Our History

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Photos in following article have been used with permission from,
Library-Archives, Community of Christ,
The Auditorium, Independence, Missouri, USA.

Our history begins in New England with a 15 year old, called Joseph Smith Jr., praying on a spring day in May 1820 for guidance as to which religion he should join. He had a vision of Christ and was told to listen to Him. This was the beginning of a number of powerful religious experiences, one of which led to the translation of the Book of Mormon and its publication in 1830. On April 6th 1830 he with 5 others organised the church.

Joseph Smith was recognized as a prophet, one who bears testimony of Jesus Christ and speaks his word today. The church from the beginning was trying to build God's just society of non-violence, faithful marriages and economic sharing so that there was no poor. The church members called this kind of community, Zion. Persecution from without and unfaithfulness from within hampered these efforts at building God's just and peaceful community and the church members had to flee from first Independence, Missouri, then Kirtland, Ohio and Far West Missouri in the first 8 years of the church's history. In 1838 the church members were forced to leave Missouri completely or face extermination. This extermination order issued by Governor Boggs was not repealed until 1976. As refugees, the church members began gathering in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1839. It became the biggest community building effort of the church in this early period and was by 1844 the largest city in the state. Missionaries had been sent to the British Isles first of all in 1837 and this resulted in thousands of immigrant converts coming to Nauvoo. In 1844, despite having the largest armed force outside of the US army, Joseph Smith Jr. allowed himself to be imprisoned peacefully and was then assassinated whilst in custody. The movement now fragmented.

Joseph Smith III with English group
Joseph Smith III with a group of Saints in England, D998.1

The largest group went west to Utah in 1846 under the leadership of Brigham Young and became the Mormon church. Another group beginning in 1852 began gathering around the hope that someone from Joseph Smith Jr.'s family would become the next prophet of the church. This was called the Reorganisation. They were more democratic, fiercely anti-polygamy and more individualistic than other groups. Reorganisation missionaries approached the oldest son of Joseph Smith Jr., Joseph Smith III, to ask him to assume leadership of the Reorganisation but he refused. However, in 1860, after prayer and much thought Joseph Smith III came, with his mother Emma, to the April conference of the Reorganisation at Amboy. He said he now felt called and would serve as their leader if they also still felt that he was the one chosen by God. For the leaders and members of the Reorganisation this was an answer to prayer and eight long years of waiting. Joseph Smith III then led the Reorganisation over the next 54 years from a struggling group of a few hundred to a movement of over 70,000 members.

William Ecclestone
William Ecclestone, H248

Charles Derry was the first missionary in 1863 for the Reorganisation in the British Isles. He found it difficult work and was often hungry and cold in his work. He, however, was eventually successful in establishing groups that later missionaries continued to build up.

It was in the 1890's that William Ecclestone came down from Nottingham to preach the gospel message on Leicester market. He was successful in founding a congregation of the Reorganisation that continues to this day. It has been a small struggling group for much of its history and without a building of its own. It nevertheless has been faithfully led by Arthur Norton (46 years) and then his son Norman (21 years). Since 1977 the congregation have had their own building on Abbey Lane.

The Community of Christ is now in nearly 40 countries and has a membership of about quarter of a million. Members from all over the world have come to visit the Leicester congregation. We are an international church in a city with many different cultures, languages and creeds. We seek to be a community-building church that brings people together especially through our youth work. We invite you to learn more about our story first hand.

The little blue church on Abbey Lane
Leicester Congregation 330 Abbey Lane, Leicester, England