A report on the recent outreach at the British pageant of the Mormon Church.
Many may not have heard of the small town of Chorley in Lancashire, but it is a fascinating place. Home to the Chorley Cake and a market which dates back to 1498, it is also home to the largest Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Europe.
Known as the Preston Temple, this imposing structure with its large manicured grounds was the venue for the Latter-day Saints British Pageant during the first two weeks of August this year.
The Pageant, visited by thousands of Mormons and their invited guests tells the story of Heber C. Kimball and other missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1837 they sailed from the United States of America to England to preach the so-called ‘restored’ gospel of Jesus Christ.
In recent history the Mormons have made a concerted effort to be seen as another Christian denomination, but when one looks beyond the white shirts and name badges, a very different gospel is found. Hearing that the Mormons were gathering, I decided to organise an evangelistic outreach for them.
Enlisting the help of Pastor Paul Jennings (Stockport Evangelical Church), who had done some outreach at a previous Mormon pageant back in 2013, we set about devising a plan. We met with a couple of supportive Chorley church leaders who felt that it would be better for us to call our efforts the Chorley Outreach rather than an Outreach to Mormons. That way we could do some general outreach alongside our efforts to share the gospel with Mormons.
As we began to speak to others about what we were intending to do a team began to form.
Just up the road from Chorley is another small town called Leyland. This is the home of the Christian book publishers 10ofthose. Upon hearing that I was organising an outreach locally, they got in touch and asked if they could join the effort and invited us to do some staff training on evangelism at their headquarters. A good number of them had never done any open air work before or any evangelism to Mormons.
So Pastor Paul Jennings spoke to them about the do’s/don’t’s of open air work and I spoke to them about speaking to Mormons, after which the team committed to joining us for two days during the outreach. I have to say that 10ofthose were super supportive, providing us with resources for the entire outreach free of charge.
The team consisted of those with an interest in reaching Mormons and those who just wanted to share the gospel with anyone. Some were local to Chorley, whilst others travelled from various places to help. Our base for the two weeks was Chorley Evangelical Free Church which lies right in the centre of the town. Pastor Mark Bassett and the congregation were extremely welcoming and generous, allowing us to use their building to meet and pray each day, as well as providing us with refreshments.
Pageant Week One
Our plan for the first week was to do general outreach (book table and leafleting) in the afternoon, and Mormon outreach in the evenings. Our hope, and belief, was that we would see a number of Mormon Missionaries out and about in the town during the day, but this was not the case. They were all busy up in the temple grounds getting ready for the pageant. Having said this, we had many fruitful conversations with a number of local people, from New agers to Roman Catholics; from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Freemasons, and some ‘everyday’ Mormons.
One afternoon, I spotted a lady wearing a BYU (Brigham Young University) t-shirt, so I made a beeline for her. Jenny was married with children and she and her family were all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She told me her youngest son was currently serving a mission for the church in the south of France.
As I shared the truth in love with Jenny, she shared her view that she and her family will end up somewhere safe in the future, and she wasn’t too bothered where that was. I challenged her regarding her eternal destiny, pointing out that the Bible says that there are only two destinations beyond this life and without putting her full faith in the finished work of Christ, she would be lost.
Jenny listened further as I shared Bible verses with her, pointing out that Mormonism cannot save her and her family. Jenny walked away from our discussion thanking me for speaking to her and she took one of my tracts. Please pray for her and her family.
It was clear from day one that if we wanted to find the Mormons we would need to go up to the Temple. So on each evening a small group of us made our way up to the pageant. Believing that we had come to see the pageant, we were enthusiastically welcomed into the grounds. Whilst there, we had opportunities to speak to Missionaries, security staff and even some taking part in the production. The conversations were friendly, as we sought to be winsome for the Lord.
The Pageant show itself was a ticketed event, and though we didn’t have tickets, we were allowed to go into the Country Fayre, which was a form of pre-show entertainment. Entrance though was through a checkpoint, where they asked to look through our bags. Fortunately they didn’t look too closely at the Mormon tracts in my bag!
