Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Belgium

Published: Monday, Jan. 25, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 10,414,000; Members, 6,043; Stakes, 2; Wards, 10;Branches, 8; Missions, 1; Percent LDS, .06, or one in 1,723; Europe Area.

In 1861 Louis Bertrand, president of the French Mission, sent Gustave Chaprix to Brussels to preach the gospel. It is not known how long he stayed in the area, and no success was recorded. Several years later on 23 August 1868, President Albert Carrington of the Swiss and German Mission sent Octave Ursenbach to Belgium. He worked in Antwerp and Liège. After several weeks, Ursenbach wrote three times to the Swiss German Mission stating that the peoples' hearts were closed and not yet prepared for the gospel. He asked permission to return to Switzerland. Two months later, on 30 October, he was given permission to return. He left the same day.

The first missionary to enjoy success in Belgium was Mischa Markow, a Serb converted in Constantinople in 1887. He arrived in Antwerp and baptized Henrietta Esselmann, her four children, and Karl Beckhaus. Henrietta was the first known convert to join the Church in Belgium. Markow wrote to the Swiss and German Mission of his success with the Germanic people and requested that they again try sending missionaries to the area.

The Swiss and German Mission sent missionaries Jacob Grimm, Theodore Brandley, and an Elder Taylor to the Antwerp area in 1889. Within two months, and with the help of the Esselmann family, the missionaries baptized 80 people. Three years later, in 1892, the Esselmanns emigrated to the Salt Lake Valley.

The missionaries of the Swiss and German Mission who were assigned to Belgium had constant difficulties with the French language. As a result, in 1891, the Belgian Branches were moved to the Netherlands Mission under President Timothy Metz. The mission then became known as the Netherlands Belgium Mission for a time. On 31 January 1892, small branches were created in Brussels, with Priest Casper Kuhlmann as president; Liège, with J.H. Bergmann as presiding officer; and Antwerp, with Frederick Peiper as president. Pieper later served as a missionary and mission president from 1896 to 1897 and was the son of Henrietta Esselmann, the first person baptized in Belgium. During this period, almost all of the converts were migrants from Germany. Meetings in both Liège and Brussels were held in German. The Antwerp Branch consisted of German and Dutch Saints that had moved there from Holland.

In 1896, Jean-Baptiste Ripplinger and Frederick Pieper had particular success among the Baptists in the Liège region. The Baptist pastors in the area became concerned and sent a representative to deliver a sermon against the Church. Ripplinger and Pieper attended the meeting and the congregation insisted that they be allowed to respond to the pastor's charges. After a heated discussion, the pastor rose to leave, but he was restrained until the missionaries were able to conclude their message. Following this experience, over a hundred people asked to learn more about the Church.

The curiosity of the Belgian people continued to grow with the opposition. By August 1897, it was necessary to rent a larger meeting hall in Liège and sometimes issue admission tickets to accommodate those that wished to attend. In spite of the large number who gathered to hear the sermons, the work progressed slowly and baptisms remained low.

On 1 November 1897, Belgium was divided into two conferences or districts: Liège and Brussels. The Liège District consisted of eastern Belgium, which included only the Liège and Seraing Branches. The Seraing Branch was organized sometime between 1892 and 1897. The Brussels District included the non-French speaking branches in the western portion of the country. The districts remained separate until 31 December 1904 when the Brussels District was again attached to the Liège District. The Verviers Branch was organized in 1905.

The French Mission was reorganized on 15 October 1912, having been officially closed in 1864. Branches in Liège, Seraing, Verviers, and Brussels became part of the French Mission. The remaining non-French speaking branches to the north remained part of the Netherlands Mission under the direction of President Edgar B. Brossard. Two years later, in August of 1914, France went to war with Germany, missionaries were forced to leave the country, and the French Mission was closed again. The Liège District once again reverted back to the Netherlands Mission. Because no missionaries from Holland were allowed inside Belgium, Church affairs were left to local members. It wasn't until 10 December 1919 that a Latter-day Saint missionary was again sent to Belgium. Alvin Smith Nelson, of the Netherlands Mission was assigned to resume the work in Belgium. He was shortly thereafter called as president of the Liège District.

On 1 December 1923, the country was again split into the Brussels District, which consisted of the Flemish-speaking region, and the Liège District, which consisted of the French-speaking region. This was done on 24 February 1924 in preparation for the reorganization of the French Mission. Headquarters were in Geneva and Russell H. Blood was president. At this time, the Liège District was again removed from the Netherlands Mission and renamed the Belgian District. It was then added to the French Mission. The Brussels District remained a part of the Netherlands Mission.

The first meetinghouses to be built in the French Mission were located in Belgium. French Mission President Ernest C. Rossiter was made aware that members in the Liège and Seraing branches were being forced to meet in locations not completely appropriate to Sunday services. He made a request to Church headquarters and obtained approval to construct the meetinghouses. On 8 November 1931, Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated both meetinghouses. Four years later, in December 1935, a baptismal font was constructed in the basement of the Liège chapel. It is thought to be the first Latter-day Saint baptismal font in Europe.

