Lesson 15: The First Mission to Great Britain

“Lesson 15: The First Mission to Great Britain,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)

“Lesson 15,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material

Lesson 15

The First Mission to Great Britain

Introduction and Timeline

Acting under inspiration, in early June 1837 the Prophet Joseph Smith called Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to serve a mission to England. Accompanied by fellow Apostle Orson Hyde and five other missionaries, Heber landed in Liverpool, England, in mid-July. After seeking the Lord’s guidance, the missionaries felt inspired to travel to Preston, England, where they found great success in preaching the gospel. Shortly before their first baptisms in England, the missionaries experienced a confrontation with the forces of the adversary. They also faced opposition from leaders of other churches. However, through the assistance and power of the Spirit, the missionaries converted between fifteen hundred and two thousand people and established branches of the Church in Preston and in the surrounding towns and villages.

Early June 1837Through revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord called Heber C. Kimball to serve a mission to England.

July 19 or 20, 1837Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, accompanied by five other missionaries, arrived in Liverpool, England.

July 30, 1837The first converts in England were baptized.

August 6, 1837The first branch of the Church in England was organized in Preston.

May 22, 1838Heber C. Kimball returned to Kirtland, Ohio, from his mission to England.

Student Readings

Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapters 24–25

Suggestions for Teaching

The Lord calls Heber C. Kimball to proclaim the gospel in England

Kirtland Temple exterior
Kirtland Temple interior

Display the accompanying images of the exterior and interior of the Kirtland Temple.

Invite a student to read aloud the following statements by President Heber C. Kimball (1801–68) of the First Presidency, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Heber C. Kimball

“[In early June 1837], … the Prophet Joseph came to me, while I was seated in front of the stand, above the sacrament table … [in the Kirtland Temple], and, whispering to me, said, ‘Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me: “Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my Gospel, and open the door of salvation to that nation”’” (Heber C. Kimball, in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [1888], 116; punctuation standardized).

“The idea of being appointed to such an important office and mission was almost more than I could bear up under; I felt my weakness and unworthiness and was nearly ready to sink under the task … , and I could not help exclaiming: O Lord, I am a man of ‘stammering tongue’ and altogether unfit for such a work. How can I go to preach in that land, which is so famed throughout christendom for [learning], knowledge, and piety?” (Journal of Heber C. Kimball, ed. R. B. Thompson [1840], 10; punctuation standardized).

  • Why did Heber feel “unfit” to preach the gospel as a missionary in England?

  • Why might we sometimes feel inadequate to fulfill a calling or assignment from the Lord and His servants?

Explain that in addition to Heber’s feelings of inadequacy, challenging circumstances in Kirtland at the time of his mission call may have also made it difficult for Heber to leave to preach the gospel abroad.

  • Based on your reading of chapters 24–25 of Saints: Volume 1 and what we discussed in lesson 14, what conditions existed in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837 that may have made it especially difficult for Heber to serve a mission at this time? (If necessary, remind students of the financial crisis that had affected the Saints in Kirtland and the apostasy of many Church members, including some Church leaders, who had openly opposed Joseph Smith’s leadership.)

Invite a student to read the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) aloud:

Joseph Smith

“In this state of things … God revealed to me that something new must be done for the salvation of His Church” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 327).

Explain that God revealed that Joseph Smith was to send missionaries to proclaim the gospel in England.

  • How do you think sending missionaries to England at this difficult time could have helped bring salvation to the Lord’s Church? (If necessary, explain that President Spencer W. Kimball taught that missionary work is the lifeblood of the Church: “If there were no converts, the Church would shrivel and die” [“When the World Will Be Converted,” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 4].)

Display the following statement by President Heber C. Kimball, and invite a student to read it aloud. Ask the class to look for what helped Heber have the faith to accept his mission call.

Heber C. Kimball

“Feeling my own weakness and unfitness for such an undertaking, I was led to cry mightily to the Lord for wisdom and for that comfort and support which I so much needed. …

“… I endeavored to put my trust in God, believing that he would assist me in publishing the truth, give me utterance, and that he would be a present help in the time of need” (Journal of Heber C. Kimball, ed. R. B. Thompson [1840], 15).

  • What helped Heber have the faith to serve his mission, despite his fears and feelings of inadequacy?

  • What are some principles we can learn from Heber’s faith and example? (Students may identify several principles, but make sure they identify a principle similar to the following: If we trust in the Lord despite our fears and inadequacies, He will support us with His power and qualify us to do His work. Write this principle on the board.)

Ask students to look for evidence throughout the rest of the lesson that God supported and assisted Heber during his mission.

