An Anglican priest from Oxford enthusiastically considered a joint mission with a Latter-day Saint apostle from Utah during an online conference Tuesday, when the men renewed their friendship and continued work on strengthening ties between their faiths.
“Wouldn’t it be great to actually go on a mission together? I’d be delighted to do that,” the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal, a theologian of the Church of England, said to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The idea underscored the Rev. Dr. Teal’s zeal to heal rifts between Christian faiths and the love and friendship he and Elder Holland have shared since they participated in a public theological exchange at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford on Thanksgiving 2018. In fact, the Rev. Dr. Teal will join BYU’s Maxwell Institute in Provo, Utah, as an affiliate scholar this fall.
The men spoke together for about 50 minutes. The Rev. Dr. Teal discussed what he’d learned from a recent rereading of Nephi’s response to a divine command to build a ship in the Book of Mormon. Elder Holland shared insights about circles in Latter-day Saint ritual. (See those comments in full at the bottom of this story.)
The idea of a mission with his friend delighted Elder Holland, who noted that the Rev. Dr. Teal already helps the Latter-day Saint missionaries working in and around Oxford.
“I meet with them weekly,” the Anglican priest confirmed. He described happening upon two missionaries talking with a woman on an Oxford street. He said she gave him a look of guilt when she saw her priest, but he told her to listen.
“You listen to them because they will tell you about the wonder of our connectedness as family, and the wonder of God, who will not leave us divided, and will reveal to us extraordinary things that we don’t even dream about ourselves,” the Rev. Dr. Teal said.
The discussion was the keynote event of the 31st annual conference of the International Society, an unofficial group of Latter-day Saints that promotes global understanding and connections.
The conversation happened virtually on YouTube due to the coronavirus pandemic instead of on campus at BYU. The Deseret News has excerpted some notable pieces of the dialogue below, but the entire discussion can be watched at this link:
The Rev. Dr. Teal said working with Latter-day Saint missionaries is a way to reach out to a discouraged world with the message of Christianity.
“The world can get so disenchanted, and our job is to re-enchant them, to sing a love song of the Lord Jesus to our world, (which is) in such a suspicion and need and vulnerability,” he said. “I see these young men and women, and all of the structures (of Latter-day Saint missions) — you have people who are older who come and do it, be part of it — I see what they’re doing and it’s just so inspiring. And so it’s a delight to be part of that mission.”
International Society director Ted Lyon asked the two speakers how people of different faiths can interact.
“I do understand that people feel perhaps afraid,” the Rev. Dr. Teal said, “but dialogue or mission, I’d love to do mission together with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
At Oxford’s Pembroke College, he has taught New Testament Greek, ancient church history and theology, modern systematic theology and the reception of Jesus across the ages. He worked with Elder Holland’s son, Elder Matthew S. Holland, at Oxford while the younger Holland was on a sabbatical from his presidency at Utah Valley University before becoming a General Authority Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ last year.
In 2018, the Rev. Dr. Teal and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland had a public conversation about Christian theology, including Latter-day Saint beliefs and doctrine, at the 1,000-year-old University Church in Oxford.
Afterward, the two men embraced. On Tuesday, they expressed love for each other, with Elder Holland calling the Rev. Dr. Teal “one of the best friends I have. Andrew is a dear and personal friend, and will be forever,” a sentiment returned by the Rev. Dr. Teal.
During Elder Holland’s 2018 trip to England, the Rev. Dr. Teal also organized and hosted a four-way conversation between Elder Holland, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lord David Alton of the Catholic Church and Methodist Rev. Frances Young.
“Both Rowan Williams and David Alton have continued to correspond with me a little bit,” Elder Holland reported Tuesday. “David often quite a bit and Rowan and I have exchanged books.”
Below are some excerpts from Tuesday’s discussion:
“As somebody said, when there are questions and it does not seem to be resolved, do not worry because things work out in the end. And if they do not seem to be working out, it is because it is not the end. So, time is a factor, but I think we gather these pieces and they become a part of this circle, and we hold circles sacred in some of our ritual. That is one image.
“Another image is linear, and that is that we believe that we were together before this world was, and we were taught things, and when we get here, we hear echoes, we see shadows and there are figures and there are tropes and there are memories, and we say, ‘I’ve heard that before,’ or ‘I know that’s true.’ And we don’t necessarily have any great reason to say that we knew it was true, or that we’d heard it before, but we feel that, and that’s because things started a long time ago and they’ll continue.
“So you’ve got things being added on a linear dimension and you’ve got things being gathered together in a more three-dimensional way, in a circle or a globe of the truths that we gather here and gather there, and we just have to wait. We just have to be patient and not make harsh judgments, because if we do we’ll be making those in ignorance, and ignorance is very expensive. Somebody said, ‘Education sure is expensive these days,’ and the only thing more expensive than that is ignorance.
