Rich heritage of British Isles touches family roots of leaders

The rich heritage of the British Isles touches the family roots of every General Authority who participated in the dedication of the Preston England Temple June 7-10. (Please see article on page 3 for comments by President Gordon B. Hinckley.)

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency; President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elders M. Russell Ballard and Jeffrey R. Holland, both of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder W. Eugene Hansen of the Presidency of the Seventy; and Elders Cecil O. Samuelson, Spencer J. Condie and Wm. Rolfe Kerr of the Seventy spoke with the Church News about the legacy of the British Isles in their lives.President Monson referred to the first missionaries who came here in 1837. Two of those missionaries, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, were members of the Twelve. President Monson described having visited the River Ribble at Preston where, on July 30, 1837, the first converts in England were baptized. On that day, nine souls entered the waters of baptism. Within a week, 50 more converts were baptized.

"I think it is significant that we remember the days when the great baptisms took place in the River Ribble," President Monson said. "To stand near where those baptisms took place brings you back to your roots. As we remember the past, the lessons learned prepare us to live with the present and plan for the future."

Missionary work inaugurated in 1837 was highly successful in England and spread throughout the British Isles. By the year 1900, some 100,000 people throughout the British Isles had been baptized and left their homeland to strengthen the main body of the Church in America.

President Monson had ancestors among them. "Much of my family background comes from the British Isles," he said "My father's mother was a convert from Leeds, England, and my mother's family as far back as we can go was from Scotland. I've grown up with many of the traditions of the English and the Scots as part of my daily life."

President Monson said that because of his British Isles ancestry, he was particularly pleased to participate in the dedication of the Preston England Temple.

"When I presided over the Canadian Mission and my wife, Frances, and our family were there, we often talked about the fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith sent the early leaders of the Church to Canada. That helped prepare them for their ministry abroad to Great Britain. I thought it was significant that some of the preparation took place in the great land where we had the privilege of serving."

Knowing of the history and heritage that have gone before him, President Monson said, "It was glorious to see these people who, with their children, have traveled long miles and come very early in the morning to wait in line to sit in the house of the Lord."

He spoke of the rapport he observed between President Hinckley and members here. "He has been magnificent; throughout this time he has been retracing in memory his footsteps as a missionary and his long ministry to the people of the British Isles. They love him for it. He said a few phrases in the dialect of Lancashire, much to the delight of the congregations. Each of the brethren who has served a mission here just seems to have a greater feeling of intensity in commenting upon their service as young men under the leadership of noble mission presidents. I believe that the people hearing that will see that those who came young in years have returned rich in wisdom and great love for the people with whom they labored."

The Church legacy continues in the British Isles, he noted. "In one temple dedicatory session, most of all the participants in the choir were quite young. They shall never forget the opportunity of singing as part of a temple dedication. It is a momentous event. To quote the words of Oliver Cowdery, `These are days never to be forgotten.' "

President Packer said that there is little question but that England has been a very significant influence in forwarding the gospel. "There are some things about English history that would be a little hard to understand without understanding the fact that there is a Restoration of the gospel," he said. "We can understand it now that the Restoration has taken place but there are so many improbables in England's history."

He spoke of the reigns of various kings and queens and their roles in the religious movement and climate of England and other parts of the British Isles. Of particular importance was the reign of James I of England. There was much confusion over religious doctrine, belief and practice, President Packer said of that time in English history. "James I made it known that the Bible would be taught, and even called scholars together to make a translation. There had been translations made before, but at that time (1611) there was a printing press, so the Bible could be printed for wide distribution. As the English Empire spread abroad, the Bible went with it. The British bequeathed to the world the principles of English law and the Bible."

Other events in English history, he said, "set the stage for the Restoration."

President Packer said that every president of the Church and president of the Quorum of the Twelve have had roots in the British Isles. His own family is of English and Irish ancestry. The Packer ancestral home, Goombridge Place, still stands in Kent. President Packer's wife, Donna, wrote a book, "The Packers of England - On Footings from the Past." While visiting his ancestral home, he wrote a poem to be included in the book. President Packer said that temples, such as the one that bears the historically significant name of "Preston," are built on footings from the past.

Elder Ballard said that there is a great story to be told of the contribution that the British Isles have made to the establishment of the Church. "If all the members who had joined the Church had stayed here, this would be the second largest church, perhaps, in all the British Isles.

"In 1997, we commemorated the sesquicentennial of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. From their journals, we know the price the emigrants from these isles paid for their testimony and witness of the Restoration.

