They have survived the Osmonds and a reputation for preppy, suited missionaries knocking on doors. Now the Mormons, the religious sect known for its abstinence from alcohol and its past practice of polygamy, is pushing for wider acceptance in Britain with the installation of an “embassy” in Kensington, West London.
The trust-building exercise comes amid speculation that Mitt Romney, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, could become the first Mormon President of the United States. The new embassy and a higher profile for the Church will pose a challenge for the mainstream churches, which do not recognise Mormons as Christians. Indeed, some believe that the march of Mormonism in Britain and across the world could lead to a redefining of what it is to be Christian.
Mormons have radically different doctrines on God, salvation and the priesthood from the mainstream churches. They claim that, after the Resurrection, Christ ministered in the US for a brief time and that Zion will be built in the West.
They do not subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity, the eponymous belief system that underpins the mainstream Trinitarian churches. But in other aspects, such as the emphasis on grace, forgiveness, Jesus, salvation and the family, they sound the same as many evangelical preachers in the Church of England.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to give it its full name, has, until now, had a low profile in Britain but that disguises a vast programme of growth and investment. A team of eight has been deployed in the Exhibition Road building, just around the corner from some of the main embassies of Europe and the Middle East.
The Mormons have no plans to seek recognition from the mainstream churches such as the Roman Catholics or the Church of England, especially at a time when these longerestablished bodies seem unable to reverse an inexorable decline in membership. Instead, they are steadily building up their asset and membership base and investing increasing amounts in overseas aid and other welfare projects.
There are 900 Mormon missionaries in Britain and the Church has total assets of £300 million in Britain alone, including 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of farmland in East Anglia and Lincolnshire.