“We gather light from whatever source we can find it, wherever it is in the world, however distant it might be geographically speaking, or different faith traditions or different professional backgrounds that are aren’t necessarily grounded in any kind of religious faith but there will be religious elements to it, there will be truths that we say we knew, and we heard and it feels right when we hear it again. The world is full of wonderful echoes from an earlier voice that’s penetrating and powerful, and it’s not in the whirlwind, and it’s not in the fire, but it’s still and small and powerful.”
Elder Holland, after noting that he is in the midst of reading the new edition of Oxford Study Bible:
“I am anxious to have you come and teach at BYU.”
Rev. Dr. Teal:
“I look forward to that very much. Part of what I got when you were here was this sense of truthfulness, but it’s a truthfulness that’s marked with kindness. Others have said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could just forget about all that’s gone wrong over two millennia, all of the bad things that have happened in the church, the Reformation and all of that stuff.’ No, it wouldn’t be good to forget. We don’t forget our mortal experiences, even the difficult ones. Better to listen, to love, to pray, to serve, and it will be a long, demanding task.
“One of the things that struck me this time through from 1 Nephi is, when the Lord asks Nephi to do something, to construct a ship ‘after the manner which I shall show thee.’ ‘Well that sounds great! Yeah, I’ll do that, straightaway. Where’s all the bits?’ Then he says, ‘No, you’ve got to go and find ore to make molten, and then make tools to construct it, and then listen.’ And it’s a major task.
“The rebuilding of our relationship as communities of Jesus Christ is not going to be like a lottery win. It’s not going to be (a snap). There’s purpose in this lengthy journey, which God will prepare for at every point. That’s in a sense what I get from reading the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price as scripture, is that God is involved in those early communities and in the life of Joseph Smith. And some of the most moving — and I’m not embarrassed to tell you, Elder Holland — moved me to tears. Some of the things when Joseph Smith is talking about what happened and trying to encourage his community not to go down a path of violence but of love, to really embody that missionary invitation.
“The very fact — I find this extraordinary, but it’s nothing new to you — that (the Book of Mormon) is written ‘to show what great things the Lord has done to’ the enemies of the Nephites, the Jewish community and to the Gentiles — it’s outward focused. It’s a complete embrace. I’m guessing that sense of gathering light and truth from all nations is for all nations. That this in a way is written to the Lamanites, the Jews, the Gentiles and mission is part of that active love, which is embodying the liveliness of this book, of which you spoke so extraordinarily when you came to Oxford. ... Theologians can be quite hard-nosed and quite skeptical, but you spoke with such warmth and eagerness. You put yourself on hold, and you asked us to do so as well, to become living invitations. The fact that Joseph Smith asked, ‘Which is right?’ ... God the Father and Jesus Christ appear to him and tell him. That sense of intimacy and community with the Lord is what we’re offered, so I’ve been grateful for your invitation and your introduction to the Book of Mormon.”
“You have just scored a first. That is the first time that an Anglican priest has made the application that we would all make, and that I have made with students over the years, about building that ship. It was not simply that he would go down to Home Depot and it would be ready to wheel out on a trailer. He had to go make the bellows, and make the fire, and go find some ore and really it was to start from the beginning. You think of every great movement, Christianity itself, the Savior of the world, starting with a handful of Galilean fishermen. Everything starts small and challenging and no freebies, really, for the most part. It’s hard work all the way.”
Elder Holland, about the Rev. Dr. Teal helping him get his sea legs during his visit to Oxford:
“You were a great teacher, Andrew, in that setting. You took raw material, not unlike timber and ore, you took raw material and made my ship float. One of my favorite professors (Robert) ‘Bob’ Thomas in a lecture once, ‘When you launch your ship, it has to float. You can’t explain anything to the ocean.’ You made my ship float that day, Andrew, and it was a courtesy, a professional courtesy that you did that.”
Rev. Dr. Teal:
“It didn’t feel very professional, it felt deeply personal, because what Elder Holland brought was a person inviting us to personhood, with the most profound experience and adventure to launch out together by, yes, by attentive and properly respectful listening and clarifying, but pushing far beyond the sort of rather static respect to real attentive love. And, that’s what happened. That’s what happened, and it doesn’t happen very often, to be honest. ...
“It’s almost as if we had an a New Oxford Movement, a new Oxford apostle. ...
“This was an invitation for us to stand and ask, just as a confused, beleaguered Joseph Smith had asked of Heavenly Father, ‘Where do I go?’ And the answer was, we walk together, we go on this journey, by the power of the Holy Ghost we walk in Christ. And I won’t let go of it. I’m not going to let go of that until my mortal body finally fails me and releases (my spirit).”
“We won’t even let you go then.”