Working the Divine Miracle
by Richard D. Poll
Stan Larson, editor


[p.23]The Europe that received Elder Henry D. Moyle in the summer of 1909 was the continent that had conquered the world in four centuries and now basked in the power and glory. Queen Victoria’s funeral was eight years in the past; the First World War was five years in the future. The poor of the continent’s commercial and industrial cities made up most of the congregations that Henry addressed in steadily improving German, but its princes and creative artists added spectacle and charm to his missionary life. As the young man from Utah ministered to Europe’s humble, he strengthened his commitment to the gospel that had brought his grandparents out of this class-ridden world. But as he sampled its culture, first as a proselyter and then as a student, he began to question his career decision and reorient his life.

The Swiss-German Mission encompassed all of German-speaking Europe. Like the missions in Scandinavia, Holland, and Britain, it relied mostly on the abilities and dedication of individuals for programs and results. One of the Quorum of the Twelve—in Henry’s day it was Rudger Clawson—supervised operations from a base in London. The mission presidents-in Henry’s case it was Thomas E. McKay, a younger brother of Apostle David O. McKay-were men who had fulfilled successful missions a decade or a generation earlier; their tenures varied. Because the Mormon missionaries no longer labored “without purse or scrip” (Luke 22:35), those who came to Europe tended to be from middle- and upper-class families, capable of providing support. They came for adventure and secular education as well as service, the mix varying with the individual. [p.24]About 166 were in the Swiss-German Mission, headquartered in Zurich, when Henry arrived.

Anti-Mormon sentiment was still widespread and restrictions on proselyting existed in many places. Door-to-door tracting was the primary approach to non-Mormons, and the number of tracts distributed was usually seen as a measure of missionary zeal, although it might have been construed as an inverse measure of skill in eliciting discussions. Tracts used in the non-English-speaking missions were largely literal translations of proof-text pamphlets developed in England or America. The Joseph Smith story was an exception. Visiting friends was an important activity, and most communities included friends of long standing who could be counted on for a meal or even a bed as long as the subject of baptism was not pressed too vigorously.

Church policy had for some years discouraged converts from immigrating to Utah, where the support capacity of the mining and agricultural economy had been reached. The American elders, in consequence, spent much of their time managing congregations of Saints who looked to them for guidance—and husbands for their daughters. Branches and missionaries were organized into conferences, and the post of conference president was the highest to which a missionary might aspire. Henry Moyle made it.

Because most of the elders had limited means and lived in spartan quarters, they welcomed the opportunity to visit, dine, and overnight with the members. Because they were young, they also welcomed breaks in the missionary routine, and they were less restricted in recreational options than their grandsons would be. Movement beyond assigned fields of labor was subject only to mission president approval, and it was relatively accessible if not abused. Elders were normally assigned in pairs but might go tracting or even visiting alone. In the circumstances, what an individual missionary accomplished was very much a function of self-discipline, initiative, and testimony. Henry learned some lessons in Switzerland and Germany in 1909-11 that undoubtedly influenced his leadership of the church missionary program a half century later.

Henry’s missionary diaries, written with the intention that they be sent home in installments to be shared with his parents, gave a detailed account of what happened from the time he left Salt Lake City in July 1909 until he left the University of Freiberg thirty-four months later. There is little polishing of the image for the audience, plus a possibility [p.25]that at least a few bits of the story were not committed to this semi-public record. But there are sufficient candor and corroboration to give the journals a high degree of credibility.

A large family group saw Henry off on the train, but no one traveled with him. Visits to Congress, through the good offices of Utah’s congressman Joseph Howells and senator Reed Smoot, and big league baseball games in St. Louis and New York were highlights of the ten-day sight-seeing-journey to Montreal. There he met ten other elders bound for Zurich on the S.S. Laurentic. He was too busy or too comfortable on the voyage to report other than that the weather was fine and his companions were “a jolly bunch.” Dinner at a fine restaurant on the Strand prompted the reminder, “Never miss Simpsons in London.”1 On 2 August 1909 he arrived at the mission home in Zurich, ready for orientation by President McKay and assignment to his first post.

Years later President Moyle told an MIA conference that his first tracting companion was another McKay brother—William M.—and that he carried a card with this sentence (in German): “Please read this pamphlet.” Apparently the short language course at the University of Utah left him insufficiently confident to launch out on his own. Within a week, however, he reported one gospel conversation, and in another he “held five conversations with men in a park. I told them all I knew in German.” The mastery of the language was a priority objective throughout the mission, and for the rest of his life Henry took pride in using this competence whenever he could.

