Three senior Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook — traveled to England and Scotland in October 2021 to address both Church members and missionaries. The trip marked a “coming home” for the trio of Church leaders as each had served missions in the British Isles.
President Ballard first arrived in Great Britain as a young missionary in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II. Elder Cook arrived in England in September 1960, followed by Elder Holland in October of the same year; they would serve together as companions in summer 1962. Sister Patricia Holland and Sister Mary Cook accompanied their husbands on the trip.
This episode of the Church News podcast features highlights of this historic moment in time, shared by the leaders’ own words, reflecting on how the area, people and foundational spiritual experiences shaped their lives of gospel service.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I'm Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.”
President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a former missionary to the British Isles, traveled to England and Scotland this October to address members and missionaries. He also used the opportunity to visit significant Church history sites. Joined by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and themselves former missionaries to the British Isles, the trip marked a coming home for the trio of senior Church leaders. President Ballard first arrived in Great Britain as a young missionary in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II. Elder Cook arrived in England in September of 1960, followed by Elder Holland in October of the same year; they would serve together as companions in the summer of 1962. Sister Patricia Holland and Sister Mary Cook accompanied their husbands on the trip. This episode of the Church News podcast features highlights of the historic moment in time, shared in the leaders’ own words. President Ballard, who as a young missionary preached from Hyde Park in London, reflected on the historic occasion during an interview in the Hyde Park Chapel.
President M. Russell Ballard: Well, the island is still here. The people are as wonderful as I remember them to be. The membership of the Church is solid in their testimonies and their love for the Lord and are building the Church and kingdom of God as well now, perhaps, as in any time of the history of the Church in England. And those who I have met who are leading the Church in this country — the stake presidents, the bishops, the dear sisters that are presiding over the auxiliaries — they are terrific. And this commendation and encouragement: There is great more work to be done here, and there are many more of our Heavenly Father’s children yet to find the Church, to be baptized into the Church, and to build the Church in Great Britain. My heart has been touched again and again and again that I have had the privilege of coming to this great Island, where I served as a full-time missionary in 1948 to 1950. And to be able to be here with Elder Holland and Elder Cook, my dear colleagues of the Quorum of the Twelve, who also were missionaries as young men here. For me, it has been an absolute delight. It would not have been the same trip, if I hadn’t had the two of these great colleagues in the Quorum of the Twelve with me. And I speak for myself and say that I grew up spiritually, I think, in England, as I, for the first time really, had to defend the Church, which then meant I had to know what the Church was. And I learned quickly about the Lord and about the Prophet Joseph Smith, about the Restoration. My foundation testimony was born, really, here as a missionary — what, 72 years ago? A long time ago. So, it is wonderful to be back.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Also, during an interview in the Hyde Park chapel, Elder Holland not only looked back, but also forward. He said the best days of the Church in England are ahead of us.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: I pled with the people then and I plead with them now to know that the great days of the United Kingdom are still ahead of us. We don't look to the past to say, “Oh, you know, if it were only yesterday.” The great, great days of this island are still ahead of us in the gospel.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In addition to thinking about his own mission, Elder Cook, who is now chairman of the Church's Missionary Executive Council, also turned his thoughts to full-time missionaries serving in Great Britain, as well as full-time missionaries serving across the globe. While in England, the leaders met with missionaries from all five missions in the British Isles. They also had the opportunity to sit for a picture with some missionaries in front of Royal Albert Hall in downtown London. The experience was reflective for Elder Cook.
Elder Quentin L. Cook: I've been very touched throughout the trip, being there with the missionaries, and they looked so good. You know, we are in Salt Lake much of the time. We get out and we see a lot, but to go to five missions in a short period of time as we've done here, and all of them looking just so alert and so righteous and clean and so desirous of serving. So, I think, more than anything else, I feel an enormous responsibility to make sure that we can do things in a way that will really bless them and that we can help them to get social media and things worked around so that they can do better. I hope that we can do better in our ward councils and in our missionary coordinating councils to give them some help with the finding and help give them opportunities to teach. They need to teach. They are good teachers, and so we've really got to expand the understanding of all the members to help, “love and share and invite.” We've never had a better theme than that. It is just fantastic. I'm very optimistic about and I feel very good about the way we've weathered this pandemic. I'm amazed at the missionaries. We do need to have everybody go on a mission. We need all the young men, and those women that desire to, we need to get an attitude and a spiritual commitment that will make it so they can see that this is seminal in their life, that they can recognize that it is foundational. If we can do that, then we will be accomplishing what the Lord wants us to accomplish.
