For the first seven decades of the Church's existence, European converts by and large accepted the gospel in their homelands, then made their way to America, and "gathered to Zion" in the Mountain West.
In the 20th Century, Latter-day Saints on that continent obeyed the counsel of Church leaders and remained to build up the Kingdom of God and establish Zion where they lived. And the last 15 years especially have seen dramatic events unfold in terms of the establishment and growth of the Church in eastern and central Europe and the Middle East, where such events could hardly have been predicted a short time earlier.
Now, as the new century dawns, a recent announcement by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve is something of a culmination of last century's steady progress in Europe: Effective Sept. 1, the Church leadership has realigned the boundaries of the Church's administrative areas, designating them as the Europe West, Europe Central and Europe East areas.
Perhaps the most dramatic implication of the realignment is that the headquarters of the Europe East Area will now be Moscow, Russia. The three area presidency members will have their offices and residences in that capital of the former Soviet Union, the first time the Church has had such a significant presence in that immense land covering 11 time zones.
"The Europe East Area presidency, as soon as it is convenient, will relocate to Moscow, Russia," read a joint letter from the presidencies of the three new areas to local Church leaders. "The offices of the other area presidencies will remain at their current locations."
Those locations are Solihull, England, for the Europe West Area, and Frankfurt, Germany, for the Europe Central Area.
Here are other highlights of the boundary realignment:
Scandinavia and Finland, heretofore part of the Europe North Area with the United Kingdom, now become part of the new Europe Central Area.
The United Kingdom is now combined with France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the north African nations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisa and Libya in the new Europe West Area.
The Europe Central Area also includes several Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt and Jordan, plus the central European nations of Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania and others formerly part of the Europe East Area.
The new Europe East Area, in addition to Russia, retains a number of former Soviet Bloc countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
With the boundary changes, the Europe North Area has been discontinued.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, as the First Contact for the work of the Church in Europe, characterized the boundary realignment as a significant event in terms of "the continuing emergence of the work in that part of the world."
He added, "The realignment is particularly helpful in allowing us to facilitate the development of the work in Eastern Europe, Central Europe and the Middle East."
The Church does have members living in several Middle Eastern nations, even though it does little or no missionary work in that region of the world.
"But, of course, we've seen significant missionary work and Church growth in Eastern and Central Europe over the past decade with eight missions in Russia and a temple already announced for Kiev, Ukraine," he said.
Elder Holland reflected on the period beginning in the mid-1970s, when Church leaders, particularly President Spencer W. Kimball, asked members to pray that the doors of nations would be opened and the hearts of leaders would be softened to allow the restored gospel to enter their lands. He sees the steady developments in Eastern and Central Europe coming in answer to those prayers.
It will be noted from a survey of the countries comprising the respective areas that the Church as yet has little or no presence in some of them. However, they are placed under the administrative leadership of the Church so that the needs of what few members are in a country, or what members may be in a country in the future, will be met, Elder Holland explained.
Profile of new areas
Europe West Area
15 countries: Algeria, Belgium, England, France, Greenland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Libya, Morocco, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Tunisia, Wales.
24 missions, 66 stakes, 53 districts.
Europe Central Area
37 countries: Albania, Austria, Bahrain, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus, North Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.
20 missions, 34 stakes, 20 districts.
Europe East Area
18 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.
13 missions, no stakes, 25 districts.