"If you look at the leadership of the Church now and years past, you will see how many Church presidents and members of the Quorum of the Twelve came out of England's heritage. The British Isles and Scandinavia had a tremendous impact in the early days of the Church. Without their faith and devotion, we wouldn't be what we are today."

He said that he never comes to the British Isles without thinking of the early converts who made such great contributions to the Church. "I think that's one of the things that connects the generations. For example, my great-grandfather joined the Church here as a 17-year-old boy. My great-grandmother's parents joined the Church in Scotland. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were both handcart pioneers. I can't come to England and not feel connected to those who have gone on before. This is my homeland. It's my wife's homeland. When we're here, we're back where our roots are. As I think about it, it becomes very tender."

Elder Holland also spoke of the contributions made by those from the British Isles.

"The heritage of Great Britain is central to the early missionary success of the Church. When Joseph Smith sent the first missionaries here in 1837, it was one of the most difficult, personal times in the Prophet's life and in the Church. The financial panic of 1836-37 that swept through the American frontier just rocked the Church; it rocked all of America. It was a difficult time in Ohio, then headquarters of the Church.

"In the middle of that the Prophet Joseph had the revelation that he should send Heber C. Kimball to England to begin the work here and provide the Restoration of the gospel to the people in the British Isles. This was wonderful courage, a remarkable act of heroism by a prophet. He sent over the next two or three years almost all of the Twelve over here. His prophetic view of that was vindicated. The results are history, legend. Hundreds of thousands of people have joined the Church. At the turn of the century, with so many of them coming to the United States, they became the numerical salvation of the Church, as well as providing other gifts and talents through a critical period.

"By 1850, there were twice as many of members in Great Britain as in all of the U.S. That's the kind of overwhelming success that missionaries had here. Some of the most remarkable missionary stories in the Church come from here. That heritage has come on down to the present hour.

"When we first found this property for the temple, I had the feeling, and I have it now, that this was a piece of land that the Lord had preserved. You don't find many pieces of property on a prominent hill overlooking a freeway network. I believe that for centuries on this beautiful English countryside the Lord has literally preserved that land so that we could have a temple. It could have been used for hundreds of things by now in this civilization. It's been pristine. It's been preserved, and I believe preserved by the hand of the Lord for this purpose."

Elder Hansen, who serves as executive director of the Temple Department, spoke of the rich Church history in this part of England. While there is already a temple in this country - the London Temple - he said it did not seem unusual that a second temple was built in the Preston area.

"It's wonderful to be here in what we could say is the cradle of the Church in England," Elder Hansen said. "The first baptisms in this land were performed near here, in the River Ribble. The oldest continuous unit of the Church, now the Preston Ward, is here. It is thrilling to have a temple now where it all began in England. The British converts made such a contribution to the Church."

Why would the site in Chorley be selected for a temple? "There's no doubt in my mind that this is where the Lord wants the temple to be," Elder Hansen declared.

Elder Samuelson, the Europe North Area president, said that the dedication of the temple has been something of great anticipation, "the focus of everyone's faith and prayers."

He said that the temple will give the members a clear sense that this is not only a worldwide Church but that the Church "is largely moving out of darkness and obscurity here in the British Isles. What it's doing for the rest of the country is showing them that this is a mainline Church that has its focus on the Savior, and that we're growing. We had many members of Parliament, members of the House of Lords, mayors, members of town councils who visited during the open house and for first time have come to appreciate some of the things that we believe. We think this is a new era in Britain for understanding and appreciation for the Church."

Elder Condie, first counselor in the Europe North Area presidency, saw a personal touch to the temple dedication, particularly with President Hinckley's presence. He said the Church president's gentle humor, inimitable spirituality and his cheerful and tearful recollections of his early missionary experiences, were manifest as he spoke about the great family of saints who had come from throughout the British Isles. "The faithful members," he said, "came from the Shetland Islands on the north to Plymouth in the south, from Ireland and Wales in the west to Billingham and Canterbury in the east. They stood in the rain for hours to listen to a prophet's voice, and they were richly rewarded for their efforts."

Elder Kerr, second counselor in the Europe North Area presidency, feels close ties with the British Isles. His father, Clifton G.M. Kerr, was mission president of the British Isles from 1955-58. "One of his final responsibilities was to coordinate the planning and preparation of the London Temple, which occurred in the fall of 1958, just prior to his release," Elder Kerr said. "I feel that he is thrilled that his beloved saints now have a second temple available to them. I served a mission here myself. Nearly every weekend when I go to a stake conference, I'm meeting someone I taught, or their children or someone my father taught. It's been a marvelous experience."

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