Monday, January 12, 2015

Legends and curses in the England Bristol Mission area

                      The Wells Road Chapel in Bristol, in 1973.



By Lynn Arave

I SERVED as a full-time missionary in what was called the England Southwest Mission and then re-named the England-Bristol Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) from 1973-1975.
Today, most of that mission (except South Wales and perhaps some small areas) is called the London South Mission.

Legends of possible past curses on various areas of S.W. England used to abound during my mission. About four decades later, here's a look at what I recall, plus some historical facts about some of the earliest of missionaries to the area ...

 (NOTE that this article isn't trying to belittle the LDS Church, or its members in the United Kingdom. It is hoped that this will simply 'stir the pot' a little and lead to a discovery of more facts about the legends and history of missionary work in the area. I didn't make up any of the legends, just heard about them. Sadly, too many members and former missionaries want to avoid/shun and even censor these tales, though they are all about history.)

-I do recall that my second mission president, Arnold R. Knapp, finally responded to habitual comments from some missionaries about a possible widespread curse by former Elders in that area of the country.
As best of recollection as I have, President Knapp scoffed at the idea and said there were no such curses, or if there had been some, they were now retracted.
Of course, in retrospect, I don't know if President Knapp had researched any of the so-called curses, or what he may have really known about any of them.

-Dan Johns, a missionary in England Bristol in the late 1970s, did some extensive research on some of the legends of his former mission.
These were conducted as part of a 1985 BYU project.
The result was a 28-page document, "Folklore of the England, Bristol Mission."
However, even though BYU's Harold B. Lee Library lists this work on its public document list, access is NOT allowed until the year 2055, since certain public permission papers were not filed.
(I e-mailed Dan Johns on his folklore project, but never received a reply.)



       The first house in Bristol where I successfully left a copy of the Book of Mormon in July 1973.

-Years after my mission, I started to become a student of history and read and studied the entire Journal of Discourses, all 26 volumes
(The Journal of Discourses are nothing more than a reprinting of church sermons previously published in the Deseret News ... so their accuracy is pretty good, as "reporters" of that era were merely secretaries who tried to record everything said word-for-word.)
I even compared many J.D. sermons with those of the original Deseret News editions (that I accessed on microfilm) and found no discrepancies between the two.

Here are samples of some mentions of Southwest Britain in 19th Century missionary work, from Church History sources: 

-In an August 8, 1852 sermon in Salt Lake by Brigham Young, he said:
"I recollect, in England, sending an Elder to Bristol, to open a door there, and she if anyone would believe. He had a little more than 30 miles to walk; he starts off one morning and arrives at Bristol; he preached the Gospel to them and sealed them all up to damnation, and was back next morning. He was just as good a man, too, as we had. It was want of knowledge caused him to do so." (Journal of Discourses 3:91).

After that segment on England, President Young stressed patience in preaching the Gospel and that he would keep preaching as long as people would listen and not drive him away.

-In a similar sermon by President Brigham Young, almost six years later, on April 6, 1857, he stated:
"Thousands of Elders go upon missions, and conduct themselves like a man by the name of Glover. He was preaching in Herefordshire, and we sent him to Bristol, about 30 miles distant, telling him to go there and start the work. He would get up and preach a splendid discourse. He went to Bristol and cried. 'Mormonism,' or the Gospel, and no person would listen to him. On the next morning he was back at Ledbury, and said, 'I came out of Bristol, washed my feet against them, and sealed them all up to damnation.' This is the way in which some of our Elders operate."
(Journal of Discourses 4:305).

President Young was obviously talking about the same incident in both discourses. This was likely the FIRST curse of any sort given by an Elder in S.W. England, by this Elder "Glover."

In the second sermon, President Young then talked about how he had never been refused food or lodging by strangers when he asked for such.

-There is the rumor that Brigham Young himself cursed a particular Church of England, Charles Church, in the center of Plymouth for threatening him.The then Elder Young prophesied that the day would come when that church building would stand, but no one would attend it. 

During the "Battle of Britain" phase of World War II, the church was bombed and left a shell during World War II and today it is a war memorial  in the center of a roundabout on the highway in the center of Plymouth.
This bombing took place on the nights of March 20-21 1941 and fires ravaged the inside of the church.
The church was encircled by a roundabout in the early 1950s.

I have found no evidence that any such curse in Plymouth ever happened, or that Brigham Young ever got that far south in England. (It is about 120 miles from Bristol to Plymouth.)

(Still, it is a great story, if ever proven true .... )

-From an Ensign Magazine article of June 1987, about Brigham Young on his mission in England (and the spelling left uncorrected):

"Wherever Brigham Young went he found friends. “I find Fathers & mothers sister & Brothers whare ever I goe,” he wrote in December. Only the ministers actively opposed the LDS missionaries, and that to no avail, for they only “drive the people to us,” he wrote .....

"Brigham Young spent November and December 1840 and early January 1841 traveling throughout the mission, visiting elders, preaching, holding conferences."

-Brigham Young arrived in England on April 6, 1840 and returned to America on Brigham in the spring of 1841, spending no more than about a year there.
Documents say he went as far south as "Hardin Wales" in October of 1840 with Elder Heber C. Kimball. (I could not locate any town named Hardin,or even Harden in the United Kingdom, though there is one in Australia.)

-Elder Ezra T. Benson, an early apostle, also talked about the Saints in Bristol and Bath England during a January 24, 1858 discourse in Salt Lake City. (Journal of Discourses 6:179).
Elder Benson chided the members there for keeping out of sight of their enemies and holding their church meetings in secret and of having "no faith to brook the insults cast upon them, and hence they hide up and keep out of sight of their enemies."

-I also recall Elders while on my mission talking about one of the isles in the mission, I think it was the Isle of Wight and that it contained a war prison that had a lot of murders there. Access by missionaries there may have been either discouraged or forbidden, I can't recall, but many Elders seemed fascinated by such tales.

-It is also apparently true that missionaries in England-Bristol were chastised in the early 1990s for their low baptism/convert numbers.

-AND, yes it is true that the "Mormon Bomber" -- Mark Hofmann -- served his full-time mission in England-Bristol during the mid 1970s.