Elder Karl D. Hirst sees himself as ‘an ordinary person in an extraordinary calling’

Sustained as a new General Authority Seventy during the April 2024 general conference, Elder Hirst childhood in North West England led to his Church membership and profession as a barrister

Elder Karl D. Hirst considers himself “an ordinary person in an extraordinary calling.”

The new General Authority Seventy — sustained at the April 2024 general conference — sees his testimony and its confirmations as somewhat ordinary as well.

“No visitations, absolutely nothing spectacularly spiritual — and I have stopped worrying about that, because I am so fulfilled by the way that God has chosen to speak to me, even if He chooses to speak to other people in a different way,” Elder Hirst said. “It is not spectacular, but it is abundant.”

And it has been abundant for decades for Elder Hirst and his wife, Sister Claire Hirst, who both grew up in families that converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United Kingdom — he of very meager circumstances in a gritty northern town in the county of Lancashire in North West England.

Early childhood

Elder Hirst’s earliest memories are of living above a humble corner shop his father ran, then moving to a home with no inside toilet.

Several years after Karl’s 1972 birth, his father noticed a difference in some of his customers. Asking what had prompted the change, he learned it was the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Taught by full-time sister missionaries, he joined the Church alone.

Young Karl continued attending the Methodist Church as a child with his grandmother and sometimes his mother and sister, there learning the stories of Jesus and singing the hymns. After beginning to attend Latter-day Saint meetings, Karl was asked by his Primary teacher in a class held on the stage of the Whitefield Ward meetinghouse how he felt about being baptized.

“And I got that excited, bubbling feeling inside and said, ‘Yeah, that’d be great,’” Elder Hirst recalled. “This proud Primary teacher afterwards took me out to see Dad, and I vaguely remember a look of excitement and also fear on his face as he thought, ‘You can tell your Mum.’”

Ten-year-old Karl and his sister were baptized, followed later by their mother and maternal grandmother. Through five-plus decades of life, Elder Hirst has carried that childlike faith and testimony. “God has spoken to me in my heart in the same way He did when I was in Primary and the same way as He did when I was in the Methodist Sunday school,” he said.

Elder Karl D. Hirst was sustained as a General Authority Seventy during the April 2024 general conference. | The Church of Jesus Christ of La

‘Legal’ appeal

Elder Hirst saw his father joining the Church as part of a drive to better himself and his family and help others. That drive was evidenced by his parents pushing Karl’s education as well as taking in a steady stream of foster children, which helped prick young Karl’s interest in a future legal profession.

“I became a barrister because Mum took me to the criminal prosecution of the parents of two of my foster brothers and sisters,” Elder Hirst recalled, adding, “I thought it was the most noble thing I had ever seen. And it surprised me, because I was angry at the parents — I knew the cruelty that they’d imposed on these two beautiful little children.

“And yet, there was something really compelling about watching. Everything that could be said on their behalf and in their defense was said. Ultimately, it failed, but the process was just really appealing.”

First meeting

At age 14, Karl attended his first youth convention (youth conference) as the only active young man in his ward. “I had a really committed Young Men’s presidency who said, ‘You’re going, and we’re driving you there,’” Elder Hirst now recalls. “But they weren’t prepared to come in and dance with me.”

Feeling alone and isolated and knowing one of the Young Men counselors was standing guard outside the Bolton Ward meetinghouse’s cultural hall doors, Karl found solace in a corner he later described as “purpose-built for ginger kids who are lonely at dances.” A teen from another ward introduced himself and joined him. “He wasn’t ginger, but I didn’t kick him out — there was room for both of us. He was very generous with his friendship.”

Over the weekend, the new friend introduced Karl to others, including one Claire Wright. “I have this vivid memory of him introducing me to Claire and her friend and others from his ward, and that is how I met Claire,” said Elder Hirst, adding, “I was struck immediately.”

Another family conversion

Like Karl, Claire Wright was a child of convert parents, her father first meeting the missionaries before he was married. Her parents met and married — he a Methodist and she of the Church of England. “Neither religion satisfied their needs at that point,” Sister Hirst recalled, “so they were looking for something that would combine their faiths.”