The Country Fayre
Walking into the Country Fayre was like stepping back in time. There was a coconut shy, country dancing, and a chance to dress in Victorian clothing for a picture. Of course there was also a tent with computers pre-logged into Ancestry.com, so that the curious could trace their family tree.
Whilst in the Country Fayre area, we spoke at length to one of the Pageant choir performers, a lady named Beverley. Again we endeavoured to gently challenge her Mormon beliefs, and sought to convince her that Jesus is enough.
As we began to leave a number of people asked us if we were going into the pageant. When we told them we had no tickets, they suggested that there may be some spare that could be allocated to us. Not wanting to go in to see the performance we politely declined.
Throughout week one we continued with general outreach during the afternoons in the town and going up to the pageant in the evenings.
Pageant Week Two
Week two brought us a bigger team. We had a couple of guys who came and stayed in Chorley for the week, and we had others join us from local churches.
Our plan was to do pretty much the same as week one, but this time, as well as a book table and tracting, we engaged in open-air preaching.
On Thursday and Friday that week our team increased massively as we were joined by the staff team from 10ofthose and a couple of extra open air preachers. We made Thursday a longer day, gathering at 10am and going through until 4pm and, as Chorley is not very big, we split up in an effort to reach more people.
Lots of great discussions were had and lots of literature was given out and, where relevant, we pointed people to the local church that was our base.
In the evenings, we decided that it would be beneficial to have different people going up to the temple each night, to lessen any suspicion. That worked well and again members of the team were able to engage Mormons in thoughtful discussion whilst handing out some tracts.
The visits to the temple grounds were to come to an end though on the Friday afternoon of week two. The Mormons had a matinee on that day and, as many of the 10ofthose team had never seen the temple or been in the grounds, I decided to take a group up whilst the pageant was on. My thinking was that as almost everyone would be in the pageant, I would be able to give them a tour of the grounds.
This was fine until we spotted a table with numerous Books of Mormon. In our zeal, a few of us decided to put a tract in them and one of us was spotted by a member of the security staff. We were immediately asked to leave the grounds with men with walkie talkies ensuring we did. We didn’t all leave at the same time, because whilst in the grounds we had split up.
As we were escorted out group by group, and we gathered outside the grounds we noticed that one of our number was missing, our youngest member. He came out at least twenty minutes after everyone else, and he was clearly shaken. He told us that he had been having a good discussion with an older couple who were serving as missionaries. When a security man asked him to leave the missionary couple protested and spoke up for him. Moments later, another guy came over and told the couple that the pageant presidency insists he leaves.
Apparently the missionary couple weren’t happy that he had to leave, and walked with him part of the way. As he told us what had happened, he was clearly upset – not because he had been asked to leave, but rather because he felt an acute awareness of how lost this couple were. He was so troubled that he felt he couldn’t come out onto the streets with us that afternoon. Later, after reflecting on the whole incident, he felt that he had experienced some form of spiritual deception and attack. He had realised that in trying to reach those caught in falsehood is to engage in spiritual warfare.
Sadly, our banishment from the temple grounds put an end to our speaking to the Mormons at their pageant. Although a few different members of our team tried to go in on Friday evening and were turned away, we were grateful that we had managed to speak to many in the grounds during the two weeks.
As we returned to our book table on Friday afternoon, the Lord still had work for us to do. An Indian family approached the book table and they were Mormons. Durga, the father of the family, listened intently as I shared with him the problems I have with Mormonism and how it differs greatly from biblical Christianity. He said I reminded him of someone he used to watch on God TV, fearing he thought I was Benny Hinn, he remembered who it was – Billy Graham – I’ll take that!
Durga gave me his number and address and asked if we did home visits. He and his family wanted to hear more. As I don’t live in the area, I asked him if he would be happy for the local pastor to call round and he said absolutely.
That afternoon some of the team also met and spoke at length with four Mormon Missionaries who were walking around the town. They also were challenged to trust in Christ alone and took away tracts.
The two weeks were very tiring yet exhilarating. We have no idea what our efforts achieved, but we know that is in God’s hand. Praise God for opportunities to share the wonderful gospel of grace with lost people.
The 10ofthose team are keen for us to have an annual local outreach, that they can join in with and God willing we will do that!