Sunday, April 12, 2009

If Someone As "Regular" As Sheila Could Be a Mormon (Scotland)

An atypically hot summer’s afternoon in a Scottish suburb found me looking curiously through the glass doors of a Mormon Church building. A kindly lady came out and asked if she could help me. I told her I wanted to join the Church, and, seeming a little taken aback (probably feeling a LOT taken aback), she invited me in and introduced me to a young man who she felt would be able to answer any questions I had.

His name was Jim, and he was preparing to serve a mission. His calling as ward librarian had fortuitously brought him to the meetinghouse that day, and he supplied me with copies of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, the last two of which I had been most curious to see for myself.

Some months before, I had started my own personal research project into “Mormonism,” using the resources of the public library system. Books such as The Mormon Story and Meet the Mormons, two publications geared towards nonmembers in the 1960s and ’70s, had given me a reasonable overview of the faith, and I yearned to know more. I consumed Talmage’s Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ, borrowing every book on the Church that I could find. I was fascinated by the story of Joseph Smith, and unaccountably drawn to photographs of the temples published in some of these books.

My upbringing in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, while giving me a good grounding in Christianity, had not satisfied my spiritual seeking, nor had my investigations into the Baptist Church, or other world religions such as Judaism, although I identified very strongly with the Jewish faith.

That initial contact with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the direct result of the willingness of a family of members to be completely upfront and enthusiastic about sharing their beliefs with everybody they could. I had never met them, but they were a shining example of family life and clean living, excellent ambassadors for the Church and a byword for wholesome, American Mormonism. They were the Osmond family, and many years later I was able to meet their parents in person and thank them for helping me to change my life.

My parents, on the other hand, good, hardworking people, were completely thrown by my interest in this bizarre sect. They knew next to nothing about the Church, and while my father never did show any interest in learning more, my mother was anxious enough about what I was getting into to accompany me to a Sunday School service (yes, this was in the days before the block programme) to see for herself the kind of people that Mormons really were. She was astonished to meet a lady who worked across the street from her own workplace, and who through the years continued to demonstrate to my family everything that was good and positive about the Church. That encounter set my mother’s mind at rest to some degree; if somebody as “regular” as Sheila could be a Mormon, then it would very possibly be safe for me to have something to do with the Church, too.

However, this did not mean that my parents were willing to give their permission for me to be baptized. As I was only 14 at the time, they were naturally concerned for me, but I was equally concerned that here I was, trying to do the right thing and follow the Saviour, and it wasn’t happening. Several sets of missionaries and eighteen months later, the revelation broke upon me that this was, as Sister Dew so succinctly puts it, “only a test.” The Lord was allowing me to wait in order to prove I was sincere about joining his Church. Though countless attempts to persuade my parents to agree to my baptism had failed, I now walked through to the living room, asked them again, and after a short conversation, they signed the necessary paperwork. It was as simple as that.

That evening, a very wet, typically Scottish spring evening, I arrived late for sacrament meeting and was met by one of the missionaries. “How many people are getting baptized this Friday?” I asked him.

“Six,” he replied. (Those were the days, you British folk out there!)

“Make that seven,” I told him, and left him speechless as I went to wring out my raincoat.

That was thirty-three years ago last week, and not once, not even on the toughest of days on my mission in London, did I ever regret my decision to join the Church. From that has come all the things I hold most dear: the gospel of Jesus Christ and my testimony of it, my husband and son, my friends, my health and knowledge, and my understanding of what the Lord wants me to do in this life. The gospel has served as my bedrock, and like no other thing possibly could, it guides me and gives me hope. I love it!

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