Editor's note: Deseret News and Church News writers are chronicling the ministry of LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson as he and other church officials travel to Europe, Africa and Asia during the next two weeks. Tad Walch reports today from London.
LONDON — British Mormons here found the faith's recent international general conference riveting, as new LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson presided for the first time and made announcement after announcement.
Now 10 days later, President Nelson is coming here to see them.
He will speak Thursday night at Hyde Park Chapel in the midst of London's vast melting pot with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They are joined by their wives, Sister Wendy Nelson and Sister Patricia Holland. The event will be broadcast throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland to church meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Anticipation crackled this week through the church's Hyde Park Building, home to the chapel, a visitors' center and the offices of the England London Mission.
"I think they have a message for the U.K., and we're excited to hear it," said Richard West, a Mormon leader in Chelmsford. "I thought general conference was electric. I was very impressed with the prophet's sincerity and the love he has for all members of the church. I think that shone through."
West worked past midnight on Monday, cleaning the Hyde Park Chapel's carpets in preparation for Thursday. It was a 14-hour day. He spent another nine hours with his small work crew on Tuesday, scrubbing the metal edges of each stair at day's end.
They were back at it again Wednesday morning, ensuring the building would be shipshape for the first stop on President Nelson's tour, during which he is scheduled to speak in eight countries in 11 days.
"When I heard he was coming, I started to think about seeing him in person and my heart started to beat so fast in anticipation," said Sister Chang Chiang, a young missionary from Taiwan who is looking forward seeing President Nelson in person when he meets with the 170 missionaries in the England London Mission on Thursday afternoon. "I think I'll be too emotional."
Sister Minerva Narcizo Quichiz of Castellón, Spain, is at the very start of her mission. She has been in London for one week, and she was honest about her new English vocabulary.
"I'm scared because I don't understand much," she said. "I want to understand because it's very important for me to see the prophet in person. I want to receive the answers in my life and the guidance I need."
Local church leaders are distributing free tickets to the Thursday night event. Sister Kristiina Kai Kõiv, a young missionary from Tallinn, Estonia, watched the process with curiosity because she knew most members are like Chang; they've never been in the same room with their prophet before.
"I saw many members go up to the bishop and say, 'I would love to go, but I think that person should go instead,'" Kõiv said. "I saw them act with real charity."
England London Mission President Mark Stevens looked forward to what he said would be "a targeted message to the Saints in the British Isles. To have the prophet of God here to deliver a message of strength to these missionaries and members is energizing."
"This is going to be a historic week for us," said his wife, Sister Jean A. Stevens, former first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, "and it means so much to all our missionaries."
President Nelson's counselors in the First Presidency added to the sense of history surrounding his first overseas trip as the church's 17th president. President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring surprised him at the airport to bid him farewell.
President Stevens said President Nelson's conference announcements created a combined Elders Quorum priesthood group and emphasizing ministering among church members are vital in England.
"Combined Elders Quorums are powerful for units that are smaller here," he said. "All of that just strengthens the church and provides the feel of a vibrant organization moving ahead, that there is power and energy moving forward and there is a living prophet, and God speaks to man today."
West is a stake patriarch, a lifetime priesthood calling in which he provides patriarchal blessings — once-in-a-lifetime messages of life purpose and guidance. He has Thursday off work. He'll pick up the parents of his son's fiancee earlier in the day, but he wouldn't miss the broadcast.
"We'll watch it at our building," he said, "because I can't wait to see what the prophet and Elder Holland have to say. From what we saw from the prophet so far at just one conference, there is huge enthusiasm. People wonder, what else is coming?"8 comments on this story
The church has dubbed President Nelson's trip a "global ministry tour," noted West, who said the title is in sync with what he's heard from the church president in a January broadcast announcing his new position and at general conference.
"What he's saying is not just for the members," West said, "it's for the whole world. It appears he has a message for the world.
"It's exciting, isn't it? He's very exciting."
Correction: A caption in a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Chelmsford 2nd Ward is located in Sussex, England. Chelmsford is, in fact, located in Essex, England.