Should you visit this legendary seaport city, your attention no doubt will be drawn to the twin towers of the landmark Royal Liver Building on the east bank of the Mersey River. Perched atop each tower is a sculpture of the mythical liver bird, from which the city is said to have derived its name.
The bird has a significant vantage point. It gazes out over seven miles of docks along the river flowing into the Irish Sea, a point of departure that British historian W. H. G. Armytage called the "Gateway to Zion." ("Liverpool, Gateway to Zion," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, April 1957.)From this gateway, 41 British converts set sail June 6, 1840, on the packet ship Britannia. "They were like Joshua's advance scouts, one of them thought, crossing the Atlantic Ocean rather than the River Jordan into the promised land," wrote Richard L. Jensen in Truth Will Prevail, a sesquicentennial history of the Church in the British Isles.
Tens of thousands more would follow - totaling some 83,000 emigrants in about 280 voyages, the last one being in 1890.
Today, Liverpool is not just the historical gateway to Zion. Zion's tent has expanded to encompass this city of 520,000 residents. Liverpool Stake was created in 1976, and its 2,244 members enjoy a bright future for Church growth as well as a rich legacy.
The first Latter-day Saints to set foot on British soil did so in Liverpool. Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde arrived on the ship Garrick July 19, 1837. Several days later, they made their way to Preston, where they established the Church.
Later, John Taylor carried the gospel into Liverpool. Elder Taylor, a future president of the Church, called at the house of his brother-in-law on Jan. 11, 1840. The family accepted the gospel and were baptized, including young George Q. Cannon, who was then 13.
Like so many others, the family gathered to Zion in the United States. George Q. Cannon grew up to become an apostle and return to Liverpool in 1860 to preside over the European Mission.
"I remember myself on one occasion chartering a ship in Liverpool that carried some 900 Latter-day Saints," he recalled in an 1890 sermon he gave when he was a counselor in the First Presidency, "and in that ship's company there [wereT no less than 11 nationalities represented. But if you had asked those persons, in their own language, where they were going, they would have told you they were going to Zion; they were going to the House of God that was being reared in the tops of the mountains. If you had asked them what they were going there for, they would have replied, each in his own language: `I am going to be taught in the ways of God and walk in his paths' [see Isaiah 2:2-3T - just as the Prophet declared thousands of years ago." (Jerreld L. Newquist, Gospel Truth, Discoures and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, p. 76.)
Such a person was Caroline Hopkins Clark, whose diary contains the account of her trip from Liverpool to Utah in 1866. Her entry from April 6: "The ship rolls very much. Martha and I went up on deck. A wave dashed over and gave us a ducking. We saw five large fish. Their heads resembled those of horses." And from June 14: "Today's journey is a sad one to us, on account of the death of our own dear baby. . . . John stayed behind to bury her. She died with the same complaint as my other three children. We left Chicago and proceeded by train to Quincy [Ill.T. We changed trains, and crossed the river." (Kenneth L. Holmes, Covered Wagon Women, Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890, pp. 153, 157.)
Its strategic location as a seaport gave Liverpool a distinctive place in Church history. Here was where the Book of Mormon was first published in England, where the British and European Mission headquarters were located for nearly a century, where the Pearl of Great Price was first published, where the Millennial Star and other important Church literature was published.
Indeed, Liverpool emerged in the 1850s as the Church's publicaton center as printing facilities were limited in the newly established Zion in America.
Though Liverpool no longer is the center for Church administration it once was, Zion flourishes today in the city and its environs. Miracles still occur in the lives of individual Church members and investigators.
An example is Raymond W. Turner, 37, president of the Liverpool England Stake.
Reared in the neighborhood where the Beatles grew up, Pres. Turner accepted the gospel at age 15. Missionaries had visited the family's home and left a copy of the Book of Mormon. Seeing it on his father's desk he began to peruse it.
"And the next thing I knew it was 3 o'clock in the morning," he recalled. "I couldn't put the book down! It was a burden to stop to have a meal."
When the missionaries returned, he was well into the book and had numerous questions. "They didn't know what hit them," he said.
For the first time in his life, he prayed, asking what he should do. "And I got a burning conviction that Heavenly Father had answered my prayers and I should join the Church."
At first, his mother would not sign the permission paper allowing him to be baptized. One day he joined the missionaries in a fast, telling his mother he was doing it so her heart would be softened and she would allow him to join the Church. Misunderstanding his intent, she thought he was on a hunger strike.
"So she finally got the form, signed it and said, `Now eat!' " And I said, "Well, if you can just wait 15 more minutes, my fasting ends at 6 o'clock.' And that's how my parents came to sign the form, and that's how I joined the Church. My life's never been the same since, and it's wonderful."
