a plaque on the exterior of the chapel, telling the story of the arrival of the first missionaries in London in 1840.
More than ten thousand people from twelve stakes attended the London conference on Sunday morning in the Wembley Arena with President Benson, Elder Hanks, and Elder Asay. President Benson paid tribute to Great Britain for setting the stage for the restoration of the gospel. “Before the gospel could shine forth its resplendent light, a flickering flame of religious and political freedom had to commence somewhere,” he said. “Heaven determined that it begin here.”
He reviewed important events that led to religious and political freedom, such as John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible, the publication of William Tyndale’s English New Testament, and the enactment of the Magna Carta, the English Petition of Rights, and the English Bill of Rights. The American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights followed these English milestones.
“Once a man’s rights became guaranteed by the political institutions that would serve him, the time came for the Prophet Joseph Smith to be sent on the world scene, and for the kingdom of God to be restored by direct divine intervention in the year 1830. A light had burst forth among men again, and it was the fulness of the gospel!
“Freedom-loving men owe a debt of gratitude to Great Britain and those human instruments who provided that first flicker of ‘freedom’s holy light’ to future generations and which made the restoration of the fulness of the gospel possible,” he said.
Reviewing the question of freedom and the increase of tyranny in the world, President Benson urged Church members not to despair: “As God has intervened in our past history, so He may in our present history. His purposes will not be thwarted. … To come under the protective and preserving hand of God, it is vital that we keep before us the conditions for such protection.”
He reaffirmed the need to keep the commandments, pay tithes and offerings, attend the temple, and stay morally clean. He counseled members to participate in local elections, be honest in their dealings, pray, and hold family home evening.
Elder Marion D. Hanks told the members that “all scripture, ordinances, and covenants point to Christ.” He counseled members to think always of applying the scriptures to themselves as they read them. “Look and find out how they apply to you, your family, and your situation,” he said.
Preston, Liverpool, and Birmingham. President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Preston, where he had served as a missionary fifty-four years earlier. He dedicated a plaque in Avenham Park on the banks of the River Ribble, the site of the first British baptisms on 30 July 1837.
Later he revisited his old “digs” at 15 Wadham Road, where he had lived with a family in 1933. At the invitation of the current resident of the home, he went upstairs to the bedroom he had used as a young missionary. It was there that he had made an important decision to fight discouragement, forget himself, and go to work.
After visiting other sites in the area, he spoke at a Preston reunion that evening and showed that the years had not dimmed his knowledge of the distinctive dialect—or his sense of humor:
“Ee, by gumme. It’s good to see ye!” he began, to the laughter and applause of the audience.
Then he paid tribute to the Preston Ward, the oldest unit in the Church, which was formed as a branch on 6 August 1837. (Branches formed before that date in the U. S. were disbanded when the Saints left for Utah.) He also paid tribute to four members in attendance whom he had known as a young missionary: Florence M. Denney, a 92-year-old member baptized in 1903; Bessie Norrill; Gertrude Coreless; and Robert Pickles, who had been a branch teaching companion of young Elder Hinckley.
That afternoon, Elder Russell C. Taylor dedicated a bench and marker at the Albert Dock in Liverpool, where the first missionaries in Great Britain landed in 1837 and from where the first LDS emigrants left for America in 1840.
On Sunday, President Hinckley and Elder Taylor met with twelve thousand Saints at the anniversary conference in the International Arena at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre.
President Hinckley acknowledged that the Church has stabilized in Great Britain, offering its members all of the blessings that are available to Church members anywhere. And he reminded the Saints of their responsibilities to build up the Church, to grow in faith and understanding, to fortify their homes against evil through family prayer and scripture study, and to pay tithes and offerings.
Herefordshire, Hungerford, and Wales. On Saturday morning, Elders Russell M. Nelson, Derek A. Cuthbert, and Hans B. Ringger traveled to Herefordshire, England, to dedicate a one-acre site, Benbow’s Farm, where Wilford Woodruff baptized sixty-five people in 1840. The Church has purchased the site, including the pond.
Afterwards, they traveled to Cardiff, Wales, where a civic reception, attended by many local dignitaries, was held in the stake center. That evening, a Cymanfa Ganu (Evening of Song) was held.
On Sunday, the conference was held in St. David’s Hall, with nearly two thousand Saints present. Elder Nelson encouraged the Saints to look forward—beyond the forty stakes and one temple that are now in the British Isles. “These numbers will be multiplied again and again,” he said. “Missionary work will go forward as never before.”