Sarah Jane Weaver: The leaders began the historic trip walking along the brick and stone pathways of Royal Albert Dock on Liverpool's famous waterfront. It was here that thousands of early Latter-day Saints launched their own pioneer journeys. Elder Cook talked about what it was like to stand on that historic dock and think about all those early members.
Elder Quentin L. Cook: It is a real thrill to be here at the Liverpool docks, when you think of this port, and you think of the missionaries that came here, and you think of the Saints that emigrated from Liverpool. But it's a thrill to be here and to think about how significant Liverpool was, and this port, in the Restoration of the gospel, in the history of the Church.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Ballard had the opportunity to visit a churchyard in Scotland. The historic church and yard and cemetery held great significance to him, because his ancestors had once worshipped there.
President M. Russell Ballard: So, you know, this is heaven. When you come here, you are at the very footings of my foundation here. My physical blessing of being who I am, it is wonderful to see it, and I've never seen this church before. So this is good.
Sarah Jane Weaver: During his mission, President Ballard held almost daily street meetings in Nottingham Square. One of those meetings was captured in a historic photograph. During his return to England, President Ballard went back to the site where the photo was taken, and turned his thoughts to those days when he preached as a young missionary.
President M. Russell Ballard: This is where I spent most of my mission. Some people would come gather around and listen to what we had to say. But we did that regularly. We would sing as missionaries and answer questions. They would quiz us. And some would yell at us and heckle us, and we would carry on. And the people would sit in the park area here. We would talk loud enough they could hear us across the street. Well, it was just one of those patterns and one of those things we did when I was a missionary. I was the district president here. We did what we could to try to get them into the Church. We did actually have people come to our meetings. I don't remember how many we baptized, I don't remember, probably a few, but not a lot. In the process of sharing the gospel message here, in this marketplace, is where my own personal testimony started to become solidified in my heart and in my mind. The more we were trying to give the gospel away, by teaching it to others, the more we personally, our own testimonies, were growing. And so I would say that my testimony and reality that the Lord lives and that this was His Church was cemented more firmly in my life as a missionary here than any other time, up to that point. So I would say my mission was a very, very significant part of my preparation for the other things the Lord has asked me to do.
Sarah Jane Weaver: At a difficult time in Church history, in 1837, Joseph Smith sent Apostles on missions to England. From 1840 to 1842, nine members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were abroad. This decision, reflective of Joseph Smith's leadership, is most significant and tender for Elder Holland. He reflected on those early missionary efforts while standing near Benbow Pond, where his own ancestors were taught the gospel by early Apostles and entered the waters of baptism. And then Elder Holland explained why that mattered to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and why it matters today to the Church.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: The significance of the pond, of course, is that, well, it's even more than we've been saying. I have been talking about the family significance, that my grandparents were baptized here. But in many, many ways, that first mission, led by Elder Cook's grandfather in 37, and then the return from 40 to 42, of nine of the Twelve — I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that mission saved the Church. And that Joseph Smith had shown the most remarkable courage and the most remarkable prophetic insight in the trouble that they were having in Kirtland with the failure of the bank, the international economic crisis of late '36 and '37, and he's got all kinds of trouble. He had every reason to keep his closest friends nearby him, and he did the unthinkable — he sent them all to England. Initiated by Heber C. Kimball and that first mission of four, and then nine of the Twelve, who come two years later. And the baptisms, if I am not mistaken, after these initial baptisms in this pond, by 1850, there were more members of the Church in Great Britain than there were in all of the United States, including Salt Lake City in the Salt Lake Valley. That emigration, statistically and numerically and to some degree financially, really saved the Church.
It was of the many, many testimonies that I have of Joseph Smith's prophetic role and his leadership through one crisis after another, his sending those early missionaries here ranks among the most tender for me — one of the most significant — and certainly has proven to be that for the membership of the Church. We survived as a people in great measure because of the influx from Great Britain. The Martin and Willie handcart companies — almost any of the handcart companies — the populating of Nauvoo, generally, and the exodus from that frontier from Missouri and moving west toward the valley, almost — I can't say all of that — but a great portion of those people were these British Saints. They had come, so they were hardy, and went on to the valley. We have been commemorating President Ballard's family joining the Church in Scotland and joining the Church down here near London. It is just one family after another, after another, that did that, and it is a very significant hour in Church history.