After a few days at headquarters, Henry and one of his fellow fledglings, Wilford Young Cannon, were sent to nearby Winterthur until the upcoming mission conference. There he enjoyed many meals with the few members, distributed up to 230 tracts in a single day, “slept two in a single bed,” administered the sacrament “auf deutsch,” broke his watch wrestling with a companion, and spoke so nostalgically to one of the Swiss sisters that he realized he was inadvertently encouraging emigration. “We are all sorry,” he wrote of the new crop of missionaries, “that they didn’t send us to Germany, but we hope for the best.” Henry waited a year for the fulfillment of that hope.

A two-day conference brought the Swiss-German missionaries to-[p.26]gether in Zurich for instruction and reassignments. Two bits of counsel were particularly noted: “Never say a word against any religion,” and “If you pray for anything, work for fulfillment of the prayer.”

Assigned permanently to Zurich, Henry found a room near the mission home and soon fell into the pattern of morning tracting, afternoon visiting, and evening visiting or attending meetings. Scripture study, German study, and branch record keeping were interspersed. On 2 September 1909 he distributed 530 tracts; how is not stated. Two weeks later the mission supply was exhausted. Soon he had the satisfaction of seeing one of his contacts come to a Bible study class, but no conversions are reported during these first weeks. He adopted a “pompadour” hair style and tried without apparent success to “change handwriting.” Despite these gestures toward sophistication, when he ran into a house full of girls while tracting, he “beat it rapidly.” He found his companion, Alfred R. Homer, “not of the same temperament,” but after a grouchy afternoon which Henry vowed to make his last, “Brother Homer made me ashamed of myself by treating me so good.”

On 29 September Henry attended his first opera in Switzerland—Thomas’s Mignon. As became his practice, he read the libretto beforehand. “I enjoyed the hearing of good German,” he wrote. “One notices the difference in a minute.” The Sweitzerdeutsch dialect that he encountered in Zurich was not what he had come to Europe to learn, and he used the musical theater to tune his ear to High German. At least once a week for the duration of his mission, he sampled the opera and light opera repertoires of cities from Bern to Berlin, becoming a real opera buff in the process. Wagner became Henry’s particular hobby because of his enthusiasm for the German tongue. Of Die Meistersinger he wrote, “4½ hours long but not tiresome,” and of Lohengrin, “Orchestra and singing beyond description.” On the other hand, he noted of The Bartered Bride, “Plot not very moral,” and of Madame Butterfly, “The Deutsch do not make good Japs.” Before his mission and Freiberg years ended, Henry had heard most of the operas and German operettas then being performed, including the premier performance in Dresden of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. He also attended some straight dramas, but not with the same frequency or enthusiasm.

The autumn and early winter of 1909 were, of course, mostly business, and by the time that Henry was “the baby no longer,” he had to acknowledge that “it gets pretty discouraging and hard” at times. The first [p.27]prayer and the first “speach” in German were duly noted. 2 Frau Henrietta Caspar was his first baptism, 16 October, and there were no others reported for the rest of the year. Detectives occasionally dropped in on meetings, especially when President McKay was there. Henry and his companion had one encounter with the police after a hostile tractee locked them in his house. No penalties were assessed. Elder Henry A. Rich replaced Elder Homer without interrupting the rhythm of life. Dental problems—chronic with Henry—did slow him down occasionally. Swimming at the public baths had both sanitary and recreational benefits. Turkey dinners at the mission home on Thanksgiving and Christmas helped to keep nostalgia within bounds; only a handful of references to homesickness are scattered through the diaries.

The routines of proselyting, with cultural interludes, continued through the Swiss winter and spring. Branch meetings were usually sparsely attended, with women outnumbering men. Henry sang with the choir. On one occasion he refused to speak because he “had absolutely nothing to say.” He did, however, expel “by main force” a drunkard who was disturbing the meeting. Friends were numerous and cordial enough to maintain his spirits; “never was I happier,” he wrote on 24 February 1910. As for Fastnacht, the Germanic version of Mardi Gras, he noted that “the costumes are beautiful, the morality frightful.”

A two-week tour of Italy with William McKay is reported with the same attention to scenic and historical detail that had characterized his travel journals as a teenager: Milan, Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence, and Venice were on the itinerary. The Italians seemed to Henry “vivacious, cultured, good looking, and very worldly.” The museums, galleries, and churches of Rome and Florence were particularly enjoyed.

