Three apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined with members of the Church in Lancashire to commemorate a rich history of Christianity in the British Isles. Elders Russell M. Nelson, M. Russell Ballard and Jeffrey R. Holland were in the UK to visit with new mission presidents, serving missionaries and Church leaders. In addition to this duty, they visited the nearly 1,000-member cast, crew and choir of The British Pageant on the Preston Temple site, before joining 1,500 other guests in watching the historic show. The Pageant, the first such event ever to be held in Europe, opened on Wednesday 31st July and the last performance was Saturday 10th August.
It was the first time since the dedication of the Preston, England temple in June 1998 that such a significant number of apostles of Jesus Christ were in the British Isles at the same time. Elders Nelson, Ballard and Holland serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and hold the highest Priesthood office in the Church. Of the apostolic duty, Elder Holland explains, “We’ve been chosen [as apostles] and, as humbling as that is, we respond to the call to take the name of Christ to all the world, and to ask everyone to enjoy the blessings that we have by following the living Son of the living God.”
Their presence at the Pageant sent a buzz of enthusiasm throughout the cast, crew and audience, who all stood, cheered and applauded at the arrival of the apostles at the Pageant theatre. They were joined by Elders Ronald A. Rasband and David F. Evans of the Seventy (an ecclesiastical board of leadership for the Church); and Elders José A. Teixeira, Patrick Kearon and Timothy J. Dyches also members of the Seventy, who preside over the Europe Area.
The Pageant celebrated with song, dance and drama, the faith, sacrifice and commitment of early Church members. It honoured the sacred Christian legacies that British martyrs such as Thomas More and William Tyndale left behind. This major event told the stories of the first Mormon missionaries to the British Isles in 1837. They came with a unique message: that the original Church, established by Jesus Christ, had been restored to the earth, exactly as it once was, with a living prophet and twelve apostles to guide it.
It’s a missionary story of sheer magnitude. Elder Ballard said, “[Today] there are many things that are occupying people’s minds; people are not focused on answers to the real life’s questions - I think they were, back in 1837.”
By 1850 there were twice as many Latter-day Saint members in the British Isles than in the Americas. Elder Holland reflected, “The early converts to the Church in great Britain quite literally and very dramatically saved this Church in the sense that there was a need for membership, for headcount.” More than 65,000 newly-baptised members from the British Isles left their beloved homeland to join other Church members in the United States. Elder Nelson said, “It was an unparalleled contribution to the strength of the Church” in its young vulnerability. “To commemorate that in the Pageant is a very significant thing.”
It was a special visit for all three visiting apostles, who can each trace their own ancestry to these British Isles. In 1998 Elder Ballard, who himself served a mission to Britain as a young man in 1948, addressed a similar congregation in Lancashire and expressed his love for these shores: “I can’t come to England and not feel connected to those who have gone on before. This is my homeland. It's my wife's homeland. When we're here, we're back where our roots are." He attributed his connection to the British Isles to a great heritage of sacrifice of early Church members. “The British Isles and Scandinavia had a tremendous impact in the early days of the Church. Without their faith and devotion, we wouldn't be what we are today.”
Elder Holland also served a mission in Britain as a young man. He holds those memories dear to this day. He said, “I have gone around the world since then, and wherever I’ve gone I have said that my mission to England changed my life forever. It still seems like yesterday and I cherish it as though it were yesterday. I love England and all of my life I will carry these wonderful memories of my time as a young missionary here.”
Elder Kearon, from England, is a convert to the Church. He recalls that before he was taught by missionaries, “I really scratched my head as to why these Mormons were such a happy people.” The Pageant, Elder Kearon said, captured that happiness. “I’m full of praise and admiration for all of our friends who have worked so very hard to produce it and bring it to such a joyful conclusion.”
All 1,000 cast, choir and crew members of the Pageant were amateur volunteers who sacrificed their time to participate in the production that tells an incredible British story that personally resonates with members of the Mormon faith across the world. Elder Rasband, from Salt Lake City, Utah, explains, “I am a product of that story. I am a Sunderland laddy-boy, as I like to say, and my ancestors took the call to leave the British Isles. As I saw that played out at the Pageant, it was very emotional for me.”
The Pageant was “a reflection of the mood all over this Church right now - one of a wave of excitement and enthusiasm,” said Elder Nelson. “I see a great resurgence of activity and continuing growth of the Church,” concluded Elder Nelson, “not only in the UK but in all of Europe.” The number of missionaries is increasing and the number of new members in the Church is increasing.
“The light and the love of the gospel is going to loom even more apparent to everyone and the Church will grow.”