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

Country information: Iceland

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 307,000; Members, 241; Branches, 2; Percent LDS, .08 , or one in 1,274; Europe Area; Denmark Copenhagen Mission.

Located between Scandinavia and Greenland, the constitutional Republic of Iceland has a people who speak Icelandic and who are 87 percent Evangelical Lutheran, 4 percent other Protestant, 2 percent Roman Catholic, and 7 percent other including LDS.

Icelanders Thorarinn Thorason and Gudmund Gudmundson were baptized in Denmark in 1851. They returned to Iceland that year and began preaching on the Westmann Islands off Iceland's south coast. Even though they experienced significant opposition from priests, civil authorities, and others, a number of people were converted and baptized including Benedikt Hanson and his wife. Unfortunately, Thorason drowned a short time later, and Gudmundson, who had been ordained a teacher, was not authorized to baptize. He continued his work, but it was not until 1853 that Johan P. Lorentzen arrived from Copenhagen to assist him. Lorentzen ordained Gudmundson an Elder and set him apart to preside over a branch organized on the Westmann Islands on 19 June 1853 and also taught and baptized a handful of additional converts. Soon thereafter, nearly all the members immigrated to America.

In 1873, Icelanders Magnus Bjarnason and Loptur Johnson were appointed by the presidency of the Scandinavian Mission to resume the work in Iceland. They returned to the Westmann Islands where they baptized a few more converts and reorganized the branch on 1 May 1874. They were arrested on three occasions for preaching. Each time they were acquitted. Eleven converts immigrated to America in 1874. The work continued in 1875 with the calling of Theodor Didrikson and Samuel Bjarnason as missionaries. While serving, they translated several pamphlets into Icelandic but could not find a printer willing to publish them. Didrikson's Icelandic pamphlet titled "Warning and Voice of Truth" was finally printed in Denmark in 1879.

In April 1880, John Eyvindson and Jacob B. Johnson baptized the first converts in Reykjavik on the Icelandic mainland. When this became known, broad and violent opposition mounted and the elders were assaulted and threatened with stoning. Even so, they were able to baptize 28 people during their labors. Twenty-two of those converts emigrated with them to Utah upon completion of their mission.

Through the 1880s and 1890s, a trickle of converts continued to join the Church and immigrate to the United States. Many of the Icelandic converts settled in Spanish Fork, Utah, an area that became known as "Little Iceland." An Icelandic Mission existed from about 1896 until 1914 when missionary work was discontinued due to the outbreak of war in Europe. Assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson traveled to Iceland in 1911 while serving as president of the Danish-Norwegian Mission. He delivered illustrated lectures about the Church in the capitol city Reykjavik.

For several years after World War I no missionaries worked in Iceland, and only a smattering of converts remained in the country. In 1930, the work was renewed as two missionaries from the Danish Mission were again sent there. After their departure in 1930, missionary work again ceased. The distance from mission headquarters in Copenhagen made it difficult to administratively oversee the work there, and the lack of a membership base made it difficult to host a missionary program where broad and sometimes violent opposition had marked previous attempts. Further, World War II made travel to the island nation more difficult.

Church members visiting Iceland, and Latter-day Saints in military service or stationed at the NATO Keflavik Base informally shared the gospel and held Church meetings from the 1940s on. At Keflavik, a branch was formed with 130 servicemen and their families.

Formal missionary work, under the direction of the Denmark Copenhagen Mission, did not resume until April 1975 when Byron and Melva Geslison were called to work in Iceland. They were accompanied by their twin returned-missionary sons David and Daniel who served as the first two district missionaries in Iceland. A branch was organized at Reykjavik on 8 August 1976 with about 10 members. A year later, it had grown to 40.

The first convert in 1976 after the work was resumed was a widow, Sveinbjorg Gudmundsdottir, who in 1977 was hired as the Church's Icelandic translator. Working with Halldor Hansen, Gudmundsdottir translated the Book of Mormon into Icelandic. It was published in Reykjavik in October 1980. Gudmundsdottir also worked on the translation of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. They were published in 1982.

A remodeled building in Reykajvik used for a meetinghouse was dedicated in 1981 by Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve. By 1986, membership had reached 180.

Iceland's president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, and his wife, Guorun Katrin Thorbergsdottir, visited Spanish Fork, Utah, on 23-29 July 1997, at the invitation of the Icelandic Association of Utah. While there, they visited Church headquarters. President Grimsson also spoke at a fireside attended by about 2,000 people. Spanish Fork is believed to have the oldest Icelandic community in the United States.

Ground was broken on 6 March 1999 in the Reykjavik suburb of Garoabaer for the first meetinghouse built by the Saints in Iceland. The building is the home of two branches. After the groundbreaking, Elder William Rolfe Kerr, along with Pres. Byron A. Rasmussen of the Denmark Copenhagen Mission and Iceland District President Olafur Einarsson visited Iceland President Grimsson.

On 30 June 2000, a monument, honoring 410 Icelanders who immigrated to America from 1854 to 1914, was dedicated near "Mormon Pond," a tide pool on the coast of the Westmann Islands.

The following week, on 3 July 2000, a museum display devoted to Latter-day Saint Church history focusing on the Mormon emigration from Iceland was opened in the new Icelandic Emigration Center in Hofsos. On 4 July 2000, the newly-constructed LDS meetinghouse was dedicated by Elder Kerr. Iceland's President Grimsson, participated in both events.

President Gordon B. Hinckley stopped in Iceland and met with members in Reykjavik on 11 September 2002, and with Iceland's President Grimsson.

On 25 June 2005, President Grimsson attended a ceremony in Spanish Fork, Utah, honoring the first 16 Icelandic settlers to the area. President Hinckley rededicated a monument originally placed there in the 1930s.

In 2002, membership reached 273.

Sources: Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Denmark Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Marius A. Christensen, History of the Danish Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1850-1964," thesis, 1966; Lyn R. Jacobs, Mormon non-English scriptures, hymnals, and periodicals, 1830-1986, 1986; Flint J. Stephens, "Land of Fire and Ice," New Era, December 1981; Janet Thomas," Warm at Heart," New Era, September 1996; Tod R. Harris, "Icelandic Saints' Flame of Faith," Ensign, July 1995; "Hostility Melts in Iceland," Church News, 20 August 1977; Tod Harris, "Gospel Touches Remote Iceland," Church News, 6 August 1994; Greg Hill, "Iceland Day Preserves Settlers' Heritage," Church News, 12 August 1995; Gerry Avant, "Iceland President Visits Utah," Church News, 2 August 1997; "Ground Broken for First Meetinghouse in Iceland," Church News, 27 March 1999; "A Monument At 'Mormon Pond," Church News, 15 July 2000; "Iceland Visit: Light, Warm," Church News, 21 September 2002; "Icelandic Pioneers Honored by Memorial," Church News, 2 July 2005.