Rekindling the zeal and dedication of early Church members, the 2013 British Pageant depicted the pivotal history of early British members in song and story performed at the Preston temple site. The story of the “cradle of the restoration” was brought to life again in the summer of 2014 at the Nauvoo, Illinois Pageant. It is a story of faithful saints from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lived and died for their religious convictions.
Thanks to the discovery of missionary couple, Elder Jay and Sister Joan Peck from Utah currently serving in Chorley, priceless family documents reveal an event that links Great Britain’s past to the present. While viewing the British Pageant in the summer of 2013 there stirred within them recollections of past family letters and photos referencing a similar pageant gathering in 1937. In their possession also rests The Millennial Star which records the centennial celebration of the Church in Great Britain held at the magnificent Rochdale Town Hall on Saturday 31 July 1937.
In attendance was Church President Heber J. Grant who had served as Mission President of the British and European Missions before World War I. Presiding at The Centennial Event, President Grant’s visit proved to be a welcome homecoming from the Mormons of Britain. Also in attendance were First Presidency Second Councillor, J. Reuben Clark, mission presidents Joseph J. Cannon and Hugh B. Brown, all missionaries then serving in Britain, and many British auxiliary leaders.
In addition to the Pageant, the Centennial Conference included many activities during the four-day event including a re-enactment of the first baptism with the presentation of the memorial plaque on the banks of the River Ribble by President Grant as well at a baseball game where he threw out the first ball of the baseball “match” at the age of 81.
While serving as a missionary in the Rochdale area, Elder Garn Capener, father of Sister Joan Peck, shares details of this extraordinary event. Acting the part of William Tyndale in the pageant in addition to participating as a member of the Rochdale Greys baseball team Elder Capener records in a letter to his parents, “Everybody seemed to be well satisfied with the way thing(s) went over and we had to put on the pageant two night(s) and then all of the people didn’t get to see it. . . We had a wonderful time and the building we had would not hold them all(.) Elder Capener also noted, “President Heber J. Grant is surely a wonderful man and the people have sure taken to him.”
Lillie Smith Fountain, age 94, long-time resident of Rochdale, remembers well the grand event and especially her delight and that of her close friend Doris Cook who not only participated in the 1937 Pageant but shook hands with President Grant.
According to Lil, “As excited seventeen year-old girls we were skipping down the beautiful marble staircase chattering about the show that was to go on the next day. The door opened and bingo! There he was, President Heber J. Grant who greeted us and shook our hands.”
Years have not dimmed her memory when speaking about the pageant and its impact on her life. In further reflection Lillie Fountain explains, “The Pageant of 1937 has more than anything strengthened my testimony these many years later. It was wonderful to be a part of something so grand. It really was something!”
The same fervour and dedication of the early Mormons in Britain exist today in the faithfulness of Sister Lil Fountain and the service of Elder Jay and Sister Joan Peck. Though not easy for a missionary who is a wheelchair user, Sister Peck rejoices in her opportunity to serve as a missionary as she returns to the same area where her father served as a young man. While Elder Peck shares his legal expertise with the Office of General Council in Chorley, Sister Peck serves in the Preston Temple. Without the use of legs, Sister Peck figuratively stands where prophets have proclaimed the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through cherished memories and treasured family records, generations of faith are linked by pageant past with pageant present.