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175th anniversary of arrival of missionaries to British Isles

Program near River Ribble commemorates historic event

PRESTON, LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND

On Saturday evening July 7, more than 1,000 members, friends and local dignitaries from across the United Kingdom gathered in Lancashire, England, at Preston's Avenham Park to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Church in Britain.

On July 19, 1837, seven missionaries dispatched by the Prophet Joseph Smith, including apostles Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, landed at Prince's Dock in Liverpool. They soon made their way to Preston, where they arrived in the Market Place on a busy Saturday, July 22. It was the middle of a general election, called following the ascension of the young Victoria to the throne of Great Britain. As the missionaries descended the coach a political banner was unfurled from a window above them. "Truth Shall Prevail," it proclaimed. The missionaries thought it a provident sign and with resounding "Amens" they immediately adopted it as the motto of their mission to England.

| Photo by David M.W. Pickup
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS mi
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS missionaries in Great Britain. Hymns and singing by the choir and members were part of the program. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
Jacqueline Barber of the Blackpool Ward, Preston England Stake, models her homemade Victorian dress.
Jacqueline Barber of the Blackpool Ward, Preston England Stake, models her homemade Victorian dress. She said wearing the costume caused people to stop and talk, giving her the opportunity to present them with a passalong card. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

That evening the missionaries were invited to preach the following day at the Vauxhall Chapel to the congregation of the Reverend James Fielding, the brother of missionary Joseph Fielding. They preached the restored gospel and invited them to be baptized. Within the week, nine of the Reverend Fielding's flock desired to be baptized, which took place on Sunday morning, July 30, 1837, in the nearby River Ribble before a large crowd said to number thousands watching the spectacle.

| Photo by David M.W. Pickup
More than 1,000 members and friends from across the UK gather near the River Ribble in Avenham Park,
More than 1,000 members and friends from across the UK gather near the River Ribble in Avenham Park, Preston, Lancashire, close to the site of the first baptisms on 30 July 1837, to listen to 175th anniversary concert with 200-strong choir drawn from surrounding stakes. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

That simple event in Preston was but the opening of a remarkably successful missionary effort. This first trickle would soon become a virtual torrent of converts, with some 1,600 joining in the eight months of this first mission, and many thousands more from across Great Britain over the following few years. Elders Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow were among many other missionaries who crossed the length and breadth of Britain reaping a plentiful harvest of converts.

Joanne Stockill and Sarah Smith traveled from the southeast coast of England to attend the concert a
Joanne Stockill and Sarah Smith traveled from the southeast coast of England to attend the concert at Preston's Avenham Park. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
At right, Dr. Roger J Kendle, LDS Chaplain to the University of Central Lancashire and former stake
At right, Dr. Roger J Kendle, LDS Chaplain to the University of Central Lancashire and former stake president of the Preston England Stake. He is making a presentation to the Reverend Canon Andrew Clitherow, who is chaplain to the Queen and Church of England chaplain to the University of Central Lancashire, accompanied by his wife Nicola, a well-known soprano. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

By 1870 some 100,000 Britons had joined the Church and more than 45,000 of these converts would emigrate to provide much needed strength to the fledgling Church in America. From 1840 they began to come in shiploads across the Atlantic to New York and New Orleans, first making their way to Nauvoo and later crossing the plains in wagons and handcarts to the Salt Lake Valley. The British influence in the Church was significant and Joseph Smith's inspired decision to send missionaries to England proved to be providential at a time when the Church was suffering turmoil and persecution. It is said that for some 50 years from the 1840s the predominant accent of members in the Salt Lake Valley was British and many of today's rank and file members trace their ancestry through these British pioneers from the towns and villages of Great Britain.

Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS mi
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS missionaries in Great Britain. Hymns and singing by the choir and members were part of the program. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
A 200-member choir performs in Avenham Park at Preston, Lancashire, as part of a concert commemorati
A 200-member choir performs in Avenham Park at Preston, Lancashire, as part of a concert commemorating the beginning of missionary work in Great Britain. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

Ever since 1837, the Church has retained a presence in Preston. In fact, the Preston Ward is the oldest continuous unit of the Church in the world. Almost 100 years after those first missionaries, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who became the 15th president of the Church, was himself a young missionary in Preston, walking the same streets and preaching from the same Obelisk in Preston's Market Place as had Elder Heber C. Kimball. Today, the strength of the Church in Lancashire is marked by the Preston England Temple, dedicated by President Hinckley on June 7, 1998, and thousands of members fill LDS chapels in towns throughout the area that serves the temple.