There is a whole thesis, a whole chapter of Church history, that has developed around the mission to the Twelve here, and that this is where — it was in Great Britain — that the concept of a Quorum of the Twelve took shape, took meaning. They knew they were members of the Twelve. They knew they were Apostles. They had been ordained. But that didn't have much of a “quorum” concept until they came here, did not have Joseph right at their elbow, and they had to do things as a Twelve, if you will, and make decisions — the decision to publish the Book of Mormon, the decision to publish the hymnal, where they would go for their missions, the development that we have just seen in Preston, and so forth. All of that they had to decide here on their own, and they began to be a Quorum of the Twelve. And that is another level, not an insignificant chapter in Church history.
Just southwest, just straight there is — they did not have a temple — so they used Herefordshire Beacon, and, of course, other sacred places. But a number of the major decisions made, were made up on that mountain. Mountains have often served as surrogate temples down through history, and it did so here. They would climb Herefordshire Beacon and pray and go forth; and again, this idea that they were dependent on their prayers and their work together as a quorum and the insight that the Lord would give them, because sweet, powerful Joseph Smith that they had always counted on, he wasn't handy just next door. So they made those decisions, but it does mean a lot to be here.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: As humbly as it is to say it, to be ordained Apostles and to carry on 160 years later, depending on the mission, to perpetuate what was done near this pond or on Herefordshire Beacon or in Preston or in Nottingham, where we just came and where we have got a beautiful picture of an eager young Russell Ballard proclaiming the gospel to some heckler. And that has very, very tender meaning for us now, lo these many years later. So this is a stroll down memory lane, or in this case, down Louise Manning's pasture.
Sarah Jane Weaver: On July 30, 1837, Heber C. Kimball performed the first baptisms in the British Isles, just outside of Preston in the River Ribble. First visiting the historic site as a young missionary in January of 1961, Elder Cook stood on the banks of the river and received an overwhelming witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is also the day Elder Cook met Elder Holland.
Elder Quentin L. Cook: Elder Holland and I were able to come here the first week in January of 1961 with 100 missionaries. That is the first time we ever met. He grew up in St. George and I grew up in Logan, and we had the missionaries gather here and had a testimony meeting somewhere here, with respect to the bridge. We then had one down at Benbows’ farm. I was asked to bear testimony here, being a descendant [of Heber C. Kimball], and you [Elder Holland] were asked to bear testimony at Benbow Farm, being a descendant of Benbow, but I had never met Elder Holland. So we were three to four months into our mission, first week in January 1961.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Ballard also had the opportunity to walk along the banks of the River Trent. It was here, after a long and discouraging day as a young missionary in 1948, that he first became aware that the Lord knew him and cared about the important work he was engaged in.
President M. Russell Ballard: Let me tell you the story from here. I have walked along this pathway a lot of times. Somebody asked me the question, “When did you know that the Church was true? Really know?” And my response was that I had a special spiritual experience walking along the Trent River, in Nottingham, England, when I was a boy. And the special experience was that I was, for some reason, I was the district president, so I did not have a companion. And I was coming back from a street meeting that we had held in the Market Square and I was coming alone to get back to, what we called in those days, our digs. And while walking along this river, I knew that the Lord knew that I was there. Did you see anything? No. Did you hear any voices? No. But I had a witness, an experience. Now we are talking 75 years ago, 73 or 74 years ago. I had a spiritual inner assurance that Heavenly Father was aware of me and the Lord was aware of me and that I was on their errand and that what I was doing was important. And I was 19, 19 or 20, maybe I had turned 20 by then. Well, that is a long time ago. But I was walking along this river. And I knew.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Stone homes, walls and bridges in Downham, England, remind modern visitors what this place may have looked like when early Apostles first arrived. There, many early Church members entered the waters of baptism. Because of that, President Ballard, Elder Holland and Elder Cook visited Downham Parish Church. To their great surprise, they ran into a group of young missionaries visiting historic sites one day before completing their training at the Church's England Missionary Training Center in nearby Preston. It was delightful to listen as President Ballard spoke to the missionaries.
President M. Russell Ballard: Well, elders and sisters, we are proud of you. You have the truth. Your message is true. Joseph is the Prophet that was called of God to restore the fullness of the everlasting gospel, and you have it, and you have the Book of Mormon. And you have a message that every single person in this world should hear, and you are the ones that are to see that they do in this part of Heavenly Father's vineyard. Be bold and be forthright, with a smile on your face, and let the world know who you are, and why you have come all this way. I shook hands and you're from all over the place, different countries. And you've devoted this time because you love the Lord, and we commend you for that. We thank you for that. Thank you for your faith and your courage and willingness to come. And go forward with power now and talk to more people. Teach more. Bring this message to them. We have got a river down here you can use to baptize. Anyway, we are proud of you. We love all of you and like to have you extend to your families, our love and appreciation for their willingness to sustain and support you, both financially as well as spiritually. And I'm sure your parents and your siblings are enjoying your mission because you are sharing wonderful spiritual experiences with them
Sarah Jane Weaver: During the trip, Sister Holland and Sister Cook also sat down and talked about the influence of England on their lives. They had each dated their husbands before missionary service, and they reflected on how those men came home different than when they went out.