Although he had come to love Switzerland, Henry continued to remind President McKay of his interest in an assignment in Germany, and in early June he made a ten-day tour of Switzerland in anticipation of such a possible move. Missionaries and members received him hospitably, and after ten months with the language and culture he was quite at home.

On 14 June 1910 McKay told him to pack and get ready for Germany. Where was uncertain; it would be settled at the pending European mis-[p.28]sion conference in Berlin. “This is happy news.” A week of sightseeing with the McKays and several missionaries attended the transfer. Munich, Oberamergau, and Nuremberg were the highlights. Of the Passion Play Henry wrote, “From eight till twelve and from two to six I sat on a hard seat and not for a minute did it drag. The play is worth going miles and miles to see.”

When denial of a police permit forced cancellation of the Berlin conference, Henry was instructed to stay in Frankfurt am Main for a while, perhaps for the rest of his mission. A period of uncertainty followed, since the Frankfurt conference was without a president and Henry saw himself as the possible appointee. Instead, his former companion, Elder Homer, was called to the post. A day later Henry observed the first anniversary of his departure from home. He was homesick, he wrote, but happy in his work. He felt that he had done some good, and he was sad at the number of missionaries who “don’t work at tracting and don’t prepare lessons.”3

As an experienced and now rather fIuent elder, Henry was more involved with problems of branch management. The police were more suspicious in Frankfurt than in Zurich, and disaffected members sometimes involved the authorities. After a pleasant dinner at the home of a wealthy Mormon widow, the three pretty daughters donned ballet dresses and offered to dance with the missionaries. According to the diary, “in a friendly way we let them know we were not out here to have a good time.” Yet the generosity and humility of many of the Saints was frequently remarked, and as a member of the First Presidency Henry Moyle often recalled these happy relationships.

On 24 July 1910 about 1,200 people gathered in Rotterdam to hear the president of the church, Joseph E Smith, the Presiding Bishop, Charles W. Nibley, Apostle Rudger Clawson, and the presidents of the several missions. It was the largest LDS meeting that had ever been held on the European continent. To be present at this gathering and the several days of missionary conferences that followed was a great experience for Henry. At the close of one address, the white-bearded church leader “uttered a blessing on all assembled and you could feel … that it was immediately answered.”

A fringe benefit of these meetings was the opportunity to sightsee [p.29]in Waterloo, Brussels, and Rotterdam with a number of young men and women from Utah, the former mostly missionaries and the latter tourists. One evening found them in a Brussels dance hall, and this time Elder Moyle danced. Before the days of devotion and diversion were over, Henry conceded, “I have a bad case on Edna Nibley of Logan, the Bishop’s daughter.”4 They met again in Berlin a week later, and when the Nibleys then left for America the farewell—if the diary is to be believed—was “tearful. But the train pulled out and I took a car home to sleep my sorrows away. … ”5

In the resplendent capital of the German empire, Henry and his traveling companion, Wilford Cannon, enjoyed the company of two of Utah’s wealthiest families—the Nibleys and the David Eccleses. A fine dinner preceded the Berlin Opera’s Lohengrin—“with the best singers in Europe.” A chance observation of the Kaiser and the Kaiserin riding in state led Bishop Nibley to express the view that Wilhelm II “was only outclassed by one man in the world … Theodore Roosevelt.” A few months later Henry saw both of these notables at the coronation of England’s King George V.

At Berlin Henry was assigned to be president of the Zwickau branch in the Dresden conference. Zwickau was an industrial town in the coal mining section of Saxony, with a branch whose working-class members met behind closed doors because both administration of the sacrament and baptisms were prohibited by law. Here Henry labored from early August until the following April, treated with the same respect that parish priests and pastors had known in this part of the world for centuries. Blessing babies, patching up family quarrels, blessing the sick, and reconciling the disputations were his responsibilities as the ranking congregational authority. It was tough to preach tithing to the members because they “make so little money and pay such high taxes.” But preach it he did. He also took long walks to the homes of members in the surrounding countryside. As for tracting, by now he had experienced the door slammed in the face, the pamphlet torn up before the eyes, and the hundreds of responseless follow-up calls. Did he enjoy it? After a particularly [p.30]discouraging day, he wrote, “I never saw anyone yet that did. The only reason I do it and so much of it is that it is hard, and by doing it I overcome my dislikes and desires; then I believe good is also accomplished thereby. But you can’t realize how hard it is.” In one entry he blamed his lack of success on the fact that he looked so much like a German and now spoke so naturally that he no longer attracted the attention that he once had. “I have developed the habit of laughing or smiling when anyone gets angry at me … and that has the effect of making them still angrier.” The stubbornness of Henry Moyle was not left at home when he went on his mission.

