Two town criers share LDS faith: Unique trade offers opportunity to cry out on gospel principles

Brenda Willison's motto is: "I'm happy I'm a crier."

True enough, Sister Willison cries a great deal; she is the official town crier for the towns of Orton Waterville and Market Deeping in Great Britain.Attired in 17th-century knickers, cape and three-cornered hat, she clangs her hand bell at various civic events and calls out the traditional "oyez, oyez, oyez." After capturing the public's attention, she reads a formal proclamation.

The trade of town crying, which dates back to the Romans, has seen a recent revival in towns throughout the former British Empire. Sister Willison applied for a position as town crier at the encouragement of her friends at work.

"They said that if I could stand outside one cafe and shout across the street [to potential customersT, I could be a town crier," she said.

Now, Sister Willison is one of a handful of women criers in the world.

Female town criers aren't unheard of. The profession used to be handed down from father to son. But sometimes - for instance, when the man went off to the Crusades - the crier's wife would take over.

Rare as female town criers are, Mormon town criers are still more rare. Sister Willison is one of two Latter-day Saints who currently practice the art.

Both Sister Willison and Scott Fraser, town crier of Woodstock, Ontario, competed in the fifth World Town Crier Championships in Markham, Ontario, in June. Sister Willison took first place in an adjunct competition in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where she competed against 19 other criers, including two ex-world champions.

At competitions, each crier is judged on bearing, confidence, uniform, sustained volume and clarity, diction, inflection and the proclamation content.

But for Sister Willison and Brother Fraser, the judging goes beyond formal competition, for in the tightly knit fellowship of town criers, these two are well known as Latter-day Saints.

"I never told Scott I was a member," Sister Willison said on the final day of the competition. "Others told him."

Before he became official Woodstock town crier in March 1992, Brother Fraser, who is a salesman, husband, father of seven children and member of the Woodstock Branch, had become obsessed with the idea of town crying. The last crier in Woodstock was a former slave who had shouted proclamations during the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Brother Fraser, after learning some of the history, researched the profession and launched a campaign to revive the position and to get himself appointed.

"The main reason was that I saw it as a missionary tool," he said. "My presence makes people aware of the Church, mainly because of the Word of Wisdom."

Sister Willison, too, finds that the Word of Wisdom makes her religion visible: "After the ceremonies where I cry, people get me something non-alcoholic to drink."

But living the Word of Wisdom is only one of the ways that these Latter-day Saints "cry" the gospel message. Brother Fraser has discussed the gospel with fellow criers, and has made his values clear. Last December, at the year-end meeting of the Ontario Town Criers' Guild, the agenda included a discussion on how to improve the image of town criers.

Brother Fraser spoke up: "Why do we purport to conduct ourselves as gentlemen in public, but behave otherwise in private?"

As a result of that question and the discussion that followed, Brother Fraser was appointed chairman of a committee to establish a code of conduct and ethics for members of the guild.

In England, Sister Willison has found her own ways to combine her crying talents with the gospel. Among her fondest memories was "going around with two young elders at Christmastime, ringing my bell and announcing the singing of carols."

She, like Brother Fraser, sees her position as an opportunity to help people, "to spread the word."

They donate their services to charitable causes. For instance, Brother Fraser likes to donate a birthday or other special-event proclamation to charity auctions.

Are there any drawbacks to this loud avocation?

Sister Willison smiled at the thought. "My bishop sometimes gets annoyed, because if I'm shouting on Saturday night I'm a bit hoarse for singing in the choir the next morning."

Through the missionaries, Brother Fraser's family was converted when he was 4.

Sister Willison, a member of the Peterborough 2nd Ward, Northampton England Stake, was baptized in August 1991. Because she represents two towns, she has sewn two outfits - in the towns' different colors - for herself and two for her husband, Peter, who attended the World Competition to support Brenda and to act as her costumed escort.

At the competition, Sister Willison and Brother Fraser each read cries of their own creation. Brenda likes to write hers in poem form, and often she finds a way to slip gospel principles into the cry. One of her cries ends with: "May happiness and love be yours forever, and peace to the world through the years together."

She also wrote a poem for an occasion of major personal importance - her baptism. She read it on that day, and she cried, but not in her usual way.

She said, "I was crying at the time . . . because of the spirit."

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