Heber C. Kimball & Orson Hyde were the first missionaries called to serve in Great Britain. A few years later ALL the Apostles were issued a call to serve there – the only time in the history of the Church that the Quorum of the Twelve as a body has been called to travel outside America for such an assignment! Many amazing events took place, what are some of their experiences during Christmas and New Year’s time?
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First Mission – First general conference in Great Britain:
At length it was decided to hold a conference—the first general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Great Britain—in the “Cockpit,” Preston, on Christmas day, 1837. Branches had been raised up in Preston, Walkerford, Alston, Bedford, Eccleston, Wrightington, Hexton, Euxton Bath, Daubers Lane, Chorley, Whittle, Leyland Moss, Ribchester, Thornley, Clithero, Waddington, Downham, Barshe Lees, Askin, Hunter’s Hill, Stoney Gate Lane, Chatburn, Penwortham, and other places.
About three hundred Saints, representing a much larger membership residing in branches extending thirty miles and more around Preston, attended that first conference. Priest Joseph Fielding was ordained an Elder. Ten Priests and seven Teachers were ordained to minister in the various branches; one hundred little children were blessed at this time, and the Word of Wisdom, which had heretofore been taught more by example than by precept, was first publicly proclaimed in Great Britain.
A glorious day of glorious deeds! It was fitting that such a body of Saints should meet under the direction of two of the Lord’s Apostles on the day that is celebrated as that of His birth. And on that day it was fitting that a hundred little children should be blessed. It was fitting, too, that in the old “Cockpit,” the cradle of “teetotalism,” the Word of Wisdom—the Lord’s law of health and vigor, life and vitality—should first be publicly proclaimed in Great Britain.
Second Mission – London
On December 1st at Barratt’s Academy Brigham Young preached his first Gospel sermon in London. Ten days later he departed for Cheltenham, and left London in the capable hands of Brothers Kimball and Woodruff.
During the second week in December four persons were baptized—Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, with whom the missionaries lodged, Christopher Smith, their apprentice, and Henry Connor, Jr. HCA minister of the Independent Order, Reverend James Albion by name, encountered the missionaries, attended some of their meetings, and invited the brethren to his home, which invitation they accepted on more than one occasion. Having heard the Gospel of the Master from their lips, the Reverend Albion offered the use of his chapel, which would seat about one thousand persons. On the first Sabbath after this unusual offer the brethren accompanied the Reverend Albion to his morning service and were introduced to the church committee. Reverend Albion announced to his congregation that the missionaries from America would occupy his pulpit on the following Sabbath. Brothers Kimball and Woodruff then returned to their afternoon and evening meetings with the growing body of London Saints. Following the evening meeting the Reverend Albion sought them at their lodge and told them that he had announced their appointment for the next Sabbath at his further meetings that day, and that he had told his congregation that he was a Latter-day Saint, that he intended to be baptized at the hands of the missionaries, and that he would henceforth not be considered one of their number unless they were baptized into the true Church of Christ with him. Reverend Albion not only had conviction of truth, but also had what so many of his rank and office have lacked when they were faced with loss of livelihood—the courage of his convictions. The results of his astounding profession of faith were divided opinions and a divided congregation.
Despite opposition, the appointment on the following Sunday at the Church presided over by Reverend Albion was filled by the missionaries. At the evening services of that day, the final Sabbath of the year 1840, the brethren addressed the largest London congregation that they had had the privilege of standing before indoors since their arrival. A mixed audience, including ministers and lay members of many sects, heard them. Wilford Woodruff spoke about an hour. A Wesleyan minister arose, in bad taste and temper, and ungracefully opposed him. Both congregation and church committee detected the minister’s spirit, and the latter refused him permission to speak again in their place of worship.
When the year-end holidays arrived the missionaries took time to enjoy themselves with the Saints. On December 23 they spent the evening with Dr. Copeland and his wife at the theater, where they saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On Christmas morning they met with the Saints at Henry Connor’s home to teach them “plain principles” and then had dinner with the Morgans. The menu was probably one of the best they had enjoyed in England: baked mutton, goose, rabbit pie, mince pie, plum pudding, bread, cheese, porter, and water. They then spent the evening at James Albion’s home, discussing the “things of God.” fn New Year’s Eve found them preaching and taking supper with the Copelands.
This was also an occasion to reflect on a year that must have seemed to them both the best of times and the worst of times. Heber wrote a poignant prayer thanking his God for his increase in knowledge, recovery from illness, prosperity in the ministry, sustenance, and for never forsaking him in time of trouble. He also prayed mightily for the welfare of his family. Wilford Woodruff recalled that twelve months earlier he was on the Atlantic, practically penniless, but since landing in England he had traveled 4,469 miles, held 230 meetings, established fifty-three places of preaching, planted forty-seven branches of the Church numbering 1,500 Saints, attended fourteen conferences, personally baptized 336 people (including fifty-seven preachers), confirmed 420 people, ordained eighteen elders, ninety-seven priests, thirty-four teachers, and one deacon, blessed 120 children, and administered to 120 sick persons. In many instances, “the sick were healed, the lame walked.” He had also raised money for Church publications, assisted two hundred Saints to emigrate, and visited numerous historic sites and other places of interest. These were among the blessings he counted. There were also tribulations: being away from home and family, the loss of his baby daughter, financial sacrifice, rejection, persecution, public humiliation, and all the other challenges related to missionary work, especially in London. Two terse sentences from his summary were full of meaning: “Never have I spent a year with more Interest than 1840. Never have I been called to make greater Sacrifices or enjoyed greater Blessings.”
The beginning of a new year came – 1841. The brethren believed absolutely in starting the New Year right—they baptized two persons on New Year’s Day and raised the number of the London congregation to twenty-one. Among those baptized later in the month of January were Dr. William Copeland, the Reverend James Albion and members of his family, a Mr. Hender, three more members of the Morgan family with whom the missionaries lodged, and four persons from Woolwich, who had applied for baptism after once hearing Heber C. Kimball preach, and who had that night wandered up and down the Thames embankment until after nine o’clock seeking a suitable place for baptism, but the ice and mud on the river bank prevented. The next day Heber C. Kimball took them to the public baths in Tabernacle Square, to which they seem to have had ready access, and performed the ordinance.
To read more incredible Great Britain Church History events and sites, visit our England & Wales tour page!