KETTERING, England — Situated in the heart of England, the Kettering Ward of the Northampton England Stake is thriving in an area long accustomed to lethargic religious activity. The two-year-old building — already too small to accommodate all ward members — is evidence that missionary efforts continue to lead to conversions in Europe.
Elder Joel Tennuchi, a native of England who served part of his mission in the ward in 2006, attributes missionary success to the members.
"Out of 11 recent convert baptisms, nine were a result of member participation in missionary work — evidence that people are more likely to join the Church through association with members," he said. "Members in Kettering work together to help the investigator feel at home and part of a family.
"I'm a convert of less than two years," Elder Tennuchi continued. "I appreciate the invaluable role of members in fellowshipping."
Lincoln Flake, ward elders quorum president, believes it comes down to following the counsel of the prophet. "There is no secret. We simply try to implement the priesthood call for every member to act as a missionary, and for every new convert to have a friend, a calling and be nourished with the good word of God," Brother Flake said.
The Catterick family are recipients of such priesthood blessings. Rita Catterick had been a member of the Church for many years but had become less active. One Sunday morning she decided to attend meetings and woke up her three sons, ages 10-13 years, and instructed them to get ready. They had never heard of the Church and replied with an empathic "No way."
This redoubled her resolve. She told her non-member husband, Craig,
he was also to attend. "If I'm going, so are you," he told the boys.
"With a bemused look on their faces they arose and we attended Church as a family," Brother Catterick said. "I was very apprehensive of what to expect, but was shocked at how friendly everyone treated my family. It felt like one big happy family, everyone was smiling and shaking hands. The bishop made a beeline for me and shook my hand.
"I have never looked back, and now can't wait for Sundays to come," he said. "Since my baptism I've had the privilege of baptizing two sons and a niece."
Elder Richard Dautel, recently transferred from the Kettering Ward, noted how members make an effort to befriend visitors, and how the spiritual tone of meetings and activities sets a spiritual atmosphere for conversion.
"The leadership of the ward was supportive and actively engaged in inviting, teaching and befriending," he said. "As missionaries, we never feared what would happen in classes, or what talks would be given, because the services and activities were planned in a way that we were confident, and never hesitant, to invite people to these activities."
Thomas Amaning, an emigrant from Ghana, praises the missionaries for stopping him on the street and sharing the gospel. A lifelong reader of the Bible, he was struck by the simple, yet powerful, testimonies of the members and the charity they showed to each other.
He recently visited the temple for the first time, along with three other prospective elders from the ward.
"Hearts are changing here in Kettering, not just those converted in the waters of baptism, but also members' hearts are becoming more converted as they participate in His great work," Brother Flake said.
"Fellowship is just the outward expression."
Elder Dautel testified that fellowship without the presence of the Spirit is fleeting. "I know that without the power and love of God, the miracles of conversion happening in Kettering and throughout the world would never happen."
This Spirit has also blessed reactivation efforts. Dean Smith, father of five and less active for years, is now the ward clerk due to the persistence of members and missionaries.
Church callings have also proven to be a blessing. "Being the Young Men adviser has strengthened me tremendously and aided my growth in the gospel," said Brother Catterick, explaining the spiritual benefits of his first calling.
"I find it great how the young men have accepted me and my efforts to help them with their Duty to God assignments."
Conversion is not an event, but a process, believes the ward leadership. James Nolan, a counselor in the bishopric, appreciates that effective communication and planning between missionaries and ward mission leader and ward leaders at ward council allows for the seamless transition of converting investigators to converting new converts.
"We try as much as possible to not draw lines between missionary and retention efforts. We seek not to compartmentalize Church programs or activity but rather approach every individual as a son and daughter of God on the road of conversion"