Neal A. Maxwell said, “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability!”1
When we were called to help start service missions in the UK and Ireland, in the middle of what became a year of lockdowns and self-isolation, the obstacles seemed overwhelming. But we embraced the new reality of virtual meetings. This increased our capacity to meet leaders and members without having to travel the long distances that this calling would have required. We have seen many blessings due to making ourselves available, giving all that we can to this exciting new chapter of the Church in the UK and Ireland.
Across the 47 stakes, and 333 wards and branches, we have been welcomed by ward councils, delivered youth firesides, presented fifth-Sunday lessons to Relief Society and priesthood, spoken in sacrament meetings, participated in lessons, and joined coordinating councils. We have had the pleasure of meeting with individual missionaries and their families, as we shared the good news about service missions.
Bishop Dann from the Nottingham 4th Ward wrote to us after one such meeting and said, “Thank you very much for joining us for our ward council meeting last night. Speaking personally, I felt the Spirit very strongly reinforce to me that service missions are a fantastic opportunity for those that are unable to serve teaching missions. I hope that the number of service missionaries can grow in the coming years. I can see it is good for those that serve, good for those that are served, and good for the Church in general.”
As stated in the First Presidency letter about service missions, “A service missionary is called by the Lord through His prophet to serve in an environment uniquely tailored to the service missionary’s interests, abilities, and talents.”2
When Elder Fagg, Ipswich Stake, started his mission in October 2020, he reflected on what this meant to him. “Today is a massive day for me. I have been called to be a service missionary. I am 24 years old, and I thought this missionary opportunity would be another thing the world would not allow me to have because of my special needs. I am so grateful the Church has been prompted to create this opportunity. I do not know why I would be given these lifelong challenges in God’s plan, but I am confident—I am a child of God, just like you. I may be different, but I too need Jesus, I still need to be loved, and I have a crucial part to play in the body of Christ. Despite my challenges, I too belong, and I am being allowed to use my unique gifts to serve.”
Doctrine & Covenants 4:3 reads, “If ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.”. Our service missionaries got to work very quickly. They have fed the homeless, guided visitors around museums, tended to injured and abandoned wildlife, taught seminary, taught English lessons to asylum seekers, and maintained gardens. Others have tended local council allotments, photographed and transcribed thousands of graves, created hints in FamilySearch through match-labelling, assembled lunch boxes to feed children over school holidays, and worked alongside other volunteers in charity shops. Some have sorted and distributed groceries in foodbanks along with teaching Relief Society lessons, speaking about service missions in wards across their stakes, assisting in youth programs, creating stake emergency plans and serving the sick and lonely.
After another busy week, Elder Hutchinson, from the Merthyr Tydfil Stake, reported “I spent ten hours doing a service project in my stake, for the charity Save The Children. This meant I helped collect, load and unload lots of food items on to and off of a van ready to put into food parcels for children that had free school meals over half term. My body ached after, but it was worth it. I was physically exhausted, but it is always good to do a service project like this and to learn a little about how the Saviour served.”
Elder Allen from the York Stake also embraced the opportunity to serve this new type of mission. He said, “I truly love and desire to serve my Father in Heaven. I have started serving in a food bank, and it has made me realise how lucky we are because there are families that are truly struggling at this time. As I serve, I will gain a greater understanding of what we were all brought on Earth to do, and every person has a purpose, time, and place. We can know that we will get the greatest blessings by serving our Father in Heaven.”
Service changes lives, and a service mission has already been a life-changing experience for the missionaries called to serve in the UK and Ireland. Bishop Doggett, Bath Ward, said of the change seen in Sister Little, “Whilst I knew she would be a great missionary; it is nevertheless amazing to see how she is serving”.
The service missionaries have found strategies to deal with anxiety, develop friendships, draw closer to the scriptures and their Heavenly Father through daily personal and companionship study. Leadership and presentation skills have improved as they have become district leaders and trainers, conducted meetings, and learned to counsel together. They have faced difficult situations and felt triumph as they have learnt to see themselves as their Heavenly Father does; through a lens that focuses on what they can do, rather than what they cannot do.
We are grateful to the many ward and stake leaders that have realised the potential within these young men and women and their desires to serve. It started with one missionary in Canterbury Stake back in July 2020. We now have missionaries from the Shetland Isles all the way down to Poole, from Dublin to Ipswich, with many stakes now having a service missionary or two. We, and they, are on the Lord’s errand and have important work to do. This is just the beginning of our local service missions. We are both honoured to work alongside members as we bring about this change. We are thrilled to see the potential realised by our service missionaries as they are given a chance to fulfil their desires to serve.