A pharmaceutical company executive, Pres. Turner met his wife-to-be, Jeannie, at college, invited her to Church activities, later baptized her and then married her. With their four children, they live in a seven-bedroom Victorian house built of sandstone in 1840. They call it "Nauvoo House" after the building Joseph Smith constructed on the banks of the Mississippi River.
"We call it that because we always want it to be an open house to anyone who may be in need," he explained. "We have firesides here whenever anyone wants to hold one."
As a couple the Turners have brought 21 people into the Church.
Missionary work, in fact, has been a focus of Pres. Turner and his counselors, James Monks and Christopher Mark Pulman. They anticipate having a total of 150-160 baptisms in the stake this year, doubling last year's figure.
In other ways as well, the Church blesses the lives of members through the stake organization.
"Liverpool is subject to a 14 percent unemployment rate," Pres. Monks said. "We're in a very deep recession here, and there are very few jobs available."
The stake copes with a well-managed employment program put out by the Church. Led by Freda Whitley, the program involves a course that is taught in rotation. "It's a six-week course, but we run it over three weeks," Pres. Monks said. "We run two sessions every Friday night. We've got so many people who are interested, you see."
Through seminary and well-planned events, the stake strives to retain its youth in Church activity.
Pres. Turner perhaps is an example of Twentieth Century British Latter-day Saints, committed to the gospel but with a deep love for their homeland and a desire to build Zion where they live. He describes Liverpool as "a small, big town." "I can walk into the city center and every now and then someone will stop me and say, `Hi, Ray, how you doing?' It's a very, very close-knit community."
His sentiments are reminiscent of the words to Gerry Marsden's 1965 popular song about Liverpool:
People around every corner,
They seem to smile and say,
"We don't care what your name is, boy;
"We'll never turn you away."
. . . So ferry 'cross the Mersey
'Cause this land's the place I love
And here I'll stay.
Historical highlights of the Church in Liverpool
July 19, 1837 - Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde arrive in Liverpool and proceed to Preston where they begin their missionary work.
Jan. 26, 1840 - Elder John Taylor of the Council of the Twelve and Pres. Joseph Fielding of the British Mission preach the first sermons by Latter-day Saints in Liverpool.
April 6, 1840 - The main body of the Twelve, Elders Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt and George A. Smith arrive in Liverpool, lodge for two days, then proceed to Preston.
June 6, 1840 - The first company of British Isles saints to embark for America - 41 passengers aboard the Britannia - leaves Liverpool.
Jan. 21, 1841 - The Book of Mormon is published in Liverpool.
1842 - The British Mission office with the editorial office of the Millennial Star is moved to Liverpool. By 1849, it becomes the European Mission headquarters, as missionary work spreads to the continent.
July 1851 - First edition of the Pearl of Great Price is published in Liverpool by Elder Franklin D. Richards as a pamphlet for use in the British Mission. In a subsequent edition, it becomes one of the Church's standard works.
1855 - British Mission and Millennial Star editorial offices are moved to 42 Islington Street, Liverpool, where they remain for the next half-century.
June 1894 - After decades of LDS immigration to America - mostly from Liverpool - British saints are encouraged to remain in their homeland.
1904 - As British Mission president, Elder Heber J. Grant secures another headquarters building at 10 Holly Rd. Its drawing room serves as a chapel for the Liverpool Branch. Two years later the headquarters is moved to Durham House on Edge Lane.
Sept. 2, 1906 - President Joseph F. Smith preaches in Blackburn near Liverpool during his visit to the British Isles. It is the first visit of a Church president to Europe while serving as prophet.
January 1929 - Separate headquarters for the British Mission are established in Birmingham, while the European Mission and Millennial Star offices remain at Durham House in Liverpool. Five years later, the two headquarters are reunited under one roof, but in London rather than in Liverpool.
July 20, 1937 - President Heber J. Grant dedicates a newly acquired meetinghouse in Liverpool on Edge Lane.
August 1941 - Home missionaries are set apart in the British Mission - including 23 in Liverpool - to carry on the ministry as full-time missions are curtailed because of World War II.
1976 - Seminary leaders in Liverpool and Preston organize a commemorative project and drama telling of the first missionaries to land in England and events leading to the first baptism in the River Ribble.
March 14, 1976 - Liverpool England Stake is formed from a district in the England Leeds Mission with Michael R. Otterson as stake president.
Sources: V. Ben Bloxham et al., Truth Will Prevail, The Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles, 1837-1987; Deseret News 1991-1992 Church Almanac