LONDON, England — British Prime Minister Theresa May was hip-deep in controversy during what is a dramatic moment in Great Britain's history when she paused Wednesday to receive Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
May confronted fiery tirades from members of Parliament during the noon hour as part of her weekly "prime minister's questions" session. Elder Holland watched from the Members' Gallery, sitting on a green-upholstered wooden bench in the historic chambers of the House of Commons.
After a lunch with a dozen members of Parliament, he then spent 15 minutes with May in her office at the Palace of Westminster, presenting her with bound copies of her family history in her office before she flew to Brussels for additional critical negotiations about Brexit, her nation's planned exit from the European Union.
"I said, 'Given the kind of day that you had and the week that you are having, this is meant to be a kind of a respite,'" Elder Holland said after meeting May. "And she said, 'This is a true interlude. This is a happy moment.' She smiled about that. I think it was nice for her to have somebody who was not shouting in her face or shaking a fist over some element of Brexit."
A mishandled Brexit could lead to dark outcomes. Some have suggested scenarios that include the dissolution of the United Kingdom, the possibility of the worst British recession in 40 years or May's removal as prime minster over her proposed exit agreement, which includes paying $50 billion in the divorce.
In that backdrop Elder Holland said the debate during prime minister's questions was rowdier than previous sessions he had attended in the past.
"I have never been in one as heated and as vocal as that one got for a few moments," he said, "so much so that the speaker had to insert himself to keep it calm and keep it courteous and make sure there was decorum in that body. That is how tense the political situation is right now."
Elder Holland also used his visit to the Houses of Parliament to present gift copies of the Book of Mormon to key officials and collections at the House of Commons, the primary chamber of the British Parliament.
But the highlight of the day was the visit with May, the second female British prime minister. Wednesday happened to be the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to be seated in Parliament.
Elder Holland also presented her with a wall-hanging of her family pedigree, which May said she would hang at No. 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence, and a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon with an inscription by the church's First Presidency.
"We talked primarily about her family, featuring her pedigree chart and the beautiful leather-bound books that document her maternal line and paternal line," he said. "She seemed very taken by those and very touched by them. It is clearly a very personal gift. It is not the kind of gift VIPs typically would bring to a prime minister."
The family histories took seven months and 2,500 hours of research, compilation and publication, according to a news release.
Elder Holland was grateful for May's time with his delegation, which included his wife, Patricia, two Latter-day Saint members of Parliament — David Rutley and Stephen Kerr — Kerr's wife Yvonne, Elder Alan T. Phillips, an Area Seventy, and Paul Kerry, an Oxford fellow.
"In a very busy day in a very busy life, with genuine national and international tensions, she was courteous to make time with us," Elder Holland said. "She was, I think, very touched by the gift of her family history. She has family values and stands for the same principles we do in that regard."
He said the church's First Presidency — President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, signed a printed note in the Book of Mormon he presented to May.
"They expressed gratitude for her service, for her dignity, for the leadership that she exerts for and in behalf of the men and women of her nation, including members of the church who are part of her constituency."
It was standing-room-only in the chambers of the House of Commons on Wednesday for prime minister's questions, known here as PMQs.
"It's an extraordinary exercise in democracy," said Kerr, who represents the city of Stirling in central Scotland. "Here we have the highest office in this country, other than of course the queen, subjecting herself, by necessity, because that's our democratic process, to questions from all sides and on any subject."
Kerr, a former Area Seventy of the church, was elected last year.
"For me as a member of the church to see an apostle shake hands with, engage with, converse with the prime minister of my country, that means a great deal," he said. "As far as we know, no sitting prime minister has had the good fortune of ever meeting an apostle before. Today, Theresa May, at a most critical moment in her time as our prime minister, and probably in her life, met someone who could bring her something very special though a handshake and through a few words. So on all those levels, as a member of the church and as someone who loves this country and someone who has the privilege of being a member of Parliament, it was hugely significant."
When he was sworn in, he chose to hold copies of the King James Bible and Book of Mormon in his left hand while raising his right hand. The copy of the Book of Mormon was old, from the 1960s, with a black cover and an image of the Angel Moroni.
Kerr said he thought the book deserved a nicer copy in the collection of the table of sacred texts used for swearing in at the House of Commons. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve took up the cause during his visit to England last year, and the First Presidency provided a blue, leather-bound copy it provides to dignitaries like May.
The members of the First Presidency also wrote an inscription in that copy: "We present this sacred text with our prayer for the blessing of Almighty God upon the peoples of the United Kingdom, the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Parliament."
Elder Holland provided a second copy of the book to the House of Commons Library, embossed with the words "House of Commons."
The sacred texts table in the House of Commons includes copies of the King James Bible, the Koran, the Granth, the Gita, the Welsh Bible, the Torah the Zohar, the Dhammapada and others.
"A beautiful volume of the Book of Mormon takes its place among those texts," Kerr said.
Elder Holland also gave a Book of Mormon to the deputy speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt. Hon. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and others.
"We have never had a day in Parliament like today," Elder Holland said. "You do not get many meetings with prime ministers. As a 19-year-old missionary here, I wanted to get in any door at all. I never thought a day would come when I would get in the door at Parliament or to the office of the prime minister."12 comments on this story
Elder Alan T. Phillips, an Area Seventy of the church in London, said the day had deep meaning for British Latter-day Saints.
"Last weekend, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, just to have the church be one of the faiths invited to lay a wreath was an important moment," he said. "It meant something for every member. We felt relevant that we were invited and could participate. Following on, when they see an apostle with the prime minister, it will echo that, that the church is recognized and known and valued."