Channel Island Saints

“Channel Island Saints,” Ensign, Dec. 1988, 68–69

Channel Island Saints

“Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.” (D&C 1:1.)

This verse has special significance for Latter-day Saints living on the Channel Islands just off the coast of France. In spite of problems peculiar to these isolated islands, the people there are not only listening to the gospel message, but many are accepting and living it.

The Channel Islands consist of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and Herm, plus two very small islands—Brecqhou and Jethou. Jersey is the largest—approximately ten miles long by six wide. Although they are a long way from England, the islands belong to the British Crown.

Everyone on the islands speaks English, but on both Jersey and Guernsey a patois, or dialect, is spoken that scholars identify as very similar to early Norman French. Efforts are being made to prevent the patois from dying out, and evening classes are held to teach the language.

Latter-day Saints currently meet on only two of the islands—Jersey and Guernsey. There is a ward in St. Helier on Jersey and a branch on Guernsey. Jersey has a population of around eighty thousand; its capital is St. Helier. Guernsey’s capital is St. Peter Port; the island’s population is fifty-five thousand.

Although the Church in the British Isles celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, missionary work didn’t start in the Channel Islands until 1848. One of the first missionaries on Jersey, Elder William C. Dunbar, wrote to the Millennial Star on 24 April 1849: “I came to this island December 6th, 1848 and found about 44 faithful Saints. I labour under many difficulties here in St. Helier’s. I have baptised sixty old and young. The Saints rejoice, the people wonder and cry delusion. I believe this to be an important place, and that much is to be done.”

There were then five branches of the Church in Jersey, two in Guernsey, and one in Alderney. Convert migration caused membership to dwindle, however, as many families emigrated. By 1883 there were only seven members left in Jersey.

Little work was done from 1900 until 1965, when Brother Thomas W. Wills, who had been converted to the Church in New Zealand, returned to Jersey with his wife, Judy. Finding no branch of the Church on the island, Brother Wills contacted the Southwest British Mission. In response, two missionaries were sent.

In the meantime, Brother Alexander Mackenzie, along with his wife and family, moved to Jersey from Hyde in Cheshire, England, where they had been baptized in 1961.

Since then, the Church has grown in Jersey until the St. Helier Ward was organized a few years ago. Among the members of the ward are Bishop Peter Searle and his family, who live in the village of St. Aubin. He and John Fuller, along with their wives, used to fly to the dependent branch on Guernsey in a borrowed airplane piloted by Brother Fuller. There, the two did their home teaching while their wives did their visiting teaching. For two years, Bishop Searle also went to Guernsey every Sunday to conduct meetings there.

Among the earliest converts in this century on Jersey were Eileen Bundy and her son, Norman. They were baptized in November 1965.

Norman, a fireman for the States of Jersey Fire Service, is now first counselor in the St. Helier Ward bishopric. He and his wife, Sue, whom he met at a Church function, have five children. Sue is the Relief Society president and is also a youth leader at the St. Ouen’s Youth Club.

A radio broadcast led another Jersey family to the Church. When Stanley and Phyliss Barnard heard a program about the Church on the radio, Phyliss commented, “That sounds right to me.” Stanley agreed. Four weeks later two young missionaries knocked on their door, and shortly afterward the Barnards were baptized. They have been stalwart members now for more than twenty years.

Alex Mackenzie and his family have been members of the Church even longer—perhaps longer than anyone else on the island. Brother Mackenzie’s wife died in 1969, and since then he has done his best to keep his three sons and three daughters as close to the Church as possible.

“To me the Church is like a big family,” he says. “So long as we stay close and love one another, we can’t go wrong.”

Jersey attracts many people of different nationalities to its shores. Two of these immigrants stayed to make their marks on the Church community. The first, Seigfried Rudolph Schenk, was born in Germany. His wife, Bonna, is English. They have six children.

Brother Schenk has served as a branch president and as a bishop. He brings the same meticulous attention to his Church callings as he does to his job as head chef at a local luxury hotel.

Another immigrant, Leon Rodziewicz, was recently sealed to his wife, the former Ann Howlett, in the London Temple. The couple met last year at a Church function celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Church in the British Isles.

Leon feels that Jersey’s isolated position is a challenge for the Latter-day Saints there. “Jersey is far from the stake center, and it is expensive and time-consuming to fly or take a boat to the mainland.” This means that members rarely join in any stake activities. “We have to be very self-supporting,” he says.

The St. Helier Ward has grown tremendously in recent years. There is a feeling among the members that the Lord has prepared people on the island to hear the gospel and that it is up to the members and the missionaries to find them.

This was the case with Ted and Vanessa Harris, who were living the Word of Wisdom even before they learned of the Church. Ted met a Latter-day Saint when he was lecturing at Highlands College, and they began to talk about the Church. The Harrises were baptized a few months later.

“We felt as if we had always been part of the Church,” Brother Harris says. “We had been searching for years for something of a spiritual nature. A lot of it was instant recognition.”

Every week in Jersey there are new people at the chapel. Some are investigators, some are new members, and some are visiting on holiday. The St. Helier Ward welcomes them all.

The ward youth are always glad for an opportunity to mix with others of their own age. Because of their isolation, they have little chance to join in extended Church programs, to attend dances and stage shows, or even to date other Latter-day Saints.

Perhaps because of the isolation, there is a strong sense of community among Jersey Latter-day Saints. They also feel strong ties to their neighbors, and the Church is gaining more and more acceptance in the community.

Guernsey’s Saints are even more isolated. Only eighteen members meet each week in Guernsey, three of whom are priesthood holders. They are in the same situation as were Jersey members twenty years ago.

In both Jersey and Guernsey, the faith and prayers of the Saints and the care and concern that Heavenly Father has for them will ensure that the Church in the Channel Islands will continue to grow.

Correspondent: Yvonne Ashton is institute teacher and Relief Society Spiritual Living teacher in the St. Helier Jersey Ward, Southampton stake.

Photography by John Olley and John Watkins

Modern fishing boats and a medieval castle come together on Guernsey’s coast (backdrop). Jersey members Eileen Bundy (left) and Pauline Mauro.

High Street in St. Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital (top). Jersey’s St. Helier Ward meets in this chapel (center). The Peter D‘Orleans family (bottom) are among Jersey’s Latter-day Saints.