Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Elders and Saints of Europe, 1912

The Elders and Saints of Europe, 1912

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 12, 2011

Thomas E. McKay, newly released (he would later be recalled to the post) as president of the Swiss and German Mission, spoke in General Conference in April 1912 and gives another side to the question of legal actions taken against our missionaries, and other conditions among the European members and missionaries in that generation:

It is true we are having some trouble in some of the cities in Germany, but this trouble, I believe, has been exaggerated. The people at home do not quite understand just what a “banishment,” for example, means. Some of the mothers who have sons there, think, perhaps, of Siberia when they read that word “banishment”; but I wish to correct that impression.

My brethren and sisters, we are better protected in Germany today than the elders are in Great Britain, or than the elders in our own America. The officials of the German government are not personally opposed to our missionary work. it is true they banish us once in a while, but they do it because of complaints that are made against our missionaries, by some ministers, so-called. The officials who must act upon the complaints, as a rule, treat our missionaries quite courteously; in fact, they sometimes apologize for having to banish them.

I wish to say also that because of this trouble many of these officials, today, are investigating the Gospel. Our missionaries have been polite, courteous and pleasant to these officials. They have borne testimonies to them, and have given them our literature; and today many of these officials are doing all they can to favor our missionaries. As one told me, who had become acquainted with two of our missionaries who were banished, he said: “I have learned, through this investigation, that your young men here are the most moral young men with whom I have ever come in contact. Through their example I have become interested in your church, and I wish to tell you, Herr Mckay,” taking my hand in both of his, as I said good-by, “that I will do all in my power to assist your missionaries and your members in their work in this nation. They are doing a good work. I would to God,” he said, “that all our people were like your members in this country of ours.”

In Hungary, which is also a part of our mission, we have freedom, and I wish to say also that that freedom was gained, very largely, through the influence of a young man who was at first prejudiced against us, and became interested in order, as he thought, to protect his sister. She was an “Israelite,” as she called herself, a bright young woman who became interested in the gospel, attended our meetings, and attended our choir practice. She and her brother were living together – orphans. Her brother became alarmed, and called her to task for visiting these “Mormon’ meetings so often.

She asked him, “Why do you object to my going to these meetings?’

“Why,” he said, “haven’t you heard what kind of people the ‘Mormons’ are?”

“Yes,” she said, “I have.”

“Well, then, why do you continue to go?”

She said, “Where did you get your information regarding them?”

“Why, I have read about them.”

“Who wrote those articles,” she said, “friends or enemies of the ‘Mormons’?”

“Why,” he said, “I read an attack that was written by a minister who has lived among them.”

“Do you believe,” she said, “all the stories that have been written about us as Jews? Would it not be better for you to come to these young men personally, and visit their meetings, and find out for yourself what kind of people they are?”

He said, “I will do so.”

The result was that he became interested in our meetings, and in the missionaries. After the first meeting he came to the missionaries and said: “Why don’t you hold these meetings publicly? the people don’t understand you; they are laboring under wrong impressions.” He was told that we did not have the privilege of holding public meetings, that they had to be held as private meetings. He wanted to know the reason. The result was he made an investigation. He was a young lawyer, and through his efforts we obtained – and the efforts, also, I may state, of our American consul – we received our freedom in Brossau, on the boundary between Hungary and Roumania. This young man, who is now an attorney corresponding to our district attorney, made a trip from Brossau to Budapest, a twelve hours’ ride, and would not take one penny for his services.

Other examples could be given to show you that the officials of these nations are not personally opposed to the “Mormon” missionaries. I wish to state also that our American consuls throughout Europe, or that part of Europe belonging to the mission – Roumania, Austria-Hungary, Switzerland and France – treat us as American citizens, and, as many of them have told me, “It makes no difference to us whether you are Jews, Gentile, Mormon, or what your religion is, we will treat you as American citizens.”

In Budapest we have our main Hungarian branch. Through the efforts of Elder Hill, who labored there, a number of tracts have been translated into that language, and a number of our songs; and the work is being carried on, now that Brother Hill is released, by Elders Spry, Parker and Johansen. These three young elders are learning, and Brother Spry has made great progress in the Hungarian language.

I am so pleased to state that progress is being made in France. We have a branch in Lyons, southern France, and several elders in Menz; and now in Paris we hold regular services on Sundays, sacramental meetings for students and friends; and each Thursday evening a public lecture is given, and a musical program by our students. On Washington’s birthday, there were fifteen of our people gathered at our meeting place in Paris. Elder Barker of the B.Y. University is rendering great services for us in Paris.

