“Preston Pioneers,” New Era, Feb. 1995, 29
“If I’d been in the Church for the length of time I have now (one year), and they’d asked me to leave England and follow the Prophet, I would have said yes,” says 17-year-old Paul Lindsey, from Nottinghamshire, England.
But he admits it would have been the hardest of tests, and he’s not sure about swapping the 1800s for the 1990s. “I’m too comfortable with modern wonders—and I don’t like wearing these trousers,” he laughs.
So why is Paul in Victorian costume, parading around the streets of Preston, England? He’s one of 210 seminary students who’ve ridden into town in three coaches.
Students came from Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, and Northamptonshire. Some made outfits from curtains; some wear rented costumes or modified old clothing from their parents.
Arthur Hardy, their seminary coordinator, is about to bring Church history to life as their trip into the past begins.
“We may look a bit stupid,” grins a friend of Paul’s, Daniel Liddicott from Leicester Stake, “but it does lead to questions. One person said there’s absolutely nothing in Preston, so why are we here? It’s a good opportunity to tell them Preston was a place of great history for our church when the missionaries first came over.”
The obelisk in the market square was the scene of those mighty beginnings—a place for many outdoor sermons. The fruits of those beginnings are hard to take in. At one time, in 1850, there were 30,700 Saints in Great Britain, and only 26,000 in the United States.
But that’s jumping ahead. The adversary didn’t let the gospel into this land without a fight.
The youth are at the scene of the first battle—a tiny lodging house on the corner of Wilfred Street. There’s only room for eight students at a time. They climb a narrow, rickety staircase up two flights.
In this lodging house, the elders in England were tormented by evil spirits and feared for their lives. (See Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, pp. 129–31.)
“It’s a bit creepy thinking about what went on in this house,” says Paul, “when they were attacked by legions of Satan’s followers. I can imagine it all happening.”
“It really adds to my testimony,” admits Paul, “to know that these men made the difficult decision to leave their families, come across the seas to England, and go through so much to teach people who’d never heard of the Church.”
“The sheer number converted shows how hard the Spirit must have been working to get a good base for what would follow, right up to us today,” says Paul.
Sara-Jayne Soverall, another of Paul’s friends, adds, “I wish we could be back in those times for a moment. I’d love to have seen them all.”
Apparently so would Preston’s Evening Post reporter, according to 16-year-old Michelle Armstrong. “It’s the best thing, walking around in Victorian costume,” she says. “Especially when that newspaper bloke took photos. He was trying to get us to reenact those first river baptisms, but it wouldn’t have been proper, so he got pictures of us pretending to teach people instead.”
Paul thinks it must have been harder then for a young person to be the only family member seeking baptism.
“My own family was cautious at first,” he remembers, “but now Mum sticks up for me, and my sister lends me her car to come to church. The Church today has been established long enough to be known, but then it was so new. I think people may have been more suspicious.”
The next stop on the pilgrimage is the Cockpit, a building rented for church meetings by early Saints from the local temperance movement, where people were taught the evils of alcohol.
Then, on by coach to the beautiful villages of Downham and Chatburn. To Paul Lindsey, in the 20th century, it seems a strange thing for the whole community to get up and go to Utah. He concludes, “The Spirit must have been very strong for that to happen.”
That same Spirit is still here in 1994. And amazing things still happen in England—not the least of which is the final site, the highlight of this seminary outing, a place which unites past and present in an excellent way.
Currently, it’s an empty field. Soon it will be the site of Britain’s second temple. The youth are impressed with the architect’s plans, marvel at miracles leading to the permission to build the temple, and can’t wait to enter its doors.
Wouldn’t those early Saints have loved to be here today? Maybe the strength of their faith and ours brings them closer than we realize.