“English, Irish Members Greet President Hinckley,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 109–11
In a whirlwind, eight-day trip in August and September to the land where he served as a missionary, President Gordon B. Hinckley created a new stake, reorganized two other stakes, spoke at five firesides, addressed half the missionary force in the British Isles, visited four of eight missions, rededicated the Hyde Park Chapel in London, toured Church farms in East Anglia and the Preston temple site in Lancashire, set apart new temple workers at the London Temple near Lingfield, Surrey, and spoke with missionaries and members in Ireland.
Arriving at London on Friday, August 25, President Hinckley and Sister Marjorie Hinckley were greeted by Elder Graham W. Doxey of the Seventy, president of the Europe North Area. The Hinckleys spent the afternoon visiting Canterbury Cathedral and Sandwich, Kent, from where President Hinckley’s early ancestors departed for America.
August 26 began with an interview with Suzanne Evans from BBC Radio 4’s Sunday program; this interview aired nationally the following day. The interview was followed by a meeting with missionaries from the England London South Mission, and that evening President Hinckley spoke at a fireside for adult members in the Crawley, Romford, and Maidstone stakes; approximately eleven hundred members were in attendance.
Nearly one thousand members attended a Sunday morning meeting where the London England Wandsworth Stake was reorganized. That afternoon some fifteen hundred members were in attendance at the creation of a new stake in Canterbury.
“Service—that’s what rolls the work along,” said President Hinckley during the meeting. The testimony of eternal truth is what makes this church distinctive, he observed. “That is the real strength of the Church—not the buildings, not even Temple Square—but this testimony of truth that is found in the hearts of the people all over the world. People who can say, ‘It is true,’ and who say, ‘I’ll go where you want me to go; I’ll do what you want me to do.’ This is not an American church. This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a message for the whole world. This is a world church with a world message.”
That evening President Hinckley rededicated the newly refurbished Hyde Park meetinghouse. In addition to President Doxey, the two counselors in the area presidency, Elders John E. Fowler and Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr., of the Seventy, attended this meeting, where eight hundred people were gathered.
During the meeting, President Hinckley spoke with great warmth of his love for the British Isles. “It’s wonderful to be here again,” he said. Of London, he observed, “I have lived here longer than any other place except Salt Lake City. … The hand of the Lord has been over this nation, bringing peace, order, and law to the peoples of the earth,” he declared. “There is a little of England in me.”
President Hinckley reminded those in attendance that the original dedication of the meetinghouse had occurred on 26 February 1961 by President David O. McKay. “This is the key chapel in England,” he said. “We may have larger, but this is our flagship chapel. … This is a sort of companion piece to the [London] temple,” he observed. “One is in the world; one is a threshold to the eternities.”
With the British Isles in the grip of a record-breaking hot spell, President Hinckley asked during the dedicatory prayer “that this land will be blessed, that water will come upon this thirsty land.”
In his travels the preceding days, the President had been dismayed to see the fabled fields of England turned brown. The drought had broken all previous records, and gardens and fields wilted in the unrelenting sunshine. Hours after the rededication, the dry spell was broken with much-needed rain.
Serious as this situation is, though, President Hinckley warned of a more serious drought. “There is a terrible spiritual drought in this land,” he said, counseling those present to stay close to the Lord and to live the commandments.
The President spent Monday morning meeting with and setting apart temple workers in the London Temple. That afternoon President Hinckley met with two more media reporters: Trevor Barnes of the BBC World Service and Laurence Spicer of London News Radio. It was reported that up to thirty million people heard these interviews.
Afterward, President Hinckley met with missionaries from the England London Mission. Ben Fox and a crew from BBC TV’s Everyman program filmed portions of that meeting as part of a national documentary being prepared on the lifestyle of Latter-day Saint missionaries.
“Live the rules,” President Hinckley counseled the missionaries. That counsel he emphasized two more times in his address. “This is the time to give all your time to the Lord,” he continued. “Don’t waste it; use it wisely; do good. Think on the things of the Lord and be concerned about His work. Then, gone will be the darkness of sin and laziness, and your whole body will be filled with light.”
Following that missionary meeting, President and Sister Hinckley drove to Woodwalton Farm in Cambridgeshire, one of the Church’s newly acquired farms in Britain.
Tuesday morning President and Sister Hinckley toured the farms and then spent time in the Church’s area offices. That afternoon, President Hinckley spoke to missionaries in the England Birmingham Mission, and that evening Church members in the area attended a fireside where he spoke.
During his address, President Hinckley spoke of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was “blessed with a vision beyond anything of consequence in modern history.” He urged the members to keep the Sabbath day holy and concluded by reminding members to “love one another, work at peace in the home, and remember that anger is corrosive.”
On Wednesday evening, the President addressed more than 750 Church members in Nottingham. Again, he stressed the sanctity of the Sabbath and the need to put families first. The Church in the British Isles “has come of age,” he declared. “The full program of the Church is here in this land.” His message emphasized the need for love and the need to stand together against the adversary.
Thursday President Hinckley returned to Preston, the area where he’d served as a young missionary more than sixty years ago. He toured the Preston England Temple site in Chorley. Preston is the location of the oldest continuous branch of the Church anywhere in the world, dating back to 1837. That evening, President Hinckley spoke to members of the Church in the Liverpool area.
During the address, he described a visit he had made earlier to a house in Preston where, as a young man, he had made a decision that would shape his life. It was a difficult time for him as a missionary, he explained. He had found little success and was discouraged. He wrote to his father, telling him that he felt he was wasting his time.
“Forget yourself and go to work,” his father wrote back.
This counsel reminded the young missionary of the scripture found in Matthew 16:25 [Matt. 16:25]: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” In that little bedroom, a young Elder Hinckley promised Heavenly Father that he would do just that. “Everything that has happened to me since, that’s been good, I can trace to that decision made in that little house,” President Hinckley said.
Friday morning, President and Sister Hinckley visited Albert Docks, Liverpool. Hundreds of thousands of emigrants left for the New World from the docks from the 1700s until the mid-1900s—including many converts to the Church—on the way to a new life in pioneer America. The Liverpool Daily Post had a reporter there covering President Hinckley’s visit, which was carried in a prominent story in the paper.
That afternoon President Hinckley left for Dublin, where he met with missionaries who serve in the Ireland Dublin Mission. Members from throughout Ireland attended a fireside held that Friday evening. This was the first visit by a President of the Church to Ireland in forty-two years—the last being President David O. McKay, who visited in 1953.
“Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45) was the message President Hinckley delivered, drawing upon the Prophet Joseph Smith’s Liberty Jail experience. Citing the life and example of King Benjamin, he encouraged those in attendance to “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Do so, he observed, “and the Church will be a great force for good in this land.”
On Saturday, September 2, President and Sister Hinckley flew home to Salt Lake City. British and Irish Saints alike felt that sitting at the feet of a living prophet and receiving his counsel had been a great spiritual experience.
Reporters: Bryan Grant, director of public affairs in the Europe North Area; assisted by Becky McLaverty of Shirley, Solihull; Shaun Elder of Limerick, Ireland; Audry Guest of Blackrod, Bolton; and Ken Goddard of Grantham, Lincolnshire.