French Mission headquarters were moved from Geneva to Paris on 1 October 1930. In 1936, they were moved from Paris to Liège because it was reported that 95 percent of all converts in the mission were in Belgium.

During this same year, the American-Mormon Sporting Club was organized. Missionaries at the time were encouraged to participate in choirs, sports teams and other recreational activities as a way to contact people interested in the gospel. In June 1936, this team defeated the Belgian national champion basketball team to become the "unofficial" Belgian champions. This event drew much attention to the Church through various favorable articles in local newspapers.

President Heber J. Grant arrived in Herstal to dedicate a meetinghouse in June 1937. Missionaries and the mission president and his family were evacuated September- October 1939. Gaston Chappuis supervised the mission until August 1940 when the mission was left under the leadership of Leon Fariger. As a result of the war, missionary work in Belgium came to a standstill until President James L. Barker arrived in November 1945 to reopen the French Mission, moving the headquarters back to Paris.

On 30 November 1947, the first major thrust at missionary work was made in Flanders or the Flemish-speaking areas in the 20th century. Cornelius Zappy, president of the Netherlands Mission, sent four missionaries to Antwerp: Hendrik Landwaard, Jacob van Goor, Marion T. Millett, and Lothar Nestman. Two months later on 25 January 1948 the first public Church meeting was held and on 18 April 1948 and eight people were baptized. Over the next several years branches were opened in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, and Mechelen.

On 15 October 1950, the Belgian District within the French Mission was divided. It became the Liège District, which included the Belgian branches of Liège, Verviers, Seraing, and Herstal; and the Brussels District, including the Belgian branches of Brussels, Charleroi, Namur, Mons, and the French branch of Lille.

In July 1960, the Church implemented a meetinghouse construction program in Europe. Three meetinghouses were built using this system: Brussels, first used in June 1965; Liège, dedicated December 1965; and Charleroi, dedicated March of 1966. The chapel in Brussels was later destroyed by fire in the summer of 1971 and was quickly rebuilt and the Seraing meetinghouse was first used on 3 July of that same year.

Meanwhile, Max L. Pinegar, who served as president of the Netherlands Mission from 1971-1974, greatly increased the work in Flanders. While traveling through northern Belgium, he received the impression that the time had come for a greatly increased missionary effort among the Flemish people. Very little work had been done by the Netherlands in this area prior to this time. During his tenure he visited government officials and obtained help lifting visa restrictions on missionaries. Within two years, the number of missionaries in the Flanders area increased from 10 to more than 50 and missionaries were allowed to spend the full two years within the country. The mission quickly established a missionary program in eight different cities. Progress in Flanders prompted the division of the Netherland Amsterdam Mission, and the Belgium Antwerp Mission was created on 16 July 1975 with Larry Hyde Brim as president. It consisted of all Flemish-speaking people previously served by the Netherlands Amsterdam Mission (the name having been changed from the Netherlands Mission to Netherlands Amsterdam Mission in 1974) and the northern portion of the Belgium Brussels Mission. This area reverted back and forth between the Netherlands Amsterdam Mission and the Belgium Antwerp Mission twice until 1994 when it was again consolidated with the Netherlands Amsterdam Mission.

Over the past four decades, mission boundaries and names in the southern part of the country continued to evolve as well to accommodate the growth of the Church in France and southern Belgium. On 15 January 1961, the French East Mission was organized from the southern portion of France. Two years later on 1 October 1963 the Brussels Branch was moved to the Liège District in the French Mission, creating the Liège-Brussels District, and the mission name was changed to the Franco-Belgium Mission. (This mission was later renamed the France-Belgium Mission in June 1970 and the Belgium Brussels Mission in 1974).

The Brussels Stake, the first in Belgium, was organized on 20 February 1977 with Joseph Scheen as president. On 16 October 1994, the Antwerp Belgium Stake was also organized with Johan A. Buysse as president. By 2002, there were 5,979 members scattered across the country throughout both the French and Flemish regions. In July of that year the two halves of the country were again united under the same mission for the first time in almost 100 years. The Belgium Brussels Mission and the Netherlands Amsterdam Mission were consolidated to form the Belgium Brussels/Netherlands Mission.

In 2003, membership reached 6,030.

Sources: Mehr, Kahlile B. Mormon Missionaries Enter Eastern Europe. Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2002; Swiss and German Mission, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, Church Archives; French Mission; Manuscript History and Historical Reports; Swiss Italian and German Mission, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, Church Archives; Kahn, Marcel, History of the Liège District 1889-1997, Church History Library; Chard, Gary R., A History of the French Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1850-1960, Thesis, Utah State University, 1965; Netherlands Amsterdam Mission, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, Church Archives; Belgium Antwerp Mission, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, Church Archives.

Stakes — 2

(Listed alphabetically as of Oct. 1, 2009.)

No./ Name / Organized/ First President

Europe Area

1993/ Antwerp Belgium /16 Oct 1994 /Johan A. Buysse

813/ Brussels Belgium/ 20 Feb 1977 /Joseph Scheen

Mission — 1

(As of Oct. 1, 2009; shown with historical number. )

(76) BELGIUM BRUSSELS/NETHERLANDS MISSION

87, Blvd. Brand Whitlock

B -1200 Brussels, Belgium