When missionaries knocked their door, her father remembered his earlier experiences. They investigated the Church for two years, with both getting baptized when young Claire was 4 years old.

“They have always served faithfully and have always taught me and my siblings that when the Lord or the Church ask you to do something, you say, ‘Yes,’” said Sister Hirst, adding, “That’s all I’ve ever known, it’s all I’ve ever been taught. And they were examples of that — you say ‘yes’ and then you work out how to do it.”

The 11 newly sustained General Authority Seventies sit on the stand during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2024. | Les Nilsson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

‘He got my attention’

Her first recollection of meeting young Karl Hirst was not at age 14 but two years later, as they attended the same stake youth activities. They found themselves in the same groups, “and I was just drawn to him — he got my attention.”

About five or six months later, again at a stake activity, Karl and Claire were chatting, and he asked her for a date.

“And that was it,” said Sister Hirst of a relationship that rekindled prior to his departure to serve in the England London South Mission and maintained through correspondence and an agreement for her to wait for him to return from his mission. The two were engaged six days after his return.

Karl Hirst married Claire Elizabeth Wright civilly on May 29, 1993, in Burnley, Lancashire. They drove the some 270 miles (435 kilometers) over more than four hours to be sealed that same day in the London England Temple.

They soon started a family — “well before we could have afforded it by any measure of sensible financial planning” — with Elder Hirst saluting his wife’s commitment to motherhood as not only a “strong sense of identity” but “a divinely appointed focus.”

That’s just one reason why the new call and assignments to serve away from their home in Bolsover, in the county of Derbyshire, “has gone straight to the heart of everything that we’ve been focusing our lives on,” Elder Hirst said.

That includes impacts to several children still living with their parents, to married children who had moved close to their parents’ home and to Sister Hirst’s “eternal life’s work and that focus” of motherhood, Elder Hirst said, putting them “on the other side of the world and her trying to achieve the same maternal role remotely somehow. …

“And so, this wasn’t an incremental change for us,” he said, adding, “I’ve really had to examine what it is I believe in and how deeply I believe in it.”

‘Valued and necessary’

Elder Hirst knows those reading his brief biography will see the list of his previous callings. If he had his way, he would see the list as having better balance if it included struggling — or “shocking” and “clumsy,” as he puts it — Primary teacher and if it would stop at his service as bishop.

“I loved the youth. I loved every member of the congregation,” said Elder Hirst, thinking about his service as a bishop. “I’m not a skilled manager, I don’t have the capacity for organizational thinking, and I can’t see beyond the person in front of me. But I loved being a bishop — that’s where my heart was, and it worked.”

He’d be happy to continue carrying the “Bishop” title rather than “Elder” because he has taken a bishop’s mentality into his callings ever since. When serving as a stake president and later as an Area Seventy, “I was a bishop who went to different meetings,” he said.

And what would a former “shocking” Primary teacher share with others? Elder Hirst said it’s so important that all Latter-day Saints struggling in their callings or in their lives “know that they are valued, that struggle is necessary in the work and that God’s eyes are on them.”

Map of Bury, Lancashire, England.
A map showing Bury, Lancashire, England, where Elder Karl D. Hirst was born. | Church News graphic

Elder Karl D. Hirst

Family: Karl Douglas Hirst was born in Bury, Lancashire, United Kingdom, on Feb. 28, 1972. He married Claire Elizabeth Wright civilly on May 29, 1993, in Burnley, Lancashire; they were sealed later that day in the London England Temple. They are the parents of six children.

Education: He received a Bachelor of Law degree in 1996 from Lancaster University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Alliance Manchester Business School in 2016.

Employment: Since 1997, he has worked as a barrister (lawyer) as a pupil barrister and tenant at No5 Chambers in Birmingham and London. For over a decade, he specialized in working with people who had been bereaved or catastrophically injured.

Church service: At the time of his call, he and Sister Hirst were serving as For the Strength of Youth session directors. His previous callings include Area Seventy, stake president, bishop, bishopric counselor, regional Young Men’s leader and full-time missionary in the England London South Mission.

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