‘Church wasn’t canceled — it just moved outside’: How England’s most northerly congregation aided neighbors following Storm Arwen

Storm Arwen arrived Friday, Nov. 26, packing the worst winds to hit the British Isles in four decades that particularly pummeled the eastern coasts of Scotland and northern England.

The extratropical cyclone — first of the region’s 2021-22 windstorm season — was anything but “tropical,” delivering Arctic-chilled air in gusts of nearly 100 miles per hour, with snow, ice, rain in its wake and resulting in three deaths, major property damage and some 300,000 customers without power across the United Kingdom.

Credit: Screenshot, Google Maps

Two days later the Anlwick Branch — the most northerly Latter-day Saint congregation in England — transitioned from Sunday services to providing Sunday service in helping those in the surrounding towns and villages who were still reeling from the devastating impact of Storm Arwen.

President James Perry, president of the Alnwick Branch, decided that due to the disruption and continuing difficulties, the branch should change its regular worship services on Sunday, Nov. 28. After a brief Zoom meeting, members broke into work parties in freezing temperatures to help local residents in and around Alnwick, the historic county town of Northumberland in Nortth East England.

“Church wasn’t cancelled — it just moved outside for a practical lesson of service and charity,” said President Perry.

Alnwick Branch members take down a damaged fence in service provided Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, following the United Kingdom’s devastating Storm Arwen.
Alnwick Branch members take down a damaged fence in service provided Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, following the United Kingdom’s devastating Storm Arwen. Credit: Nikki Fowers

Jonathan and Vivien Kay, the branch’s elders quorum president and Relief Society president respectively, said they felt “very blessed” that their power came back on after 19 hours. They were ready to respond to President Perry’s invitation for Sunday service.

“Having put on our Sunday clothes to partake of the sacrament, we then put on our work clothes and went out to help,” Vivien Kay said. “The help we were able to give warmed us physically and spiritually.”

Tens of thousands were still without power four nights later in the United Kingdom’s worst mass outage in decades. Many residents were forced to cook outdoors using fires or outdoor stoves and cookers.

Three people died from falling trees in the storm that earned a rare red warning from the Met Office, Britain’s weather service. Community support vehicles were out delivering hot water, drinks and phone-charging stations to impacted power customers. 

Jonathan Kay, Alnwick Branch elders quorum president, removes wreckage from a garden on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Alnwick, England.
Jonathan Kay, Alnwick Branch elders quorum president, removes wreckage from a garden on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Alnwick, England. Credit: Nikki Fowers

Branch members of all ages gathered to help move destroyed roofs, walls and fence. They swept up broken glass, re-erected greenhouses and garden furniture and brought down damaged sheds, President Perry said. Other members visited and contacted those who without power and communication.

All of the branch organizations worked together in recovery efforts, he said. “Using social media, we were able to extend our service beyond our fellow Latter-day Saints and neighbors, and we were able to meet new people by offering to help tidy up properties, make simple repairs and do other simple tasks.”

Nikki Fowers, the branch’s Primary president, said her family’s flat didn’t have any damage, but there were many trees down around town. Anxious to help others, members were ready and willing when President Perry posted on the town’s Facebook page, asking if anyone needed assistance.

“One of the people we served lost the roof to her business and needed help retrieving the roof from the neighbor’s yard and moving what furniture survived,” said Fowers, adding 15 members worked on that project.

Members of the Alnwick Branch help clear damage and debris caused Storm Arwen. Service was provided Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in northern England.
Members of the Alnwick Branch help clear damage and debris caused Storm Arwen. Service was provided Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in northern England. Credit: Nikki Fowers

The woman said the group of branch members had saved her days of days of work. “She also commented that she had never seen so many members of the Church in her life,” Fowers said. “It turned out to be not only a great opportunity for my family to serve but to help introduce people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

The impromptu Sabbath service efforts were memorable experiences for Fowers’ teenage children.

“It felt awkward to go around asking people if we could help, but it was also exciting,” said Bella Fowers, age 17.

Added her 16-year-old brother, Zach: “It was exciting and intimidating looking at all the damage! I felt very good serving the people of my local community.”

Derek Roughton of the Alnwick Branch. The only person in his northeastern England village who had a way to heat water after Storm Arwen knocked out power for many across the United Kingdom in late November 2021, he boiled water and heated soup for his neighbors.
Derek Roughton of the Alnwick Branch. The only person in his northeastern England village who had a way to heat water after Storm Arwen knocked out power for many across the United Kingdom in late November 2021, he boiled water and heated soup for his neighbors. Credit: Nikki Fowers

Some isolated members were cut off due to damaged power cables, but they looked to help those around them. One branch member — Derek Roughton — used his gas hob (gas cooker), to boil water and heat soup for others.

“He is the only one in the village who has a gas hob,” said of President Perry, adding that Roughton lives in a very small, rural village. “Using his hob, he and a neighbor boiled some water and heated soup for some of his vulnerable neighbors.”

For the branch president, sending his flock out for Sabbath service seemed obvious.

“I knew that we couldn’t just retreat into our chapel and ignore our members and fellow community members who were reeling from the damage the storm had wreaked. It felt right to be out there and doing what our Savior Jesus Christ would be doing.”

Alnwick Branch members repair a trampoline on Sunday, Nov. 28 2021. Yard furniture, furnishing and equipment became damaged as flying debris in Storm Arwen, a extratropical cyclone that hit the United Kingdom.
Alnwick Branch members repair a trampoline on Sunday, Nov. 28 2021. Yard furniture, furnishing and equipment became damaged as flying debris in Storm Arwen, a extratropical cyclone that hit the United Kingdom. Credit: Nikki Fowers