He reminded the members of their responsibility to be missionaries to their friends, neighbors, and relatives, and encouraged them to share the gospel. He also counseled the members to write the story of their conversion for their children and grandchildren. “It will be an eternal treasure for your families,” he said.
That afternoon, the General Authorities held a session for the youth and a leadership session for husbands and wives.
The next morning, July 27, Elder Nelson dedicated a marker at Hungerford, the birthplace in 1862 of Elder James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve. Elder Talmage, the Church’s fiftieth Apostle, is the author of Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith.
Scotland. Elders David B. Haight, Jack H Goaslind, and Bernard P. Brockbank attended a reception in Beith, Scotland, on Saturday morning. They also met with local civic dignitaries. Then they went to Bishopton, on the banks of the River Clyde, where Elder Haight dedicated a bench and plaque commemorating the site of the first baptisms in Scotland in 1840.
Sunday morning, before conference, some four hundred members of the Church met in Holyrood Park, at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, where Elder Haight dedicated a plaque honoring Orson Pratt who, in 1840, climbed that rocky eminence near Edinburgh to plead with the Lord for two hundred converts. Within a short time the Lord had blessed the area with more than that number of members. To this day, Church members refer to the hill as Pratt’s Hill.
Then 2,700 Scottish Saints gathered in Edinburgh’s historic Usher Hall for their conference session. The members had gathered from as far away as Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, and had traveled by road and sea to be at the conference.
Elder Haight called upon the members to dedicate the next three regular fast days—in August, September, and October—to pray for the missionary work in Scotland. He also asked that greater attention be given to the introduction of friends to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and promised that an increase in conversion and testimony would follow.
Ireland. Elders Marvin J. Ashton and M. Russell Ballard traveled to Loughbrickland, Ireland, where Elder Ashton offered a dedicatory prayer recognizing the achievements of the Church in Ireland—past, present, and future. Plans were announced for the erection of a monument on this site to commemorate the first baptisms in Ireland in 1840.
Elders Ashton and Ballard held two conference sessions in Ireland on Sunday: 750 attended the morning session at the Belfast stake center, and 600 attended the afternoon session in the Finglas chapel in Dublin.
Although the afternoon conference was scheduled to start at 3:30 P.M., some members arrived up to four hours early to ensure seats near the podium. Members from all parts of the Republic of Ireland were there. Some had left their homes six to seven hours earlier to catch buses from their hometowns of Cork and Limerick in southern Ireland.
Elder Ashton began his address by saying: “In Utah today, the members will be talking about 140 years of the gospel in the state of Utah. You’re ahead, with 150 years!” He stressed that “the most important date in the history of the Church in Ireland is today—26 July 1987. Why? Because we have the opportunity to change our lives for the better.” He encouraged members to be pure in heart and to be grateful for blessings. “The greatest blessing is to have a hope in Christ,” he said. He also urged members to be in tune with the Spirit, to look for the good in people, and to share the gospel with love.
Elder Ballard reviewed the great contributions Irish Saints have made to the Church over the years. But, he said, “we must not simply enjoy these anniversary celebrations; today we must accept the challenge to spread the gospel among our friends and loved ones.” He encouraged the Saints to become “more aggressive, more active, in sharing the gospel. There is an urgency about this work. The Church needs to grow faster in Ireland. It can happen.” And he repeated his call to members to set a date to have someone prepared to be taught by the missionaries.
That evening, Elder Ballard returned to Belfast, where he held a youth fireside. Elder Ashton remained in Dublin and, along with mission and district leaders, met with the deputy lord mayor of Dublin, Councillor Alice Glenn. As she met with the Church leaders, she remarked, “Surely the visit of two Apostles to Ireland can only be of benefit and blessing to this troubled island.”
When Heber C. Kimball and his companions arrived in Preston, England, in 1837, they saw an election banner draped across the street bearing the words “Truth Will Prevail.” Taking encouragement from those words, they adopted them as the motto of their mission.
Throughout the weekend of 24–26 July 1987, that motto again became a theme for the Latter-day Saints, with the declaration by President Gordon B. Hinckley that “truth has prevailed!”
Correspondents in Great Britain: Bryan J. Grant, John Ashmead, Peter J. Trebilcock, Kathleen A. Penny, Alan Brown, Margaret Cumming, Rory McCune, and Kevin Fingleton.