“‘Through Our Meek Instrumentality,’” Global Histories: Scotland (2020)
“‘Through Our Meek Instrumentality,’” Global Histories: Scotland
In 1839 Alexander Wright and Samuel Mulliner, Scottish converts who joined the Church in Canada, were the first missionaries called to preach in Scotland. They first preached to their relatives—Mulliner in Edinburgh and Wright in Banffshire. Finding no success with his family, Mulliner began preaching in Bishopton, a town about 20 kilometers west of Glasgow, where James Lea, an English convert, was living. Lea introduced Mulliner to Alexander and Jessie Hay, who readily accepted the gospel and were baptized in the icy water of the River Clyde on January 14, 1840. Five days later, during the first sacrament meeting held in Scotland, the Hays were confirmed as members, their children were blessed, and Mulliner spoke in tongues—a blessing he had longed to receive for some time.
In February Wright joined Mulliner in Bishopton, and the two began preaching together, traveling from town to town and relying on the kindness of the local people for room and board. The reception, however, was mixed. The missionaries were driven from Kilpatrick by a mob throwing rocks and rubbish. By the end of March, having baptized only 10 people, they began to feel discouraged. “We feil our selves but children,” wrote Wright. “Yet we have no need to complain for our heavenly father is with us and through our meek instrumentality the work is moving on in this place.” In Paisley they rented a hall to hold public meetings. Grace Henderson McMaster, a single mother of four who attended one meeting, offered her home as a place for the missionaries to hold meetings and became one of the first converts in Paisley. By the time Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joined them in May, 80 converts had been baptized. That same month Pratt organized the first branch in Paisley.
Pratt and Mulliner then went east to Edinburgh, staying first with Mulliner’s parents. Pratt climbed to Arthur’s Seat above Edinburgh Castle and prayed that they would find 200 converts. He then went to work, securing a place to hold public sermons multiple times a week and printing hundreds of handbills and flyers to post all over the city. Despite the effort, his meetings often drew fewer than 20 attendees. “I had to preach almost to empty walls,” he reported. Seeking alternatives to reach the people, Pratt set to publishing a 31-page tract outlining principles of the restored gospel. This tract included the first published account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
In October Mulliner returned to the United States with a small company of Scottish Saints, the first of a steady flow of converts answering the call to gather with the body of the Saints in Zion. By the time Pratt left Edinburgh five months later, his prayer for 200 converts had been fulfilled. Among the early converts in Edinburgh were Mulliner’s parents. Many Scottish converts joined the missionary effort over the next decade, including Grace McMaster’s oldest son, William. They were successful in spreading the gospel throughout the lowlands, and by 1855 70 branches had been organized.