Despite—or perhaps because of—the depressed economic conditions and close police surveillance, convert baptisms were more frequent than in Henry’s previous proselyting locations. On the same day that he saw the King of Saxony and a sham battle involving about 1,200 German soldiers, he wrote, “In the stillness of the night we went out and brought one more soul into the church … a fine young girl of seventeen.” Two young men experienced moonlight immersion soon afterward. As winter approached, the water in the ditches and streams became terribly cold, but Henry stoutly reported that “that don’t hurt.” “It is expected,” he journalized, “that I baptize five or six every month and I like to do just a little more than is expected of me. … I don’t think any branch has any more baptisms unless it is Berlin and Chemnitz, and we only have about 70,000 to work with.” He “spoke very plainly” at one meeting about the inadvisability of the members’ moving to America. But about the same time he asked his family to help find homes for two Latter-day Saint girls who were emigrating.6

As branch president, Henry worked with a changing group of missionaries and he also traveled occasionally to nearby Chemnitz and Dresden to speak, participate in church programs, and confer with the conference president, Clarence E. Wright. These respites were a tonic, because Zwickau had no opera and its “Stadtstheatre” was, in Henry’s judgment, poor. The larger towns permitted him to indulge his appetite for Wagner. Of Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther did some of his German translation of the Bible and threw an ink pot at an apparition of the Devil, Henry noted after an October visit that it was also the inspiration for [p.31]Tannhäuser. He spent one day visiting the surface facilities of a coal mine at Freiberg, where he spoke at a sacrament meeting and had a first look at the university he was already planning to attend. In November 1910 he noted with satisfaction the news reports that the Democrats had won control of the U.S. House of Representatives and expressed the hope that Utah had also gone Democratic.7

Late December saw much time spent preparing an elaborate Christmas program and finding a large hall to present it in. Plays, songs, refreshments—cake and the ubiquitous “maltz coffee”—and exchanging gifts provided a happy Christmas afternoon. A festive tree in the elders’ lodgings and a letter from home were other highlights of the day. “There wasn’t anything could have pleased me more than the letter from my dear sweet father. That took the place of my stocking and presents.”

As 1911 dawned, Henry looked ahead to the remainder of his mission and the further education that he expected to follow. Cold weather and more tooth trouble possibly dampened his enthusiasm for what he called the “dear dirty smoky town of Zwickau.” On the basis of comments from Elder Wright, he concluded: “I suppose I will stay here now until summer unless Pres. McKay does something with me. There is only one way to get out of here, I expect that is to show them I am too big for it, and if I do that they may always keep me here.”

After visiting in Dresden with Wilford Cannon, who also had educational plans, Henry went to Freiberg again on 18 January. He “pushed” his way through the lesser officials until he finally found himself in the presence of the head of the university, “the direct agent of the King of Saxony.” In an apparently satisfactory interview he learned that a year’s instruction would cost $200 or $300, plus personal living expenses, and he immediately wrote to the University of Utah for his records. It does not appear that he had yet talked in specific terms with President McKay.

Despite the cold weather the missionary work went well. Funds were often late arriving from America, but Henry always had sufficient. One of the German girls who had emigrated in the fall now sent back some money “to buy food for the elders.” Henry could never bring himself to eat bloodwurst, but he found horse and cat meat “not too bad.” Secret baptisms continued. Henry delivered a talk at the funeral of a child who died in the branch, then stood aside while the pastor of the state church [p.32](Lutheran) pronounced the burial service according to the legal form. He had a more congenial encounter with German law during a visit to Leipzig, where he spent a day watching proceedings in the “highest court of law in Germany” and finally had to be asked to leave so the judges could confer.

Henry learned in March that he would not be “bishop of Zwichau” for the balance of his mission. He was instructed to get the records in order prior to the coming meeting of conference presidents, when he would be given the Dresden or some other conference appointment. As he worked on the reports, he “tried to devise a system whereby they could be handled more simply and thoroughly.” This concern about records management characterized his later church activities.

At the conference in Chemnitz he was assigned to head the Frankfurt conference. He felt pleased that McKay had some complimentary things to say about him. Frankfurt would be a challenging assignment, Henry thought, because of misconduct on the part of some missionaries there in the recent past. He would miss Dresden, “where members thought the missionaries were nearly perfect,” but he would have “more chance in Frankfurt to show my ability.”