Explain that less than two weeks after receiving his mission call, Heber left for England. One of his acquaintances, Robert B. Thompson, described what he witnessed in the Kimball home on the day Heber departed. Invite a student to read the following account aloud:

“I unconsciously entered the [Kimball] house, the door being partly open. When I entered, I felt struck with the sight which presented itself to my view. I would have retired, thinking that I was intruding, but I felt riveted to the spot. [Heber] … had been pouring out his soul to [God, pleading] … that He … would supply the wants of his companion and little ones in his absence. He then … laid his hands upon them, individually, leaving a father’s blessing upon [them], and commending them to the care and protection of God, while he should be engaged in preaching the gospel in distant lands. While thus engaged, his voice was almost lost in the sobs of those around, who tried in vain to suppress them. … He was obliged to stop at intervals, while the big tears started down his cheeks. … I was not stoic enough to refrain, … [and] I wept, and mingled my tears with theirs; at the same time, I felt thankful that I had the privilege of contemplating such a scene. Nothing, thought I, could induce that man to tear himself from … his partner and children who are so dear to him—nothing but a sense of duty and love to God, and attachment to his cause” (Robert B. Thompson, in Journal of Heber C. Kimball, ed. R. B. Thompson [1840], v–vi; spelling and punctuation standardized).

Invite students to imagine being in the place of Heber, his wife, Vilate, or one of their children, and ask:

  • What challenges could this mission to England represent for you and your family?

Missionaries proclaim the gospel and establish the Church in Preston, England, and the surrounding towns

Display the accompanying map. Explain that Heber, accompanied by Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, Joseph Fielding, John Goodson, Isaac Russell, and John Snider, traveled by ship from New York to Liverpool, England, arriving in mid-July 1837.

Standard of Truth map

Divide students into groups of two or three. Give each group a copy of the accompanying handout, “Calling on the Lord for Direction,” and ask them to read the handout and discuss their answers to the questions on the handout in their groups.

“Calling on the Lord for Direction”

Read the following statement by President Heber C. Kimball (1801–68) of the First Presidency, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and discuss the questions that follow.

Heber C. Kimball

“The time we were in Liverpool was spent in council, and in calling on the Lord for direction, so that we might be led to places where we should be most useful in proclaiming the gospel, and in establishing, and spreading his kingdom; while thus engaged, the spirit of the Lord, the mighty power of God was with us, and we felt greatly strengthened, and a determination to go forward, come life or death, honor or reproach, was manifest by us all. …

“Feeling led by the spirit of the Lord to go to Preston … we started for that place” (Journal of Heber C. Kimball, ed. R. B. Thompson [1840], 15–16).

  • How does this account illustrate the principle “If we trust in the Lord despite our fears and inadequacies, He will support us and qualify us to do His work”?

  • What additional principles can we learn from these missionaries’ efforts to seek the Lord’s direction?

“Calling on the Lord for Direction” handout

Invite a few students to report their groups’ responses to the questions with the class. Use students’ responses to the second question on the handout to write a principle on the board similar to the following: As we seek guidance from the Lord, He will direct us through the Spirit to know how to accomplish His work.

Ask students to locate chapter 24 of Saints: Volume 1. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from page 281, starting with the paragraph that begins “The missionaries to England had landed …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 282 that begins “Preaching was James’s livelihood …” Ask the class to follow along, looking for one way the Lord had prepared for the gospel to be preached in Preston.

Explain that after the missionaries preached from Reverend Fielding’s pulpit in Vauxhall Chapel, many members of Reverend Fielding’s congregation favorably received the missionaries’ message.

Display the following statement by President Heber C. Kimball, and invite a student to read it aloud:

Heber C. Kimball

“The [Reverend] Mr. Fielding, who had kindly invited us to preach in his chapel, knowing that quite a number of his members believed our testimony and that some were wishful to be baptized, shut his doors against us and would suffer us to preach no more in his chapel. …

“… However, his congregation did not follow his example, they having for some time been praying for our coming, and … they were in a great measure prepared for the reception of the gospel. … Having now no public place to preach in, we began to preach in private houses, which were opened in every direction” (Journal of Heber C. Kimball, ed. R. B. Thompson [1840], 17, 18; punctuation standardized).

  • How does this account illustrate that the Lord inspired the missionaries to go to Preston?

Explain that about a week after arriving in Preston, the missionaries prepared to baptize a number of people who had accepted the restored gospel. Early in the morning on the day these first baptisms in England were to take place, the missionaries experienced a harrowing encounter with the forces of the adversary.

