The following instructions and tips were issued to elders of the British Mission in the spring of 1883. They suggest to me that Elders of the nineteenth century found it just as difficult as I would to do street preaching; I’m also struck by the cautions about too-bold attacking of other churches’ doctrines, and a suggestion that the elders not be too prompt in identifying themselves. What strikes you?
The season has now arrived for out-door preaching to be commenced, and we hope the Elders will push this part of the work vigorously.
If any Elder is too proud to engage in open-air preaching, we have no hesitancy in saying that he does not possess the true spirit that should characterize a Latter-day Saint missionary. We should be willing to adopt any honorable means of making known the principles of the Gospel, and there is nothing dishonorable about preaching in the streets of a village or in the parks or squares of a town or city. Our Savior did not consider it beneath His dignity to preach on the seashore, or upon the mount, any more than in the synagogue or temple, nor need we either.
It is, perhaps, more unpleasant to most speakers to preach to a “traveling congregation” than one seated in a hall, and more trying to one’s lungs, specially when he finds it necessary to speak very loud to drown any noise or confusion that may be going on. But no Elder should shrink from it on this account when he has an opportunity of holding a meeting and can get people to listen to him.
We think the experience of the Elders will prove that prosy dissertations on doctrine are not appropriate for meetings of this character. People become tired and impatient sooner when standing than sitting, and they are not likely to remain long to listen to a speech of that kind.
On the contrary, an animated, vigorous declaration of our principles, and a fervent testimony as to the truth of them is almost sure to attract people’s attention, and cause them to stop and listen.
A comparison between the true principles of the Gospel and the spurious ones that prevail in the world may also be made with good effect at the proper moment, but wisdom should be exercised in this. Figuratively speaking, it is not wise to tear down a man’s house about his head when we intend to benefit him by supplying a better one, until the new one is described to him, or, at least, until he is made aware of its existence.
However fallacious the prevailing ideas on the subject of religion are, there is no denying the fact that many people are sincere believers in them, and a spirit of combativeness and resentment is aroused in such persons on hearing their religion abruptly assailed. This spirit, too, is more apt to assert itself on the public domain, where all men claim equal rights, than in a hall hired by the speaker, and to which the public are only admitted on sufferance.
The elders need not court persecution; they are apt to get enough of it without.
if an Elder wishes to attract the attention of people and claim of them a patient hearing, he will very likely defeat his own object by appealing to their prejudices or arousing their anger. To make it known in the commencement of his speech that he is a “Mormon” is generally sufficient to accomplish the former, and roughly assailing the popular creeds almost invariably results in the latter.
We can make known the principles of the Gospel; we can point out the prophecies and other allusions in the Scripture to the general apostasy; we can testify of the restoration of the Gospel, and even compare its principles with the current counterfeits without telling what Church we belong to. But no fear of persecution should ever cause us to close a meeting without pointing out clearly the way to salvation, testifying of the establishment of God’s kingdom and where it is to be found, and faithfully warning our hearers of coming judgments.
If, through prejudice, bigotry, or indifference, those who hear are led to totally reject us, we will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that we have done our duty. We can then in good conscience leave them with the final testimony which the savior charged His apostles to deliver: – “Be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come nigh unto you!”
Out-door meetings in the Liverpool Conference were commenced on Sunday, the 1st of April, by a very orderly and fairly attended meeting being held on Islington Square. The following evening one was held on the Haymarket at Birkenhead, which passed off well until the name of the Prophet, Joseph Smith, was mentioned, and it was made known to what church the speakers belonged, when considerable confusion ensued, and loud denunciations were indulged in.
As an evidence, however, that an interest was awakened among some by that meeting, there was quite a large crowd assembled there three evenings later, when they had understood the Elders were to again hold forth, and one person out of those who listened to the preaching has written to this office for further information concerning the principles then advocated.
We have also learned of meetings of this class being held in several other Conferences, and hope soon to hear of their becoming general throughout the mission.