From my mum, Anthea.
My first encounter with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was when I was 16 and still living with my parents who were very active in the Church of England. I had already met my future husband, David, at that time. I cannot remember exactly how we met the two young American Mormon missionaries who visited our home in Worcester, but I do remember their names: Elder Ayres and Elder Palmer. I remember that Elder Palmer was good-looking and that appealed to a girl of 16.
I was surprised that my parents invited them into their best room to talk to us as we used to attend St. John’s church at the time and were very happy there.
One Sunday whilst we were at Evensong, the vicar pulled David and myself aside and told us to have nothing to do with “that Coca-Cola religion.” During the 1960s, the church was much maligned in England and considered a dangerous American sect with weird and controversial doctrines. I’m sure that the vicar had our best interests at heart and didn’t want us to be indoctrinated by some handsome American boys. Because of his advice we stopped seeing the missionaries.
There were no more thoughts about the Mormon church until 1965. I was married by then and had a baby daughter and was expecting our second. I well remember the day of our next encounter with the missionaries. David was at work, and it was a dull and depressing day. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor. There was a knock on the door and there stood Elder Karren from Canada and Elder Couch from Idaho. I invited them back and we started the discussions.
David and I were not easy to convert but we had good times and grew very close as they were about our age. We also had two sister missionaries who used to come and babysit for us along with the Elders. Of course, this would not be allowed today!
After several months we eventually got baptised. My first impression of the church was how friendly and welcoming everyone was and because we were young and poor with two little girls to support we were given lots of help with clothes and things.
In those days the Relief Society used to hold wonderful bazaars and I remember inviting my mother to one of them. She really enjoyed coming but was rather perplexed because all the ladies were dressed as “Pioneers.” As this was the age of the mini-skirt, it all looked rather strange. I think my mother thought I was a member of some strange sect like the Amish. The image of the church as an American church was very strong.
We often used to hear in the church about the pioneers and how they crossed the American continent. It bored me every time. It was all so foreign.
But something changed. I wrote this whilst sitting in the peace of the Gadfield Elm chapel in the beautiful countryside of Worcestershire. Inside the chapel — England’s first Mormon building, dating from the 1840s — there are numerous pictures of pioneers on the walls. These are not pictures of Americans, but of my fellow countrymen and women who left England and crossed the Plains. This has served as a reminder for me that the pioneer story is not as “foreign” as I first thought.
Since David and I were called as service missionaries at Gadfield Elm the significance of the pioneers has really moved me. Their bravery and the terrible hardships they endured are heart-breaking. We have American visitors who are amazed that their ancestors left this green and pleasant land for the cruelty of the desert. But the pioneers had faith. I would have hated it.
Serving at Gadfield Elm, I have come to know people like Robert Harris. Robert was born on December 26, 1807. He was a member of the United Brethren and was converted and baptised by Wilford Woodruff on March 15, 1840. He was a butcher and loved sport, especially prize fighting at village fairs. He married Hannah Eagles in 1835 and emigrated on The Echo in 1841. They had 15 children. He died in Kaysville, Utah in 1876 and Wilford Woodruff preached at his funeral. Whilst serving with the Mormon Battalion, Robert wrote the following to his pregnant wife:
“My dear, be sure to take your little cask to put your water in for if I should know that you will suffer as I did for water it will make my heart break…
“Now my Darling respecting your confinement; you try to furnish yourself with something necessary for your comfort against that time and get some good woman to take care of you and if you can’t get means to pay her let her have my gun or something else until we meet and then I will pay the demand.”
Without men and women like Robert and Hannah Harris, there would be no church today, men and women from a quiet corner of England dear to my heart.
My husband and I travel a lot and we often visit the local LDS wards in the places where we go. We had a wonderful welcome when at church on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. It was just a small branch but the people were friendly and warm. Our daughter Jackie lives in Florida and every year when we visit we go to the Daytona Beach ward. We often visit the Milford Haven branch in West Wales. They meet in a cold, draughty, ugly hall but we are always greeted kindly. This is one of our favourite places to go to church because they finish at 12.30!
God intends the church to be universal. We always watch General Conference at home on the satellite and I say to David that perhaps one day we will have an African prophet, or maybe a Chinese prophet, or even a French prophet. This would be a wonderful thing because we don’t belong to an American church but to an international church of Christ. Jesus loves all people no matter whether they are rich or poor, no matter what colour or nationality. For my part, I am proud of our English heritage in the church and I hope people take the time to visit Gadfield Elm and learn about the English pioneers.