The work in Germany is progressing, especially in the last two years, largely through our Sunday schools and choirs. In one of our Sunday schools, one of the last I visited, there were two hundred and twenty-two present, and out of that number seventy-five were children of non-members. These children become interested; they are placed upon the program, on the reviews, and their parents attend; in this way we meet the parents, and many of them are investigating the gospel. Our choirs are making good progress, we have one organized in nearly all of our branches.

I am pleased that I can make this report, and also to report that the people there, especially our members, are taking care of the elders, and the members are paying tithing. I was told by one of the brethren, who had looked over the record, that our mission has a larger percentage of members upon the tithing record than any other mission or ward in the church. The people are honest, and when they accept the gospel they try to live it, and because of that they are being blessed and prospered.

We are trying to keep them where they are; and because the majority of them are remaining, our branches today are larger than the average ward at home – that is, many of our branches. In at least fifteen branches we never have less than two hundred present at the meetings, and ninety percent of our members attend the meetings.



  1. Sounds like “banishment” was often along the lines of this recent potential action:

    Comment by Kent Larsen — September 12, 2011 @ 8:11 am

  2. Well, German “banishment” was really banishment — elders did have to leave the country, but were not imprisoned the way some people feared when they heard the term.

    Your story, though, what you have called being “muzzled” elsewhere, sounds to me like Mormon elders are simply being asked not to be obnoxious on public transportation — and if they’re drawing attention to themselves this way, they *are* being obnoxious. As someone who has spent a good share of her adult life on public transport, I appreciate the regulation of Utah Transit Authority that doesn’t allow proselyting on public buses. When you’re in an enclosed space, one as small as a packed express bus, and you can’t get off for 40 minutes until you reach your destination in the next county, it is mighty unpleasant to have someone begin speaking loudly to his neighbor and telling him everything that is wrong with Mormonism, and continuing — regardless of his civil tone of voice — after people say they are notinterestedthankyouverymuch. I’ve been glad for the bus drivers who tell such preachers that they cannot continue. If our elders are doing anything remotely the same in England, they’re creating more enemies than friends — and telling them they cannot continue is not “banishment” in any sense.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  3. Oh, I agree, Ardis. I assumed from McKay’s talk that “banishment” was just kicked out of that particular town, not the entire country. It seems strange to me that someone could be banished from an entire country by a local city official.

    Missionary zeal can often cross boundaries, and I think I may have crossed a few myself on my mission. But, in the English case, I wonder how much is missionaries being overzealous, and how much it is others on the bus being hypersensitive. The article sounds like it could be either way — and like the action called for is tantamount to prohibiting all conversation on the bus.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — September 12, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  4. In an enclosed space, Kent, where there is no option of getting away from an offensive speaker, rules have to be narrower for society to function — if missionaries were opening conversations at bus stops or on park benches, I’d have a much different reaction. But if missionaries have drawn attention to themselves for this behavior, if the complaints are almost exclusively about Mormon missionaries and not about, say, grandmothers imposing tales of the exploits of their little darlings on reluctant seatmates, then the missionaries have gone too far. (This is a case where my Mormonness conflicts with my personal experience and the unpleasant nature of unwelcome and inescapable conversation on buses. I’d rather our missionaries find ways to contact that didn’t drive away more people than they attract.)

    And you may be right about the local nature of a banishment in Germany in a case by local officials, although missionaries *were* kicked out of Germany entirely by other officials — just given so many hours to leave the country.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2011 @ 9:07 am

  5. Speaking as someone who travels on British buses on a daily basis and seems to attract every nutter waiting for a bus or sitting on the bus, I must say I agree with the bus company’s actions in this case. The missionaries are told to use their bus journeys as proselyting time, to sit apart from each other, to instigate conversations. I just want to switch off when I get on a bus, personally, and either gear up for work or unwind from work. Also bear in mind that our buses aren’t very big, and you can hear conversations taking place at the back of the bus, if you are sitting at the front of the bus. How many people want such a personal issue as their beliefs dissected for public consumption? Nah. There’s a huge difference between casual conversations between strangers (usually on the topic of the unreliability of the bus service, or the weather), and discussing personal beliefs for the entire bus to hear. No thanks!

    Comment by Anne (UK) — September 13, 2011 @ 6:54 am

  6. Being banished in Germany in this time period was like a missionary getting transferred. Another missionary would take his place and the banished one would move on to another jurisdiction.
    If he returned to the area he was banished from he could be imprisoned.
    Missionaries were regularly chased and/or were caught/escaped in cat and mouse game. There are many examples of missionaries evading police and and thus banishment or imprisonment. Elder Lloyd was spotted by a police officer at a sacrament meeting and as soon as the meeting ended some members crowded around him.He slipped out a side door, ran down a hallway and hid in a broom closet. He would have suffered banishment for sure.

    Comment by Joe — September 13, 2011 @ 10:53 am

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