PRESTON, England The Preston area held fond memories for President Gordon B. Hinckley.
As a brand new LDS missionary in England in 1933, his first assigned area was Preston. Sixty-five years later, as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he dedicated the Preston England Temple, the church's second temple in England.
In the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley said, in part: "This magnificent temple has been reared in this beautiful area where thy chosen servants, in the days of their deep poverty and great sacrifice, first preached the restored gospel. Through 161 years of history this land of England, together with Scotland, Wales and Ireland, has yielded a harvest of converts who have blessed and strengthened thy church."
A couple of current church leaders in the area told the Deseret Morning News of their memories of the late President Hinckley, who passed away Sunday.
John Robey, a counselor in the Preston England Stake presidency describes President Hinckley's last visit to Preston, in May 2004.
The day after dedicating the Copenhagen Denmark Temple, President Hinckley landed at Manchester Airport, was greeted by the area presidency, "and having shed a few tears, tapped the floor with his walking stick and announced, 'There is no better place in the world than right here!' We drove to the Preston Temple site where he commented on the beauty of the grounds as we entered.
"The following day he asked if he could visit Preston in the morning. As we travelled around Preston he reflected on the people he knew whilst serving his mission, such as Gertrude Corless who had died a couple of years earlier. Having lost his wife just weeks before and commenting on a photo taken many years earlier he stated, 'I am the last leaf on the tree, and the wind is blowing hard!'
"At 15 Wadham Road, where he had spent his nights whilst serving his mission 71 years earlier, he stopped for a photograph outside. It was here that a then-disillusioned Elder Hinckley had written a letter to his father. The reply from his father 'forget yourself and go to work' helped him decide to lose himself in the Lord's service.
"At Avenham Park, by the River Ribble, he admired the beautifully kept Japanese gardens where three plaques are placed to commemorate the first (LDS) baptisms outside the United States. On the tram bridge over the River Ribble he reflected again on those first baptisms back in July 1837 and was quick to share his testimony with three onlookers. He said, 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is wonderful and there is a great work for you to do if you accept the gospel.' These three Preston-born teenagers, whose ancestors were evidently from India, stood in awe.
"I felt, first hand, his testimony, his love for Preston, the gospel of Jesus Christ and for everyone. He fostered in me a faith in Jesus Christ that enables me now to confidently witness that Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet of God."
From Peter Trebilcock, who was bishop of the Preston Ward in 1987:
"It was the 150th anniversary of the organizing of the Church here in Britain. We decided to hold a ward reunion. (Preston has the privilege of having the longest continuous unit of the Church anywhere in the world.)
"I knew that President Gordon B. Hinckley, then first counselor in the First Presidency, had served for a time as a missionary in Preston ... and I wrote to him and invited him to come.
"Some weeks later I received a telephone call from him telling me that he had received my invitation and he planned to attend! He came to Preston in July 1987 with Sister Marjorie Hinckley. He spent a whole day with us. We toured some of the LDS historic sites in the town, but before embarking on the tour, he said he would like to visit the place of his first missionary 'digs' in 15 Wadham Road.
"Later that day, he unveiled a plaque in Avenham Park, Preston, which commemorated the first missionaries to Great Britain, before addressing our conference in the Preston Charter Theatre. Afterwards he spent time mingling with the saints at the chapel. During the course of the day shook the hands of many hundreds of people including members, missionaries and nonmembers. He gave them each words of love, appreciation and compliments."Bishop Trebilcock also described an incident in 1993. "During the early stages of the architectural design work on the Preston Temple, we were experiencing some opposition. I wrote to him explaining that the design team and local members were doing all we could, but I must admit to being anxious in case things didn't turn out so well. He took the time to write back expressing appreciation for all that the saints were doing and added simply 'we have every confidence in you.' That simple statement regalvanized our efforts and increased my faith immediately."
Contributing: David M.W. Pickup, LDS Church News correspondent