Hi. My name is Jo and I live on the East Yorkshire coast, UK with my husband Dominic and our 2-year-old son Caleb. Dominic and I have been married for 3 and a half years; we met in 2003 as friends, dated for a while from 2004 and then both left to serve missions in 2005. I served in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission and Dominic served in the England London Mission. I returned home in 2006, he came home in 2007 and we were married in 2008! I am currently serving as the Relief Society president in my ward (just one of the reasons my blog is in desperate need of an update or two).
1. What is the dominate belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?
A few years ago, if you asked people here what religion they were, most people would answer Church of England although all that means is that they were christened in the Church of England... very few people actually attended church services. Now people are much more open about not being religious at all and, particularly where we live, that makes up the vast majority of the people! Many of the religious people actively attending any church in England are immigrants from other countries. I grew up in an area predominantly Muslim for much of my childhood and observed how they worked hard to preserve their cultural and religious roots, for example many churches were converted into Mosques. I had a wonderful childhood as it allowed me to grow up with many children who were being taught the same moral values.
Religion is generally tolerated here as long as it doesn't impose on anyone and the only strong opposition against our church comes from other Christian churches. Businesses and stores are all open on a Sunday, it is a trading day just like any other now.
2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.
I have been a member of the church all my life. My mother is a convert to the church and my paternal grandparents are converts. I have recently been gathering together information from my grandfather about his personal history and it was a great blessing to hear him tell me about the amazing experiences he has had over the years, many of them too sacred to share. My grandfather worked as a coal miner in West Yorkshire, he and my grandmother had only been married a few years when the missionaries found them and they were baptised in 1957. He has been a real inspiration in our family and really led the way; he was a member of the first bishopric to be organized in Europe, helped establish the church scouting programme in the UK and was called onto the temple presidency when the Preston Temple was first dedicated. We would consider him and many like him to be (slightly more modern) pioneers.
3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area? How many stakes, wards, or branches are there in your area? On an average Sunday how many members attend church? Do people have to travel far to attend church? What are the demographics of your ward? Are most members young, old, married, single, are there more women then men? Or it is it a good balance?
The city we live in has a population of around 300,000. It is split into two wards, one with an average attendance of around 110 and one with an attendance close to 200. Our ward boundaries cover over 100 sq miles; half a city, 3 towns and around 40 villages, many of which are too far for the missionaries to travel to and so have no members. The furthest active members of our ward live around 15 miles from the chapel, many travel by Bus, some have to take a bus and a taxi. Our ward has more women than men and only 4 active YSA, with most of our active members being over 40. The ward on the other side of the city covers the university area and so has a much different demographic!
4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?
Our nearest temple is the Preston temple about 90 miles away. It was dedicated in 1997 and serves all of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland. Before the Preston temple, we would attend the London Temple, 250 miles away. We often would leave at 3-4am to arrive for our allocated time.
I remember my Parents telling me about their experience getting sealed in the London temple back in 1982. In our country, the sealing ceremony is not recognised as a legally binding marriage and so we must be married in a civil ceremony first. My mum and dad were married on a Friday evening at their local LDS chapel. They had a reception there and then drove down to London through the night, arriving at the temple in time for an early morning sealing!
The saints in the North of England rejoiced when we found out a temple would be built so close to us! It takes us just under 2 hours to drive to the temple and it is wonderful! Because the temple district is quite large there is an accommodation centre on the grounds so saints can stay overnight, usually for the week, and work in the temple.
The temple is not very busy during the week but at the weekends it gets really busy. Mostly with youth in the baptistry!
There was some opposition to the building of the temple and the usual anti-Mormon protesters but it seems that mostly people are just curious as to what it is. Many people comment about how beautiful the building is as it stands on a hill overlooking the moors and is clearly seen from a busy motorway!
5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?
Most people have heard of Mormons although the very next thing they ask is “Are you those people who have a ton of wives?!!” It is vary rare to find anyone with any accurate knowledge and so it is commonplace to be quizzed, especially at school and work.
6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?
Missionary work has been going on here since the church began (the oldest ward in the whole church is in Preston and the first mission of the church was the England London mission) but is usually thought to be challenging. The greatest barriers to the work seem to be the general apathy toward religion, most people just don't think – or want to think about it. And the relative affluence and comfort most people here live with - “we don't need it” is a common response. In our ward we have a convert baptism probably on average once a quarter. We have one companionship of Elders assigned to our ward at any given time and they generally find it challenging and would like to have the success the elders in the university area have. The general feeling here is that the key to success with missionary work is with young people, and we are no exception, the average age of converts baptised into our ward is in the early 20s.
7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?
The national average for number of children here is about 2. it is usually larger within the church but a family of six would still be considered large by most, even in the church. The traditional family is no longer the most common kind of family here, married heterosexual couples are fewer than the combination of single parent or same-sex parent families, with so few fathers present in families that the government is officially trying to get more men into teaching so that the next generation have some idea of a male role model.
8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?
I visit 4 sisters, most of them within a couple of miles and I do visit one sister who lives in a village about 10 miles away. The best experience I can remember with Visiting Teaching was at conference time this autumn. I have always felt that many times we make a visit and give the message to be able to report we have “done our duty”, I was determined that this would not be the the case. I visit one older sister in particular, she is a widow living alone and I had noticed from my earlier visits that she just loved to talk and was not so interested in receiving a message. Well for October, instead of just making another visit I invited her to come and share dinner with our family on conference Sunday and to stay afterwards to watch conference and socialise. She had a great time, enjoyed playing with our boisterous 2 year old and spent most of the day in the company of friends. We all really enjoyed having her over, but more than that, I felt that making that small extra effort to think of her needs made more difference to her than a year of well prepared and laminated messages! And it wasn't just me, helping her. She was able to bring to our family, a sweet spirit as she shared stories of when she had a young family at home. She shared her memories and her testimony with us and it was an experience that I will treasure!
9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?
The most common challenge of the sisters in our ward is finding a worthy man to marry. We have so many sisters who have to live without some of the greatest blessings God has for us in this life. It is often the case that faithful sisters choose to remain single as the only available men are not members.
10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?
The greatest blessing I feel has come to me directly through the gospel is that it has given me the ability to have a relationship with my Saviour and through Him, a relationship with my Father in Heaven. The knowledge that I am part of something much greater than what I see around me, gives me hope and helps me not get discouraged when trials come my way.
When all around me seems dark, the gospel of Jesus Christ offers a bright hope and pours light into my world-weary heart.
Thank you Jo! Oh, and you should really go check out her blog she is an AMAZING photographer!