An etching shows the River Ribble as it would have looked in 1837. A Victorian view across farm past
An etching shows the River Ribble as it would have looked in 1837. A Victorian view across farm pastures towards the River Ribble with, in the background, the Old Tram Bridge, the location of the first nine convert baptisms in Great Britain by Elder Heber C. Kimball early on Sunday morning 30 July 1837. A large crowd numbered in the thousands gathered to watch the peculiar spectacle of baptism by immersion. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
The River Ribble at Preston, Lancashire, England.
The River Ribble at Preston, Lancashire, England. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

It was to celebrate this remarkable history that today's Latter-day Saints — some in 19th century costume — their friends, and many civic and religious dignitaries gathered for an uplifting and spiritual concert of music and narration on a pleasant Saturday evening alongside the River Ribble in view of the site of those first baptisms near the Old Tram Bridge, little more than a stone's throw from the concert.

Despite torrential downpours, unseasonal flooding and severe weather warnings across the country threatening a washout, remarkably the sun shone for most of the day on Saturday, drying out the soggy parkland where the concert was to be held. Where the day before ducks had paddled on flooded fields, by Saturday evening members were able to sit in sunshine to enjoy the 200-member choir directed by John Saunders, bishop of the young single adult ward in the Manchester England Stake and accompanied Lindsay Preston. Although there was a light rain shower during the concert, no one thought to leave; they had come prepared. Choir members donned transparent waterproof capes, umbrellas were distributed and the concert carried on until the clouds cleared and the evening sun shone down once more. As Area Seventy Elder Stephen Kerr joked during his keynote address, "This weather reminds [us] British why we are called plucky." Remarking that England never looked greener in July, Elder Kerr wryly observed it was a perfect symbol of the land that people were waving waterproof Union Jack flags.

After arriving in Great Britain 175 years ago, LDS missionaries performed the first baptisms on July
After arriving in Great Britain 175 years ago, LDS missionaries performed the first baptisms on July 30, 1837, in the River Ribble at Preston, Lancashire, England; it was said that thousands witnessed the event. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

The 90-minute long concert program included choir renditions of traditional hymns, congregational singing, costumed readings from the missionary journals of Elder Heber C. Kimball and others, and solo and ensemble musical items. President Richard Walker of the Preston Missionary Training Center, a son-in-law of President Hinckley, read the prophet's account of his missionary experiences in Preston and his father's advice in reply to forget himself and go to work.

Closing the celebration, Elder Kerr reminded the audience that the doctrine taught by the early missionaries at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria 175 years ago is the same doctrine of faith that the Church proclaims to the world today.

The River Ribble at Preston, Lancashire, England.
The River Ribble at Preston, Lancashire, England. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
200 members drawn from the surrounding stakes formed the choir for the 175th Anniversary of the Chur
200 members drawn from the surrounding stakes formed the choir for the 175th Anniversary of the Church in Great Britain. Led by choir director John Saunders, Bishop of the Manchester Stake Singles Ward, and accompanist Lindsay Preston. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

Reading from Elder Heber C. Kimball's account early in June 1837, Elder Kerr recounted that Joseph Smith told Elder Kimball in the Kirtland Temple, "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.' " Within a week the small missionary party of four had set out from Kirtland, to be joined by three Canadians in New York. Elder Kerr recounted from the early missionary's journal how that on seeing Liverpool come into view from onboard their ship, Elder Kimball felt the Spirit of the Lord rest down upon him as he poured out his soul to God and covenanted to dedicate himself to the Lord.

| Photo by David M.W. Pickup
Despite the rain, missionaries gather for the 175th anniversary celebration of the arrival of LDS mi
Despite the rain, missionaries gather for the 175th anniversary celebration of the arrival of LDS missionaries to Britain. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
| Photo by David M.W. Pickup

Elder Kerr also told the story of Ann Elizabeth Walmsley, an invalid whom the doctors had given up to die. She asked the Lord that if she could repent and be baptized would He heal her. She was carried to the water to be baptized. In her confirmation she was blessed that the disease would be rebuked. Not only was she healed but she went on to cross the Atlantic and the plains and lived on to old age in Idaho.

"Why did the missionaries come here to preach?" asked Elder Kerr. "With what message was the door of salvation to be opened?" Answering his questions, Elder Kerr remarked that the first missionaries were people of faith who expected and received miracles.

| Photo by David M.W. Pickup
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS mi
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS missionaries in Great Britain. Hymns and singing by the choir and members were part of the program. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup

"The message of the missionaries in 1837 is the message of missionaries in 2012," said Elder Kerr. "The message is that God visited Joseph Smith in a grove of trees, angels subsequently visited him, and that he translated the Book of Mormon, the word of God." He continued, "We testify of Jesus Christ today. We don't say, 'We are more holy than you.' We say that we have found something more wonderful than you already have, which adds color and purpose to our lives. Our best and only hope is to follow Jesus Christ. Of these things on behalf of all of you I raise my voice on the banks of the River Ribble on the 175th anniversary of the first missionaries to come to England to say we will be true to these things that we know."

| Photo by David M.W. Pickup
| Photo by David M.W. Pickup
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS mi
Flags of the United Kingdom are waved during a concert commemorating the arrival of the first LDS missionaries in Great Britain. Hymns and singing by the choir and members were part of the program. | Photo by David M.W. Pickup
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