In the late 1830s, early Church leaders opened missionary work in the British Isles and converted English and Scandinavian Latter-day Saints who made a significant contribution to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ at a critical time.
Some 180 years later, Latter-day Saints in England celebrated this rich legacy during the British Pageant, said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The British Pageant was first produced in 2013; since then it has been performed in Nauvoo, Illinois. The pageant returned to England this summer as a cast, crew and volunteer force of nearly 2,000 brought the history of the Church in the British Isles alive through music and dance.
Elder Ballard, who attended the pageant with other Church leaders on Aug. 3, said Latter-day Saints today can learn from the example of those early, faithful, pioneering members. “We go and do as we’re prompted to do in serving the Master,” he said. “It was true in their day, and it is true in our day.”
This year marks the 180th anniversary of Heber C. Kimball leading the LDS Church’s first mission to Great Britain in July 1837.
Elder Ballard has strong ties to the United Kingdom and surrounding countries. Elder Ballard’s family history roots are grounded in the British Isles, and he served as a young missionary in England from 1948 to 1950.
“When I come here, I’m coming home. I love this island. I love these people,” says Elder Ballard.
Elder Ballard was accompanied by other Church leaders, many of whose families originate from the United Kingdom. Elder Patrick Kearon, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy who was recently released as president of the Europe Area and was born in Cumberland, and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom and Elder Brent H. Nielson, both General Authority Seventies, attended the pageant. Elder Hallstrom is executive director of the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department; Elder Nielson is executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department. Sister Jennifer H. Kearon and Sister Diane C. Hallstrom also attended.
The pageant has a two-fold impact on members of the Church, Elder Kearon said. First, he said, is the impact on the cast and crew of around a thousand who experience “all of the growth and expansion of the spiritual dimension of being involved in something that’s spiritually guided.”
Second, he said, is the impact on the thousands of members and their friends who attend the event and feel the Spirit. They are reminded how the gospel “literally transforms lives,” he said.
Elder Hallstrom said he felt blessed to attend “this magnificent pageant” with Elder Ballard. “It was a fitting celebration of the 180th anniversary of the Church in the British Isles,” he said. “The Priesthood and Family and the Missionary Departments provided assistance from Church headquarters, but this was truly a heroic undertaking by the British Saints. Their efforts, from planning to performance, were extraordinary. ... As one who was a young missionary in England and Wales, and a descendent of early Saints who were part of the gathering, I was deeply inspired by this experience.”
Elder Nielson said this was a great opportunity for the members to show a part of their history to their friends.
“I was particularly moved by the faith of the early Saints who left their homes in Great Britain and established the Church in the United States,” he said. “The night we attended [the pageant], there were many not of our faith in attendance and it was evident that they were moved and impressed with the Church members who continue to carry the flame of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that their ancestors had as they made their way across the Atlantic Ocean.”
Elder Ballard said the British Latter-day Saints appreciated the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles supporting them in presenting the pageant. The audience felt something, he added.
“Conversion always begins with what people feel, and you can’t tell the story [of the Church in the British Isles] without feeling the power of heaven,” said Elder Ballard. “It caused the people to pack up their bags and go get on a ship in Liverpool, not knowing where they’re going except they’re going to Zion. They’re going to be obedient and do what the Spirit has prompted them to do. And so it is with us today.”