As a discouraged, homesick young missionary serving in Stirling, Scotland, in March 1897, Elder David O. McKay noticed an inscribed stone on the side of an apartment building under construction near his flat.
The message was bold and clear: “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.”
More than 121 years later, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presented an exact replica of the inscribed stone to a Scottish museum on July 5.
“I am delighted for the invitation to be with you today for such a significant moment in my own history as well as in the history of beautiful Stirling,” he said.
During the presentation to the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Elder Holland spoke of the early history of the Church in Scotland and his own Scottish roots. The event was attended by Stephen Kerr, Stirling Member of Parliament, and Councillor Christine Simpson, Stirling’s provost.
“I want you to know that I stand before you as a bona fide son of Stirling, the shire if not the city proper. I am very proud to have Scottish blood flowing through my veins.”
Elder Holland’s great-great-grandfather, Robert Gardner Jr., was born in Kilsyth, Stirlingshire, Scotland, on Oct. 12, 1819.
The Church also has a long, storied history in Scotland.
In 1839, Alexander Wright and Samuel Mulliner, natives of Scotland, traveled from the United States to their homeland and baptized the first Latter-day converts in the country. “Those were our humble beginnings in Scotland, leading to a Church membership today of more than 25,000 members in five stakes and one mission,” said Elder Holland.
Almost six decades after the missionaries arrived in Scotland, a young Elder David O. McKay, also born of Scottish roots, was assigned to labor in the country in 1897.
“The work was hard, the weather sometimes disagreeable, the people were unreceptive for the most part, and one inevitably wonders whether the sacrifice of time and money is worth it,” said Elder Holland of David O. McKay’s experience. “In the midst of such doldrums, young Elder McKay noticed an inscribed stone on the side of an apartment building under construction [in Albany Crescent, Stirling]... . It read in a bold, clear message to him personally, ‘What e’er thou art, act well thy part.’ ”
In his journal he recorded, “I accepted the message given to me on that stone, and from that moment we tried to do our part as missionaries in Scotland.”
That experience in Stirling is now part of Church history as David O. McKay later became Church president. “That moment, that difficult day, highlighted by that inscription had a profound impact on McKay for the rest of his life,” said Elder Holland. “He referred to it repeatedly, lacing it into remarks at various points along the more than 70 years of Church service he would give following that mission.”
From those earliest years on, the stone remained an important monument to missionaries serving in Stirling long after President McKay completed his mission in 1899, explained Elder Holland.
So when Albany Crescent was being demolished in 1965, two local missionaries of the Church asked the demolition company to save the renowned stone. The Scotland Mission president bought the stone for 30 pounds and displayed it in the mission home in Edinburgh. It was later moved to the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. A replica was made and is displayed in the garden of the mission home in Edinburgh.
Receiving the replica stone on behalf of the museum was Director Dr. Elspeth King, who said, “We are pleased to be chosen to display the exact replica of this stone to preserve the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Scotland. We offer our gratitude to the Church for their contribution. We also express thanks to Stephen Kerr MP who worked closely with the museum on the project and was instrumental in making it happen.”
Said Elder Holland: “Even with this history I am not sure you marvelous citizens of Stirling can understand how almost sacred this stone and the incident behind it is for us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, simply because it meant so much to a beloved prophet of our Church who revered it so much.”