Journey from the UK to Utah

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Many Salt Lake City Mormons were immigrants from England, writes James Heartfield

Ipswich deputy head Jeremy Pentreath has cleared the undergrowth and rubbish in his school grounds thanks to the volunteers of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons.

Mr Pentreath is a member of the Ipswich "stake", equivalent of a diocese, which was fulfilling its promise to do good work in the community. There are 180,000 British Mormons, many with young families, mostly attending state schools.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints had modest beginnings, with the publication of a book in Palmyra, New York State, in the United States, in 1830, The Book of Mormon, translated from the original Egyptian by a young farmhand Joseph Smith. "Blasphemy", claimed a local paper review, but Mr Smith had the support of local Christians for his extraordinary discovery, a lost testament of Jesus Christ recorded by the prophet Mormon. Mormon lived among the scattered tribes of Israel in the Americas, the Nephi and the Lamanites, and his book records their story, as well as incorporating some books of the Bible.

The appeal of an American Jerusalem to the Protestants of the new republic was profound but drew hostility from other churches. From a prison cell, Mr Smith approved a move west, led by Brigham Young, to what would become Salt Lake City in the overwhelmingly Mormon state of Utah.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints' first mission to England was in 1837, to Preston, visiting the non-conformists there. By 1850 they had recruited 33,000 from the working classes of Wales, Manchester and the Midlands, three times the number in Utah - but that would change as almost all emigrated to America between 1847 and 1869. These were the raw material of the huge success of the Mormon church in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Moving from its communistic beginnings, the church embraced self-betterment and gave the world business leader Kevin Rollins, Dell CEO, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, singing stars the Osmonds (above), actor Matthew Modine, bank robber Butch Cassidy, and Mitt Romney, Massachusetts governor and a presidential hopeful for 2008.

The success of the Osmonds in the 1970s saw enquiries soar, though British membership of this achieving church had started to climb with the dedication of the London Temple (in Lingfield, Surrey) in September 1958, followed by the creation of the Manchester England stake on March 27, 1970.

Mormons believe in family, disapprove of smoking and drinking - even tea and coffee - and rudeness. Mormon beliefs are conservative by today's lights, disapproving of same sex marriage. The church's stress on family values provokes some hostility from critics, who remember the Mormon's original support for polygamy - though it has not been accepted for 100 years and would today mean excommunication.

More controversially, the church did exclude black Americans from priesthood until 1978, and the Book of Mormon seems to put great store by the racial classification of the different tribes of Israel.

But Mormons also believe in continuous revelation, meaning that God continues to reveal divine knowledge through prophets like Smith and Young.

Changing the rules on marriage and race is not hypocrisy, but the further clarification of God's word in line with circumstances.

One belief that has kept the church in tune with the present is posthumous conversion, which has led it to having the world's largest genealogical database, an attraction for those with a preoccupation with family histories.

Mormon children are not baptised at birth because baptism represents a choice, but it is one that they make from the age of eight. The Church of the Latter Day Saints believes in its mission so young men are expected to proselytise. Prayer is important but would not be directed towards a crucifix.


Faith in Jesus Christ is the road to salvation from physical death and from sin.

Mormons call their faith personal testimony and feel the need to bear testimony to others.

Belief alone is not enough, it must be supported by good works.

Repentance, accompanied by change, can overcome sin.

Salvation is open to all.

Not only is there an afterlife, but a beforelife, and salvation implies enduring to the end.

Sanctification is available to all who succeed in being like God.

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate entities, combined as a Godhead, and not a Trinity.

God was a physical being like us, before advancing to Godhood.

As well as a Holy Father, there is a Holy Mother.

The doctrine of continuing revelation means the church has an open scriptural canon.

The Bible, correctly translated by Joseph Smith, is the word of God, as is The Book of Mormon, as revealed to man.

The head of the Church is its president, currently Gordon B Hinckley, whom the members revere as a prophet. Under him are apostles, seventies, stake presidents, and bishops (who officiate at ceremonies).


Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, 133 Coppetts Road, London N10.

Tel: 020 8444 7602.

Family History Centre, 64 Exhibition Road, London SW7. Tel: 020 7589 8561.

Official website in the UK:

And in the world:

Find the nearest chapel to where you live:

The Latter Day Saints youth conference takes place from August 25-28 at Manchester University;

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