LONDON, England — In a first for the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Nov. 21 during a groundbreaking weeklong trip to Great Britain.
Elder Holland also spoke alongside a former Archbishop of Canterbury on a panel blessed by the head of the Catholic Church in England, gave a lecture to theology students in a 1,000-year-old church at the University of Oxford, participated in a public interfaith conversation with a reverend of the Church of England and more.
“It was a wonderful opportunity,” Elder Holland said. “The appointments we had and the courtesy with which we were received all speak to the growing respect others are gaining for the Church. I hope some of the early brethren who didn’t have this kind of reception could, through the veil, see the fruits of their labors these many years later.”
Elder Holland visited May in her office and gave her bound copies of her family history as well as a wall-hanging of her family tree and a gift copy of the Book of Mormon. The prime minister sandwiched the appointment between a contentious appearance in the House of Commons attended by Elder Holland and a flight to Brussels to meet with European Union leaders as she negotiated highly controversial terms for Brexit, the proposed British exit from the EU in March.
He said she was gracious on a day filled with genuine international tension.
“I said, ‘Given the kind of day that you had and the week that you are having, this is meant to be a kind of a respite,’ “ Elder Holland said. “And she said, ‘This is a true interlude. This is a happy moment.’ “
May shared brief family stories as she thumbed through the two volumes of her family history — one each for her maternal and paternal lines.
“She seemed very taken by those records and very touched by them,” Elder Holland said. “It is clearly a very personal gift.”
Elder Holland delivered a specially made copy of the Book of Mormon to the House of Commons Library, which had requested one. He deposited another to the House’s collection of sacred texts for use in swearing in new Latter-day Saint members of Parliament. He presented additional gift copies to the deputy speaker of the House of Commons and to the chaplain of the chapel in Westminster Hall.
“There are more copies of the Book of Mormon in Parliament now than ever in history,” he said. “We may not have flooded the earth, but we’ve flooded the royal palace.”
Elder Holland also conducted a question-and-answer session with more than a dozen members of Parliament, including two Latter-day Saint members of Parliament, Stephen Kerr and David Rutley.
The visit showed the Church’s image is improving in the United Kingdom, Elder Holland said: “As a young British missionary, I would have loved to get in any door in the country — any door! I never dreamed the day would come that they would open the doors of Parliament to me. It is very gratifying to see the image of the Church elevated in the eyes of the people, in the press and in the people holding political office.”
On Nov. 23, Elder Holland joined prestigious British political and religious leaders on the “Inspiring Service” panel at the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College. The other panelists were Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury and a member of the House of Lords; Lord David Alton, a Catholic member of the House of Lords; and the Rev. Frances Young, an ordained Methodist minister and emeritus professor of theology at the University of Birmingham.
The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, sent a blessing for the event in which he called service “crucially important to the health of our society.”
The speakers shared lessons from their heroes of service and invited Christians to use service to confront an age of what Lord Alton termed “toxic loneliness.” They said service is the lifeblood of human connection and vital to Christianity, democracies and communities. Elder Holland said that is true of families and marriages, too.
Williams, who now is master of a college at Cambridge University, attacked as “toxic fiction” what he said is an increasingly popular notion that “there is some way of literally or metaphorically fencing off what is good for me so that it’s completely irrelevant to what’s good for you — ‘I can keep myself safe, and your security and your well-being are of no interest to me.’ ”
Elder Holland said service is Christ’s royal law and was the Savior’s first and foremost duty prior to the Atonement and Resurrection. He called it a great honor to be instruments for inspired and inspiring service.
“We need God,” he said, “but he also needs us. It is an inspiring thought to think that not only humankind but divinity itself needs our heart and needs our helping hand. Surely that must be one way that we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”
He also provided an example from Christ’s life for those who would serve but feel overwhelmed by the immense needs of the world. He recalled how Judas Iscariot complained that Mary was wasteful when she anointed Christ’s head with expensive burial ointment. Christ told him, “She has done what she can.”
“She has done what she can,” Elder Holland repeated. “What a succinct formula.”
He provided Mother Theresa as an example of one who did what she could. When a journalist told her that statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing, she said her work was not about statistics but love.
“Faced with a staggering number beyond her reach,” Elder Holland said, “she could keep the commandment by serving those in her reach, with what resources she had.”
Between the visit with the Prime Minister and the panel on service, Elder Holland spoke Nov. 22 — Thanksgiving — to Oxford theology faculty and students at the storied University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. He outlined Latter-day Saint theology, then engaged for more than an hour in a rare interfaith question-and-answer session with the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal of the Church of England.
Elder Holland said Latter-day Saint doctrine is grounded in “what I consider straightforward Biblical theology” and used the Bible to explain how the Church is different from Christianity rooted in 4th- and 5th-century creeds. One difference is that the Church believes the scriptural canon is not closed, he said, describing “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ” as the fulfillment of biblical prophesy (Isaiah 29:11, 18–19).
“I, for one,” he said, “would feel to walk on hot lava and chew broken glass if I could find a document, any document anywhere, containing any new words of Christ — 50 words, 20 words, one new word from the Son of God — let alone hundreds of pages that record the appearance, teachings, covenants and counsel he gave to a heretofore unknown audience.”
Rev. Teal, a Pembroke theologian whose questions explored Latter-day Saint doctrine on the Trinity, the Fall, priesthood ordination, temples, baptism for the dead and even dancing. Teal said his goal was to ask questions with integrity and intellectual honesty and conduct a dialogue free of defensiveness or tribalism. Elder Holland said he succeeded and praised his preparation.
The two men embraced after their conversation to delighted applause from the audience in a room that once was home to the first library of the oldest English-speaking university in the world.
Elder Holland said significant differences between the churches have in the past interrupted what could be “larger, warmer, wonderful conversation,” and Rev. Teal said each sees themselves more clearly when engaged with the other.
“There was a real sense of glowing and no falseness, no feigning at University Church,” Rev. Teal said. “My heart burnt within me. There was a real sense, ‘God is here.’ “
Rev. Teal organized and conducted the panel on service. He also opened Pembroke College Chapel, where he serves as chaplain, to Elder Holland for the meeting with young married members.
With notable openness in the chapel’s intimate setting, Elder Holland shared pain from his own life about some who opposed his mission, a depressing moment as a young father worried about finances, a relative who is unable to conceive and the tears he has shed over seemingly unanswered prayers. He told the young married members that when they feel pain or doubt to keep walking in faith. “I know you will come out of the forest of pain into the meadowlands of peace again.”
To those who asked about seemingly unanswered prayers, he said, “When you feel blocked or limited, consider it a stretching exercise,” he said, adding, “I have shed tears over prayers I did not think were getting very far, but with greater hindsight I could see that was a lesson in maturity and growth.”