Mormon Conference: More Missionaries Could Head For UK And Europe As Boys Now Allowed To Serve At 18

Mormon missionaries in the UK could rapidly increase in number, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans to lower the age limit for its teen missions abroad, to 18 for men and 19 for women.

Speaking at the church's General Conference in America's Salt Lake City, President Thomas Monson, announced the plan for the 14-million strong church.

There are currently around 1,000 Mormon missionaries serving in the UK, originally from Europe and North America, and as far afield as Brazil.

The UK's Church of Latter Day Saints spokesman Malcolm Adcock told The Huffington Post UK the church's missionaries in the UK were now "incredibly diverse", whereas "decades ago all missionaries would have been from North America, and mainly from Utah.

"Now they come to the UK as missionaries from many countries, from Eastern Europe to Brazil."

In a statement following the conference speech, the Mormon church said the move would "significantly increase the number of missionaries who will serve by expanding the options for when they may begin their service."

Kenna Kupfer and Greg Powell sing hymns to people walking to conference during the 183rd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Monson said in his conference speech: "Our experience with 18-year-old missionaries has been positive.

"Their mission presidents report that they are obedient, faithful, mature, and serve just as competently as do the older missionaries who serve in the same missions.

"Their faithfulness, obedience and maturity have caused us to desire the same option of earlier missionary call for all young men, regardless of the country from which they come.

"I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19.

"I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age.Rather, based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.

"As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve.

"Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21."

Mormon church president Thomas S. Monson speaks during the morning session

Mormon men typically either attend one year of college after graduation before taking a temporary leave of absence for missions to countries in Europe, Africa, South American and Asia.

Now, many men are likely to become missionaries directly after high school graduation.

They are trained in foreign languages, and share homes with others on a mission to spread the faith.

More than 58,000 Mormons are currently serving as full-time missionaries in 347 locations worldwide, and most are single young men who serve for two years.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney served as a missionary in France between July 1966 to February 1969, but his ancestors discovered Mormonism in Britain, according to Reuters.

Lancashire, his ancestral homeland, is "Mormon central," according to local vicar Christopher Nelson.

His family comes from Dalton-in-Furness, one of a number of places where Mormon missionaries targeted those living in poverty.

His great-great grandparents, Elizabeth and Miles, were baptised and married before converting to the Mormon faith in 1837 and moving to the United States. Mormon missionaries were offered free tickets to the New World.

The Mormon temple near Preston still contains records detailing the lives of British Romneys, according to Reuters, and family members were baptised in the Ribble.

The Manacled Mormon

One of the UK's most famous mormon missionaries is Kirk Anderson, who went missing in 1977, while on his mission in Ewell, Surrey.

He was apparently abducted by former American beauty queen Joyce McKinny, who Anderson said had abducted, attempted to seduce him and raped him.

The case became a tabloid sensation. McKinney was arrested, but said the couple had been sweethearts and had eloped willingly together. She later jumped bail and fled the country, but no extradition procedures were pursued.

The story was the subject the 2010 film Tabloid, made by documentary Errol Morris.

Anderson is now an estate agent, married with two children.