Called by Joseph Smith to serve a mission in England, Wilford Woodruff was commanded by the Lord to go south from the potteries of Hanley to Herefordshire, where he found a "harvest of souls" in the United Brethren, an offshoot group from the Wesleyan Methodists. Prepared by the Lord, they were seeking further light and truth that Elder Woodruff was prepared to teach, said Michael Preece, a graduate student in Religious Education from Lehi, Utah, in his paper presented at the BYU Religious Education Student Symposium Feb. 18.
"All but one of this congregation were baptized into the Church," he said. "This paper seeks to identify how the United Brethren were so prepared for the restored gospel."
Brother Preece said the United Brethren were uniquely prepared because they were constantly searching for truth and were humble enough to accept the veracity of the message from Elder Woodruff. They recognized the importance of having the gospel foundation on prophets and apostles as in the primitive Church.
Furthermore, though having been expelled from the Primitive Methodist Connexion around 1834, the congregation and their leader, Thomas Kington, "held on to many of the doctrines, tenets and structure of the Primitive Methodist movement," Brother Preece noted. "These practices prepared the United Brethren for their full-scale conversion into the Mormon Church. Woodruff not only tolerated the organization and doctrine, but embraced it and used it for the advantage and promulgation of the restored gospel."
Brother Preece concluded: "The great harvest of Herefordshire is among the greatest missionary miracles in the early history of the Latter-day Saint church. The social, political and religious climate had been churning for decades. Many common Englishmen were looking for greater meaning in an otherwise menial existence. They were searching for a religious movement that decreased the distance between the common man and God. This need was first met by the revivalism of the Primitive Methodist movement, which in turn uniquely prepared the United Brethren and later answered their prayer for the restored gospel of Christ."