In 1837, during some difficult days in Kirtland, the Prophet Joseph Smith called Heber C. Kimball to open a mission in Great Britain. In just over a month, Elder Kimball, Orson Hyde, and five other missionaries arrived in England; 11 days later they had their first baptisms. On the morning of that day (30 July 1837), the missionaries had a terrible experience with evil spirits and were almost overcome. Joseph Smith later remarked, “When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for then I knew that the work of God had taken root in that land” (quoted in Whitney, 132).
Within nine months of the beginning of this first mission across the Atlantic, more than 1,500 souls had been baptized into the Church. The mission to England, 1837 to 1838, provided a foundation for an even greater missionary effort in England, and from there radiating to the other nations of Europe. Joseph Smith soon after received a revelation instructing the Twelve to organize and prepare to depart on a mission overseas (D&C 118). Nine apostles served together in this second mission to England during 1840 and 1841. At the end of this mission, membership in the British Isles stood at more than 5,000, with about 1,000 others who had emigrated to the United States.
Early missionary labors on the continent met with limited success. This was largely due to the lack of religious freedoms, as well as the intense persecution, economic conditions, and political situation in many of the countries of Europe. During the late 1840s, some revolutions and other significant efforts helped to bring about freedom of religion to Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Beginning in 1850 Denmark became a land of considerable success for the early missionaries. The gospel was also taken to the other Scandinavian countries, as well as to Iceland, France, Germany, and Italy. Belgium and the Netherlands followed in the early 1860s. Other countries with more limited freedoms did not receive the missionary message until later: Hungary in 1885 and Romania in 1899. Although missionaries were appointed in 1843 to Russia, they were unable to serve. It was not until 1903 that the land was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel, but even then missionary work was not yet possible.
From the beginning, missionaries taught their converts the importance of gathering to the headquarters of the Church in America. By 1900 more than 91,000 members from Europe had heeded the call to gather to Zion. The gathering of these members provided great strength to the Church in America, but congregations of Saints remained small throughout Europe, where religious persecution increased during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In the early 1900s, a number of Church leaders encouraged Saints to stay in their countries rather than emigrate. In 1906 Joseph F. Smith, the first to visit Europe while serving as president of the Church, said that the day would come when temples of the Lord would dot the whole of Europe (Richards, 70). It took some time, however, for members to feel comfortable in staying and building the Church in their homelands.
Those Saints who did remain in Europe had to survive great challenges and difficulties, especially those in lands racked with war or political strife. Many are the stories of faithful Latter-day Saints sacrificing even their lives when necessary in defending their faith and also in sustaining the governments under which they lived during the two great wars of the twentieth century.
With the resurgence of missionary work in Europe following World War II, there was a renewal of emigration; but under President David O. McKay, efforts were made to provide members in other lands with the same blessings and opportunities found in the United States, includ-ing chapels, local leadership, and especially temples. In 1955 Elder Spencer W. Kimball told the Saints in Europe: “Stay where you are, you have received the gospel, the blessings will be brought to you, it will not be long until you have stakes and the brethren will come across the ocean to visit you. Eventually, temples will come and you will have all the blessings of Zion” (quoted in Kimball, 439). Elder Kimball later stated: “The First Presidency and the Twelve see great wisdom in multiple Zions, many gathering places where the Saints within their own culture and nation can act as a leaven in the building of the kingdomâ€” a kingdom which seeks no earthly rewards or treasures” (quoted in Kimball, 440).
Taking the Church to the people was profoundly represented by the dedicating of temples in Europe, beginning with the Swiss Temple in 1955. A temple behind the Iron Curtain was dedicated in Freiberg, East Germany, in 1985. At the end of the twentieth century, additional temples throughout Europe followed, to the rejoicing of the Saints, confirming the pattern of establishing places of gathering in the lands where members live.
Following the fall of communism during the last two decades of the twentieth century, missions have been opened in Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, and other countries of the former eastern bloc. Plans to erect a temple in Kiev, Ukraine, were announced in 1998. At the beginning of the year 2000, there were 404,109 members in Europe (including Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland), living in 100 stakes and about 57 missions.
Clark, James R., comp. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6 vols. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75. Vol. 2.
Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball. Edited by EdwardL. Kimball. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982.
Richards, LeGrand. “‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way.'” Improvement Era 73 (December 1970): 69-71.
Van Orden, Bruce A. Building Zion: The Latter-day Saints in Europe. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996.
Whitney, Orson F. The Life of Heber C. Kimball, an Apostle: The Father and Founder of the British Mission. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974.
A. BRYAN WESTON
From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 343-46. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.