“Conversation on Gospel Roots Deepen in Northern Europe,” Ensign, June 1996, 79–80
As a new generation of priesthood holders moves into leadership positions and as members’ strong family and moral values become more publicly recognized, the Church continues to progress in the British Isles and in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. For an update about the Church in this area, the Ensign spoke with Elder Graham W. Doxey of the Seventy, President of the Europe North Area, and his counselors, Elders John E. Fowler and Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr., both also of the Seventy.
Question: After more than a century of helping seed the gospel in other parts of the world, northern European members are now putting down gospel roots in their homelands. Where does this process stand today?
Answer: Since the London Temple was dedicated in 1958—at a time, incidentally, when England was home to only about 6,000 members—the Church in the British Isles has grown at a rapid pace. Today we feel that other countries throughout the area also have stronger corps of priesthood leaders and more faithful Saints than ever before in their histories. These wards and branches are built on foundations laid by dedicated, experienced members who remained faithful during years when the Church was small and obscure. Yet these stalwart pioneers have raised up a generation of committed, competent young leaders who are now moving the Church into a new phase of growth and development. A recent change in local leadership in Oslo, Norway, illustrates this process: A good brother who had worked for nine years as a counselor in a stake presidency and for another nine years as a stake president was released, and into his shoes stepped a 34-year-old returned missionary who is becoming a powerful leader. It is exciting to witness this ongoing transition to a strong, well-prepared younger generation of local priesthood leaders.
We credit much of the strength and preparedness of today’s northern European Saints to full-time missionary service. We were recently impressed on a visit to the Nordic countries to find so many couples and younger men and women who had served missions. Returned missionaries bring considerable skill and enthusiasm to their home units, and their missionary spirits influence other members to renew their efforts. With such a wonderful and ever-growing group of returned missionaries strengthening the Church throughout northern Europe, we feel much confidence about the Church’s future here. As an Area Presidency, we continually encourage young adults and couples to serve full-time missions whenever possible.
Q: How is the gospel helping northern Europeans meet modern challenges?
A: As is true elsewhere in the world, Latter-day Saints seem to be standing increasingly apart in proclaiming and living basic moral values. Some institutions and individuals that once could be counted on to stand up for what is right seem to be equivocating on issues such as morality, gambling, and homosexuality. Instead of encouraging the formation and maintenance of traditional families, some social policy seems to encourage undesirable patterns of conduct and attitude toward the sacred institutions of the home and family. In such situations, marriage is not attractive to many because social assistance stops when an income is provided by the father. We note, however, that while the world’s decaying moral climate entices some Latter-day Saints to reject moral ways of living, it also influences others to embrace the gospel way.
For these reasons, no message could be more timely for the people of our area—as well as for the rest of the world—than the recent proclamation about the family issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles (see Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). This proclamation states that “children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Nearly all economic and social problems in our countries could be solved if people will respond to this proclamation and apply its principles. As the proclamation has unfolded in our area, we have sensed that the Lord is preparing the hearts of many decent, God-fearing people in the Europe North Area to receive the restored gospel.
Q: What other outreaches and events are strengthening Church members and helping proclaim the gospel?
A: Several countries in our area have recently enjoyed separate visits by members of the First Presidency. President Thomas S. Monson created a second stake in Stockholm, Sweden, and also visited with Sweden’s king and queen at the Stockholm Sweden Temple, where he presented the queen with 60 pounds of books containing her family’s genealogical records. This visit was highlighted in a nationally televised year-end review of the king and queen’s activities. In Great Britain, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke 16 times to a total of 8,000 people over a period of nine days and gave three significant media interviews. President Hinckley was the first Church President to visit Ireland since President David O. McKay visited there in 1953. Some 500 people drove from Belfast, Northern Ireland, to join 800 more Saints in Dublin, Ireland, to hear the prophet. One brother who decided at the last minute to make the trip later expressed that hearing President Hinckley and feeling his warmth, humanity, and love for the people was one of the most marvelous spiritual experiences of his life.
Family history and temple work continue to strengthen the area tremendously. After several years of cooperation among Church members and associates from genealogical groups, 30 million names from the British 1881 census have been added to family history resources for the use of members and nonmembers alike in researching their kindred dead. We expect to see much continuing good from this project, not only in family history research but also in increased public awareness of the Church.
The fruits of the census labor will begin to reach the public about the same time the Preston England Temple is completed, which is already generating much public interest as well as excitement among members. Rising prominently above a major motorway on a hill in Chorley, a small town southeast of Preston, the temple will be the centerpiece of a complex that also includes housing for temple workers, a reception center for travelers, a stake center, and a missionary training center with a significantly larger capacity than the London center. We predict that the Preston temple will represent as significant a milestone in British Church growth as the London Temple did in 1958. So much of the good that occurs in our area can be traced to temples. When members gain a sense of what the temple really means and focus their gospel living on it, the quality of their lives improves and their ability to influence others for good increases.
The Church is becoming better known in northern Europe. Though much remains to be done, we’ve made some real strides forward. For example, much of our press coverage is favorable, and a large, dedicated full-time missionary force is working hard to convert people one by one. Our most significant progress, we believe, comes because of the examples of Church members. Though they represent a small religious minority, our people seem to feel no resignation about being Church members. They take great pleasure in living the gospel, and they feel a sense of healthy confidence about their testimonies and values. This kind of attitude is what will further bring the Church out of obscurity.