He tackled the assignment with vigor. Within a week he met with the editor of “Frankfurt’s largest newspaper” and told him that the articles he was publishing about the Mormons were false. The editor promised to print a story that Henry had prepared, and he did. The new conference president quickly adjusted to occupying the seat of honor in meetings, and he reported that on a visit with some impoverished Saints in Mannheim he slept in the best bed in the house—straw above, below, and even in the pillow. Addressing himself to a perceived lack of spirituality among some of the elders, he was impressed with the repentant spirit of one, gave “some pretty pointed instructions” to another, and recommended immediate release for one who refused to appear before a council of three senior elders. As for a young lady convert who had been dating some of the missionaries, “we straightened her Out before she got away.” Interspersed with these management details are reports of meetings in which “all enjoyed the spirit of the Lord.” During the Easter season he saw a play, Faith and Home, that portrayed the hardships of Lutherans who had left the Catholic church. His reaction: “It put new energy into my body and I can say now with more life than before, ‘I am a Mormon.’“

[p.33]As he traveled around the conference, which encompassed much of the Rhine Valley in southwestern Germany, Henry spent some time reading the issues of Engineering Journal that came to him from America. He also began planning a trip to London with other elders to witness the coronation. His account of the festivities honoring George V is detailed and interesting. On 22 June 1911 he saw the procession of royalty and heads of state in which ex-President Theodore Roosevelt represented the United States and in the words of one journalist “stole the show.” He also saw the next day’s long military and naval parade, this time standing on a box with Apostle Clawson and another missionary. He noted that the diminutive box that Clawson8 had earlier bought from a street vendor had collapsed under him.

The mission conference in Zurich early in July produced two noteworthy developments in the life of Henry Moyle. “I cornered Pres. McKay,” he wrote on 4 July, “and got his permission to go to school in October at Freiberg. So I accomplished considerable on this famous day.” Two days later he was invited into “a small club that exists at home [in America] founded for the further study of German and also to hold us socially together. …” “Nearly all of the finest fellows in the mission belong,” he recorded, having no apparent qualms about fitting himself into this classification?9

Three months of intensive proselyting, conference touring, and language sharpening followed. It culminated at a conference at Frankfurt at which Henry turned the records and responsibilities over to Elder Elmer I. Stoddard. Twenty-five months and twenty days after his arrival in Zurich as a greenhorn missionary, Henry Moyle moved the Engineering Journals to the front of his valise and headed for Freiberg.10

Three observations in the closing pages of the missionary journal show [p.34]how the twenty-two-year-old Henry Moyle saw himself—or at least wished his parents to see him—at this stage of his maturing. After a visit with Utah’s operatic diva, Emma Lucy Gates, who had performed with the Berlin Opera, he wrote: “Funny how I notice those things or characteristics in others that I am deficient in myself. To tell the truth, I try to profit by all that I see, cultivating at the same time my powers of observation.” On another occasion he vowed: “I certainly am going to try to be like grandpa was. He is my ideal in a great many things.” Finally, “Met with Sister McKay. … Her only criticism of me was that I held the mission rules too strictly. Pretty good fault, I think.”


1. At twenty Henry already had the love affair with gourmet food that was to be the passion and bane of his adult life.

2. A certain fascinating unpredictability characterized Henry Moyle’s spelling to the end of his days.

3. He never got over the feeling that laziness was particularly indefensible in a missionary.

4. Edna Nibley Cannon (1890-1973) was the daughter of Charles W. Nibley and Ellen Ricks. On 1 May 1918 she married George M. Cannon, Jr. —Ed.

5. Amiable correspondence followed for some time, but nine years and more than one other “bad case” passed before Henry finally succumbed to the romance from which he did not recover.

6. It had not.

8. Poll actually wrote: “He noted that the box that the diminutive Clawson,” but the adjective diminutive has been moved to modify the noun box. Moyle’s original entry in his missionary diary cannot be examined, because access to the Henry D. Moyle Collection in LDS church archives is restricted.—Ed.

9. The group did not survive the dislocations of marriage, relocations, and war, but several of the “finest fellows” remained good personal friends for decades.

10. When, as an apostle, he sometimes scolded missionaries who wanted to cut their service short, he recalled that he had served a full thirty months. Apparently he was given some credit for the help that he gave to the elders in Saxony during his terms at Freiberg; his release from the mission was not announced in the mission journal, Der Stern, unti1 31 December 1911.