Sister Patricia Holland: Before he left on his mission, I thought he was just a dynamite person. He could do anything, and he did do anything. He was an athlete and in student government, and everybody loved him, everybody was in love with him. But after his mission, he gave that back to all of them. He came home with so much love for St. George and appreciation for them, and he was able to give back to the community what they had given to him and to his friends and to me. He changed in a marvelous way for good, but what impressed me the most is that he came home with a love of the Book of Mormon, and he just could not stop teaching from it to all of us, to his family, to his father, who was not that active, and especially to me. He encouraged me to read every word, and I knew from that moment on, that whatever he did, it was going to be to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is contained in the Book of Mormon. And it has been just a remarkable experience to be here in the British Isles, that my husband, I love so much, and especially anytime I can come back with my husband, we nearly go to pieces with joy. You feel like you are coming home. It is just an uncanny feeling to feel like you have left your home and you have to know anything about the people, the customs or their personality, but you just feel like they have got to be family and, in that sense, we love them.
Sister Mary Cook: I knew Quentin from seventh grade on. We did not date till we were about seniors in high school, but I knew the kind of person he was. I knew he loved to be involved. He was an athlete. He played every sport they had in high school, I think, and excelled in it. And I knew the kind of person he was. I knew he loved the Savior then, but the mission was seminal. I have heard them use that word a lot, and it’s true, because when he came home, he was serious about life and he knew what he wanted to do. Well, he already had some university training, because he went out as a 20 year old, so he was focused on wanting a family, wanting to serve the Lord, continue in that. Even the letters we exchanged were wonderful about the work. It was not about me and him. It was about the work. And I tried to write positive things, little sayings that I found that would cheer him up or keep him focused. I tried not to divert him. And I think most people that write letters to the ones they love and hope to marry probably do that, but it was a seminal thing, and you could tell the minute he got back. And we married. About three months later, he was called very early into a bishopric. He wanted to serve the Savior and it did not matter what other challenges he had, the calling in the Church was just right up there. I love that about him. But could I just say that when we stepped on the Liverpool dock, it just felt like I was standing with those immigrant ancestors of mine that boarded the ship. And to think of the brethren who came to preach the gospel, and they were led. I think Liverpool was meant to be the place they found so many people because that is where they docked. That is where the Spirit told them to stay. But just feeling that, trying to relive that history and watching the River Ribble and going to Downham, it was just choice. It did feel like we were coming home. It was wonderful. I do not know how to express it other than we love being here and I am so grateful for President Ballard for inviting us to participate.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Just as President Ballard and Elder Holland and Elder Cook were different after serving in England as missionaries, I felt like I was a little different, a little better, after writing about the leaders’ recent ministry visit to the country. Elder Holland says sometimes we are so close to history, so close to miracles, that we don't even know we are making history or witnessing miracles. That is certainly the case in the lives of these three Apostles. All were young men raised in different corners of Utah by fathers who were not then active in the Church, and who found their way to missionary service, where they came to know the Savior Jesus Christ and watched as He performed His miracles. Today, every single one of us in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are blessed by the watchful care that these three leaders received in England. We end this podcast exactly where we started it: Listening in on an interview with President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook at the Hyde Park Chapel in London.