Invite a student to read the following account by President Heber C. Kimball aloud:

Heber C. Kimball

“About daybreak, Brother Russel[l] … called upon us [Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde] to rise and pray for him, for he was … afflicted with evil spirits. … We immediately arose and laid hands upon him and prayed that the Lord would have mercy on his servant and rebuke the devil; while thus engaged, I was struck with great force by some invisible power and fell senseless on the floor. … [A vision was opened to our minds and we] could distinctly see the evil spirits who foamed and gnashed their teeth upon us. … I perspired exceedingly, and my clothes were as wet as if I had been taken out of the river. … By [this experience] I learned the power of the adversary [and] his enmity against the servants of God and got some understanding of the invisible world. However, the Lord delivered us from the wrath of our spiritual enemies and blessed us exceedingly that day, and I had the pleasure … of baptizing nine individuals” (Journal of Heber C. Kimball, ed. R. B. Thompson [1840], 19; spelling and punctuation standardized).

  • Why do you think that the adversary and his hosts manifested themselves at this particular time?

Invite a student to read aloud the following account of a discussion Heber C. Kimball had with the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding Heber’s encounter with the adversary. Ask students to listen for a principle that the Prophet taught Heber.

Orson F. Whitney

“Years later, narrating the experience of that awful morning to the Prophet Joseph, Heber asked him what it all meant, and whether there was anything wrong with him that he should have such a manifestation.

“‘No, Brother Heber,’ he replied, ‘at that time you were nigh unto the Lord; there was only a veil between you and Him, but you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle [against] you.’

“Joseph then related some of his own experience, in many contests he had had with the evil one, and said: ‘The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes’” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [1888], 145–46).

  • What did the Prophet suggest was a reason why the power of the adversary was directed against the missionaries in England?

  • What principle can we identify from the missionaries’ encounter with the adversary and the Prophet’s teachings regarding this? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: The adversary will work against us as we seek to draw near to the Lord and do His will.)

To help students further understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Jeffrey R. Holland

“Before great moments, certainly before great spiritual moments, there can come adversity, opposition, and darkness. Life has some of those moments for us, and occasionally they come just as we are approaching an important decision or a significant step in our lives” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,” Ensign, March 2000, 7).

  • What are examples of spiritual moments, important decisions, and significant steps in our lives when we may face opposition from the adversary?

  • How can it be helpful in these moments to remember that the adversary opposes our efforts to draw near to the Lord and do His will?

  • What guidance and counsel has the Lord given to help us resist or overcome such opposition? (If necessary, refer students to Doctrine and Covenants 10:5; 1 Nephi 15:24; and 3 Nephi 18:18.)

Explain that after having been in Preston just over a week, the missionaries felt inspired to visit surrounding areas as well. Willard Richards and John Goodson found success in preaching the gospel in Bedford, and Isaac Russell and John Snider labored in Alston. Joseph Fielding and Orson Hyde worked with Heber C. Kimball in and around Preston. Despite opposition from several ministers, the missionaries were led by the Spirit to the homes of those prepared to receive the truth.

Invite a student to read aloud the following account by President Heber C. Kimball:

Heber C. Kimball

“I went and performed the mission according to the words of the Prophet of the living God and was gone eleven months and two days from Kirtland, … in which time there were about two thousand souls added to the church and kingdom of God, with the help of Elder[s] Willard Richards, Orson Hyde, and Joseph Fielding. …

“God had blessed and prospered me exceedingly. … I was poor and weak and did not know but a little in regard to this work in the latter days: my knowledge was in proportion to my experience. At the same time I knew enough, by the help of the Holy Ghost, to confound the wise and to bring to naught the foolish things of this world. God has taken just such weak instruments as myself to bring to pass his great purposes” (Heber C. Kimball, “Sermon,” Deseret News, Dec. 2, 1857; spelling and punctuation standardized).

Refer to the first principle you wrote on the board. Invite students to think about a time when the Lord supported them with His power and qualified them to do His work as they put their trust in Him. Ask a few students to share their experience with the class. Consider sharing an experience of your own.

Encourage students to trust the Lord, seek His guidance, and believe that He will support and direct them in accomplishing His work. Ask students to write in their study journals what they will do to increase their trust in the Lord and to better seek His guidance.

Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 26–28 of Saints: Volume 1.

Commentary and Background Information

Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger

If students have questions about Joseph Smith’s marriage to Fanny Alger, consider sharing the following:

“When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

“Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents” (“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics,

Explain that it is unclear what Oliver Cowdery understood or believed about the Lord’s commandment, but at some point he began to make false accusations regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger. The topic of plural marriage will be addressed in more detail in lessons 21 and 24.

“Calling on the Lord for Direction” handout