Despite the pride with which the Manx view their island, even today with its claim to be a financial centre, few would seriously regard the Island as a place of importance. Yet just ten years after the LDS church was organised its missionaries were setting foot on Manx soil. It was only a month earlier that elders of the church first preached in the capital of the British Empire, London.
The first Manx converts to the church were baptised a few years earlier in 1836 in Toronto, Canada when Leonora Taylor nee Cannon and her cousin Elizabeth Kaighen, both originally from Peel, joined the church. Leonora’s English husband John was baptised with her. He was to play a major role in the church becoming a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and eventually the third (and only non-American) prophet-president. It was as an Apostle that John Taylor arrived in Liverpool in January 1840. Here he visited and converted his brother-in-law George Cannon and his wife Ann nee Quayle also both originally from Peel and their family. Their son George Quayle Cannon would also become an apostle and a major leader of the church.
On 17 September 1840 John Taylor accompanied by two companions Hiram Clark and William Mitchell arrived on the Isle of Man. They quickly got public attention and started seeing success. Within a month of John’s departure a branch of the church was formally organised in Douglas on Christmas Day with about 40 members. At a meeting of the Twelve Apostles held in Manchester 6 April 1841, membership on the Island was reported by John Taylor to be about 90 including 2 Elders, 4 Priests and 2 Teachers. These figures are even more impressive as they do not appear to include the 25 Manx members who emigrated that month for the USA. This policy of gathering members to church headquarters would continue throughout the nineteenth century and would eventually decimate LDS church membership in the British Isles including the Isle of Man. The organisational structure of the church in Britain at this time consisted of branches as the local unit and these were grouped together for administrative purposes into what were called conferences. At this meeting the Isle of Man Branch was placed into the Liverpool Conference.
By 1846 despite continued emigration there was a branch in Peel as well as Douglas with the Peel branch reporting 40 adult members and Douglas 59. The Isle of Man had been placed in a separate Conference with part of North Wales in December 1845 but on the 1 June 1846 a separate Conference was organised for the Isle of Man branches only. From 1849 – 1853 three branches are reported on the Isle of Man but unfortunately I can find no evidence for where any third branch was. The high point of the church on the Island appears to have been December 1851 with 116 adult members reported. In 1850 a Manxman, Elder John Kelly, had been placed in charge of the Isle of Man Conference. He served until April 1853 when he was released as he was emigrating with other Manx Saints. By the end of 1854 membership had dropped to 48 in two branches, with Manxman Titus Barlow as Conference President. With continued emigration and a worsening public image for the church the decline could not be halted. On the 21 June 1856 the Isle of Man membership again became part of the Liverpool Conference.
From now it was a struggle for survival. Visits from missionaries were infrequent and spasmodic. The members that were left on the Island were those who found it difficult to emigrate for family or health reasons. Baptisms were rare; the last recorded being 4 in 1876. Emigration slowly continued, further weakening membership, with the last known emigrants being Jane Cannell following the death of her husband, with three other family members in 1893. In 1900 Manxman James Quayle is reported to have served as a missionary on the island and a John Kelly from Peel spoke at a Conference meeting at Chorley that year on the 10 June. A final attempt was made c. 1908 to re-establish a branch on the Island but after that no formal contact appears to have been made by the church for the next fifty years.
While for the first half of the Twentieth Century no LDS church existed on the Island members still visited and occasionally resided. A German family who joined the church in Dublin were interred in Knockaloe during the First World War. At least one LDS serviceman was stationed on the Island during the Second World War. Descendants of nineteenth century Manx converts also occasionally visited the Island.
In Britain during this period the church was too weak and had insufficient missionaries to do more than maintain its few branches. Emigration, though no longer encouraged, continued to take away its strongest converts. In 1958 this situation changed with the dedication of the London Temple. Temple blessings were now available without having to travel to the States or to Switzerland where a Temple was opened a few months earlier. A “New Era” now opened for the Church in the British Isles. As part of this New Era, missionaries were sent to the Island as early as August 1958, though this may only have been exploratory. However there were definitely missionaries based on the Island in the first months of 1959. Such activity was too optimistic as missionary numbers were too low to justify it, and following a baptism, missionaries were withdrawn from the Island.
In the next few years missionary numbers increased rapidly. In 1960 for the first time missionary work in the British Isles for administrative reasons was split into two separate missions. Further splits followed. In 1962 the Irish Mission was created as the fifth mission in the British Isles with Steven R Covey (now famous for his motivational books) in charge as Mission President. During this period two LDS female members had moved to the Isle of Man. They requested that missionaries be sent to the Island. President Covey responded and on 31 August 1962 the Isle of Man Branch was reorganized at 52 Alexander Drive, Douglas with one of the two missionaries sent to the Island as Branch President – an Elder Cannon! By 1963 the branch were meeting in a hired hall at 54 Athol Street.
Over the next period of years growth was slow but steady. The branch continued to be run by missionaries until 1970 when Manxman Ronald Clarke was called as Branch President. In 1973 the branch moved out of Athol Street into Morton Hall and started building their own chapel on Woodbourne Road, Douglas. The building work progressed fast, they were able to start worshiping in their own building in the November.
During this period the branch was attached to the Belfast District - the term District replacing the earlier term of Conference. Such regions where the church was stronger and more able to stand on its own feet are known as Stakes. The first British Stake of Zion had been created in 1960 in Manchester. On 14 March 1976 the twentieth stake in Britain was created in Liverpool. The Douglas Isle of Man branch now became part of the Liverpool Stake and was made into a Ward. In theory a branch needs continuous support while a Ward is a lot stronger, but Douglas was made into a Ward primarily because of its isolation. Until very recently it had very limited contact with the Stake. With the change in status to a Ward, Ronald Clarke became the Island’s first LDS Bishop. He continued in this position until 1985 when Martin Holden replaced him as Bishop. In 1988 Ronald Clarke was sustained again as the LDS leader on the Island. Following poor health he was released as Bishop in 1992 and replaced by a Ramsey resident William A Moffat, who served as Bishop until 1996. Bishop Moffat had previously been a Bishop in England when he had lived there for a short while. During his tenure the church building was extended almost doubling in size and during this period members met at Park Road School in Douglas. Dean Johnson became Bishop in 1996 serving till 2001. Dean had moved to the Island after his mission and married a Douglas girl. Andrew Clague was the next Bishop serving until 2006. Under his guidance the congregation saw considerable growth. In January 2006 Australian Clint Grove was called as the current Bishop.
At present the Church gets an attendance at its main Sacrament Meeting in the
60-80’s. From November to January 2006 the average Sacrament attendance was 70 with 98 members
attending at some point. Age breakdown of this attendance is as follows:-
0-15 years: 44%
16-30 years: 11%
31-45 years: 25%
46-60 years: 8%
61-75 years: 11%
76 and over: 1%
The congregation remains fairly youthful with 80% being under the age of 46. The congregation also reflects the increasing multi-culturalism of the Island with members regularly attending who come from England, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Nigeria, Australia, and America as well as the Isle of Man.
LDS Church organisation emphasises the importance of the Stake as a main centre for instructions and activities. The isolation of the Isle of Man means that few Manx saints have been called to Stake positions. Under Bishop Clarke, Denis Jeavons, who was a leading businessman on the Island, served briefly on the Liverpool Stake High Council. His untimely death from cancer was a great loss to the Ward. Peter Moore was also called to the Stake High Council during the period of Bishop Moffatt though he largely represented the Stake on the Island. Richard Dangerfield has functioned effectively on the Stake High Council as a full member since 2001 and continues to do so.