President M. Russell Ballard: Well, as a young man, my parents were not active in the Church. My mother did participate in the Primary for a short season, but my father was not active in the Church in those days. Gratefully, later, he became very active. But when you are growing up, at least when I was growing up, I had wonderful friends. And I say to my grandchildren, perhaps one of the most important things that can possibly happen to you, as you are growing up, is to have good friends. Because, frankly, my good friends that lived in the old University Ward in the Emigration Stake, what, 75 years ago, had a tremendous impact on my drawing toward the Church and, ultimately, wanting to serve a mission. And I was born and lived in the University Ward, and I went from the mission in England back to the University Ward. And then I married Barbara from the University Ward. I am just grateful for friends that set a good example, and encouraged me to do the same.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: In my case, I had no, absolutely no, missionary tradition in my family. Nobody had ever been on a mission. My grandparents did not serve, my mother in a family of girls essentially did not serve. My dad was a convert; he did not serve. I did not know anything about a mission, relatively speaking. And Sister Holland's influence — we were dating, and she came from a great missionary tradition. Everybody in her family served. And I would say to the young people of the Church to not underestimate their peer influence. It is a variation on this idea of friends. In this case, it was a girl I was dating. But it was her expectation that started me to think about it, then it became my own. But it started with her and with returned missionaries who came back. When I am with the missionaries, I frequently, regularly now, speak of the expectation when they go home, and what they continue to be. Because it was two or three key returned missionaries that came back, that were very, very impressive, and faithful and devout, and they were popular and they had not compromised anything in terms of their schoolwork, or their athletic pursuits or whatever. But they had something special, and it was the gospel, and I had not known what that was, but I saw it in returned missionaries. And I thought to myself, “I would like to be like that; I would like to feel like that, and represent that.” And so that peer influence that President Ballard is speaking of really, really did make a major, major difference in my life. Now, our children have all served and the grandchildren so far have all served, and I hope with any luck they will all serve. And so it goes that the ripple effect starts and I hope it never stops. It certainly has been a blessing for me to see that in someone else. I did not have the example in my own line, so I saw it in other people.
Elder Quentin L. Cook: This is provoking a lot of thoughts. You mentioned that our fathers were not active, and I think they have responded to that, and that is very much the case in my life. A precious mother. But I did have the most incredible example that anybody could have had as an older brother. My brother Joseph, who, five years older than me, set a faithful example that was just almost unbelievable. And, while he is the one that had to take on our dad and establish that you could go on a mission, he had to finish college in three years and get off to medical school and show his dad that he respected him and what he wanted to do; but nobody, nobody ever had a better brother than I did. So, it was not that part of it for me. What was seminal for me was: First of all, while I had had spiritual experiences, the guiding of the Spirit throughout the mission and learning that the Lord will give you guidance when you need it the most was just so, so important. I think [Marion D. and Maxine] Hanks were very important to me. I greatly appreciated our first mission president and his wife, and they are wonderful. But to have a family demonstrating having family home evening and family prayer and having not had that in a home — having a wonderful example in a brother — but just seeing a family in operation was very important. I think that, for me, he also gave me a vision that I could be a lawyer and I could be a faithful Latter-day Saint. He knew what I wanted to do, but he shaped me in a way that was just seminal for me. That was really important.
I would like to say something about Elder Holland. Elder Holland is enormously bright and capable, and when he came out, he wanted to be a doctor. And he was so touched by teaching about the Savior that by the time we were through the mission, he was going to go and get a fabulous education. He was going to get a Ph.D. from Yale, but he was going to try and teach about the Savior and be a teacher. You talk about a seminal thing that happened in a missionary’s life — that happened, and I saw it happen with Elder Holland. And the love that develops between missionary companions, that cheering each other on, it is just something that is really, really precious.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: What a remarkable thing in a young person's life, a young man or young woman's life, to come, and for 18 months or 24 months, to be focused on the greatest people they may ever meet in their life. That is how President Ballard’s missionaries felt about him in Toronto. They still feel that way. He is still their president. And he has raised them and taught him, and their kids are named after him. And they comb their hair like he does, and they named their girls Barbara and they named their boys Russell. And Elder Cook and I learned so much from President Hanks. He shaped both of our careers. He encouraged Quentin in his and turned me away from mine, knowing sort of who we were, and what we should do, and the love that he gave us for the Book of Mormon is something that we have kept for 60 years. You can't underestimate. What other culture, what other tradition, puts a young person under the tutelage of people like Russell Ballard and Marion Hanks, and so on, and so on, and so on? Puts them under that leadership for this formative, creative, pivotal time in their lives? Well, there is nothing to compare with it. There is no tutoring like that done anywhere in the world, and we get it month in and month out, year in and year out, in every mission of the Church.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One thing was obvious after watching President Ballard, Elder Holland and Elder Cook retrace the steps of their own spiritual journeys in England: For each of them, England truly is home.
President M. Russell Ballard: The reality of being able to be in England, a place where I came 72 years ago, and have been back many times, but to be able to be back here with two members of my quorum — not only Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, but dear, dear friends, and to sit, the three of us, and be able to enjoy what we have enjoyed the last two or three days, rethinking our days. It has been a real pleasure to be back in England, kind of a second home in many ways, I think, for all three of us. When you think about a place in the world that has had an impact in your life, you think about home, and you think about England.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I'm your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halverson and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com