You remember the 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” where Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, is undergoing a sanity hearing? Although nearly everyone is on the old man’s side, everything seems to be going against him. Then the courtroom doors open and a dozen or more mail clerks march in, carrying canvas bags stuffed with thousands upon thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus. A blizzard of letters overflows Judge Harper’s bench as the judge seizes the opening to rule in Kris Kringle’s favor: If the United States Post Office, a branch of the federal government, supports Kris Kringle’s claim to be Santa Claus, who is the New York court to dispute that? Kris is liberated and works his magic so that Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and John Payne live happily ever after.
I submit that something similar happened in Liverpool, England, in 1923, involving Mormondom rather than Santa Claus.
In December of that year, a letter arrived at the General Post Office there, addressed to “the Main Church of Liverpool, England.” We can only imagine what His Majesty’s postal employee thought when he picked up that envelope and debated where to send it.
There was the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ in the center of Liverpool – as the fifth largest cathedral in Christendom, surely it merited consideration as “the main church.”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel had served the Catholics of Liverpool since 1878 – they also had a claim.
Or how about the ornate Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, dating to 1870? Or St. Mary of the Angels (1907)? Or the Church of St. Agnes and St. Pancras (1883)? Or Saint Philip Neri Church (1914)? Or the Church of St. Dunstan (1889)? Or St. Aloysius Catholic Church (1885)? Or any of the dozens of other church in and around Liverpool?
The letter certainly couldn’t be meant for those awful Mormons, could it? Even though Liverpool had been their European headquarters for decades, nobody could consider them the “main church,” could they?
But the letter was postmarked Salt Lake City, home of all things Mormon. The clerk must have shrugged as he tossed it into the pile of mail headed to Mission headquarters.
As it turned out, nobody in Liverpool could have been more interested in that letter than the Mormons. And the Mormons were absolutely the last church its writer would have wanted to have received his letter.
Inside the envelope was a newspaper clipping from the Deseret News:
MISSIONARIES IN ENGLAND. – A telegram received at the L.D.S. church offices from the Canadian Pacific Steamship company this morning gives the arrival of the steamship Montclare at Liverpool, on November 16. The following L.D.S. missionaries were among the passengers: Roland V. Walker, Clyde Service, William G. Jenkson, John C. Harper, Leroy Winter, Horace P. Beesley, David L. Murdock and Glen R. Dorius.
The clipping was accompanied by an impassioned, if barely literate, letter:
November 19th 1923.
Mayor of Liverpool Eng.
Enclosed Please Fin A Note From the Beloved Mormon, Syndicate, Instead Of a Church, those Missionaries only to get the poor class of english and the poor irish, to come to this country to give the mormons their money, Poor Fools You People Should Get up in Arms And Stop Those Poor fools from coming to your country
The mission president – David O. McKay – had a sense of humor. He wrote a letter of explanation, apologizing for having opened the letter by mistake, and forwarded it to the Honorable Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
But still – who are we to argue with His Majesty’s mail clerks and their decision to recognize the Mormon mission as “the Main Church of Liverpool, England”?