For just over a century, from its founding in 1837 by Apostles Brigham Young and others, to the outbreak of World War II, the British Mission had been led by “elders from Zion.” These (mostly American) elders, assisted by home (British) missionaries, both brethren and sisters, did the bulk of missionary work in the British Isles, and also ran the local churches. Transient elders, not local priesthood bearers, were the branch leaders, planned and conducted the meetings, organized the Mutuals, collected the tithing, taught most of the Sunday School classes, published the Millennial Star, arranged the immigration, conducted the church courts, gave the blessings, performed the baptisms, and even organized many of the entertainments.
This (to me, unhealthy) state of affairs grew naturally from a time when all converts were young in the faith and emigrated to Nauvoo or to Utah as soon as they could raise the means. But by 1939, when foreigners were ordered by the British government to leave Britain, the British Mission had thousands of long-term, sometimes multi-generational, members. Somehow, the old pattern had persisted, and these local members had had very little experience in governing their own church affairs. Newly appointed mission president Andre K. Anastasiou (1894- ), successor to Hugh B. Brown (who, with the last three “elders from Zion” had sailed from Britain on January 12, 1940), described the situation:
It was strange to think that the 72 Branches of the Church in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England, built up and developed by the untiring efforts and sacrifice of our American Missionaries, were now left to the fate and circumstances of the local Saints. They felt depressed, unhappy, full of uncertainty and even foreboding. No longer could we call upon our Missionaries to come here and go there; to organise this, that and the other Branch meeting, Sunday School, M.I.A., etc.; to visit the sick, to heal and comfort, to baptise new converts, and be the staff and protection of those who depended so much upon them. The church and the Saints were left to stand on their own feet, so to speak, and to depend upon each other and carry on as best they could.. A number of our members felt that they were being deserted.
The British Saints stepped up, though, and succeeded magnificently, as we’ll discuss in coming posts.
It isn’t difficult to understand how they did it, either, when you read the following talk given by George Henry Bailey (1896-1976), first counsellor to President Anastasiou, delivered at a conference of district presidents (local men, who would be stake presidents had stakes been organized in Britain at this time), held on January 16, 1942.
Read it out loud (declaim it) if you can, or at least hear the words in your head as you read. Three parts gospel, one part British patriotism and grit, this is great oratory by a man with a vision:
We Shall Come through This Great Struggle Unconquered
Elder George H. Bailey
First Counselor, British Mission Presidency
We brethren of the District Presidencies of the British Mission are the appointed leaders of the Lord’s work in this land. Our example, the quality and quantity of our labour, will determine the success of the work which God has committed into our hands. We must be prepared, if necessary, to give our all that this work might go forward, and by such an attitude to our work, we shall receive that portion of the Spirit of the Lord which will sustain us in the discharge of our sacred duty.
President Hugh B. Brown said to the Saints in Great Britain, prior to his departure for Zion, “Hold the Fort.” But we must do more than that. We must carry the message of comfort and good cheer of the restored gospel into every nook and cranny of this our native land. We must make a faithful contribution to our country in its hour of need, and at the same time we must be willing to make unlimited sacrifice, giving until it hurts, that the fort shall not only be held during this difficult period, but built up and strengthened and its uplifting power be felt throughout the land.
This war and its attendant evils ere long will come to an end, and in spite of all the setbacks which we have endured, and though we may yet endure many more, as a humble servant of God I raise my voice and say that though the way of this nation be through blood, through sweat and tears, though we be battered and torn, we shall come through this great struggle unconquered, for this nation will, by the arm of its political power, be instrumental, in the hands of the Lord, in making it possible for the Jews to return to their native land, and protecting them from all their opponents even unto the day when the Lord shall come, bringing them deliverance. But before this day shall come we must steel our hearts to even greater trials than those which we have known, for unless mankind will repent and turn unto the Lord and live according to His word, the present problems of this generation will not diminish, but increase. Let us, who hold the Priesthood of God, fortify ourselves through a practical application of righteous principles, for so great will be the trials of this generation, and this because of their unwillingness to heed the counsels of God, that we shall need a tried and perfected faith to stand and discharge the duties given into our care.
As the leaders of God’s work in this land, we must put away all selfish desires; our quest must be for things that have eternal value in their nature. The souls of men are precious in the sight of God. Our labour must be to direct our fellow men along the path that leads to true happiness. Our success in this work will be determined by our willingness to stand firm in our calling. And when it shall appear that every vestige of human help has failed, we will cling firmly and mightily to the promises of God.
Missionaries will come again from Zion, but they never will, if we are faithful, be burdened with the work of presiding over the Mission and various departments of the work in this land. It is our heritage to lead the work of the Lord in this land. We will cleave unto our heritage, and when our joys are increased as we welcome back the Missionaries to these shores, we will continue to so labour in our callings that these, the Lord’s anointed, shall be free to go into the highways and byways and gather the remnants of Israel into the fold.
I believe that immediately after this war the work of the Lord will go forward with accelerated speed, vigour and determination, for the Lord has said that in these the latter days he will cut short His work in righteousness. Therefore, at the close of this war we must prepare for the great day when the gospel shall be carried to the Jews in their national home and to the sons of Lehi upon the American continent, and into all countries where the blood of Israel shall be found. And it has been said that in that day there will not be enough men in all Israel to accomplish this work. Brethren, we are called to carry forward the work of the Lord in this land in such a way and manner that when this day shall come the Church in this country will be prepared to make a full and complete contribution to the great and final effort to lift the towers of Zion in every land and clime.
These are the last days; the days to which the Lord referred when He said: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should be no flesh be saved, but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Surely the period of peace between the end of this war and the great final battle will be of short duration. A mighty work has yet to be done. There will yet be a great influx into the Church in this country, if we do our duty as God desires we should do it. The day will come when many shall knock on the door of the Church in this land and ask for admittance. We must prepare for such a day by putting our own house in order. To excuse ourselves from the duties which God has placed in our hands is to deny God the desire to give us a great blessing. The Lord delights to bless and honour those who put their trust in Him. On this historic day in the history of the British Mission, let us pledge our allegiance to the great call that has come to us, and be willing always to say, “Yea, Lord,” when the Lord calls.