Award Winning British LDS Photographer, Reg Wilkins: His Conversion Story
by Anne Bradshaw
Described as nothing short of miraculous, Reg Wilkins’ conversion began with one ripple involving his brother – that ripple has never stopped touching the lives of others.
‘Foam Fun, La Paz, Bolivia, 26 February 2001’
On a warm June day in 1967, Reg’s younger brother, twenty-two year old Victor Wilkins, knowing nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was taking photographs as he walked through London’s famous Hyde Park.
Reg tells the story. “As Victor gazed at the many great men of history carved in stone on the Park’s magnificent Albert Memorial, people like Beethoven, Bach and so on, my brother describes how the internal spiritual awakenings which had been building in his life for a while, caused him for the first time, to offer a deeply sincere prayer, and he asked: ‘Where does the great creative power such as these men had come from?’
“At that moment, to his surprise, words came to him that were completely unfamiliar – words from a book that he had never read nor had any knowledge of – but later discovered were from the Book of Mormon: ‘…..all things which are good cometh of God.’ (Moroni 7:12).
“Moved by the experience, Victor felt impelled to ask the source of the answer: ‘Well, as it was God, where is this God to be found?’
“‘Look for me now and you will find me’, came the reply.
“At this point, Victor thought this might be the beginning of some global quest, and that he might have to search the world over, possibly ending up in the Himalayas or somewhere similar. But he was so sure of the spiritual direction he was receiving, that he would have been more than prepared to do whatever was required.
“Victor sat down on the memorial steps pondering his spiritual experience, and became conscious that he was now looking at the statue of Prince Albert, sitting regally on a throne (to his mind, like God), with angels above spiraling upwards to a cross at the top of the memorial. Everything seemed to be converging to symbolize what the Spirit was now in the process of revealing to him. The experiences left him feeling tired and he felt that he should cross the street and sit in the quiet of the Royal Albert Hall.
“Once inside and seated, Victor put his head back to rest and as he looked upward, he was impressed by the massive, domed ceiling that resembled the universe and he began thinking about all the great activities that had happened in the Albert Hall over time.
“By now, the feeling that something hugely important was about to enter his life had saturated his heart and mind, and he wondered whether he ought to be trying to search the Albert Hall basements for some book or other for the truth as to where God was. After contemplation, he felt that he should leave the building and continue to follow the spiritually-directed inclinations he was receiving.
“The idea came to him that perhaps ‘the book’ might be found in one of the well-known museums due south of him, at the bottom of Exhibition Road. He set off in that direction-having no idea that this is where one of our chapels is located.
“As Victor walked, and wondered, he had a mixed sense of excitement and reverence for his unknown guiding force since his original question was such an important one. In his determination to get to the museums, he once more failed to notice a building that he had passed many times – the Hyde Park Chapel.
‘Peter Walker, Former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry,
Westminster, London, England, April 1975′
“However, in my brother’s words: ‘As I was looking ahead toward the museum, it was as if heavenly hands gently turned my head to the left so that I was now looking at a burst of light coming from a notice board poster. At the same time, an internal voice was telling me: ‘Concentrate on this as if your life depended on it, for it does’.’
“My brother said: ‘I felt transfixed, as if laser beams connected my eyes to the picture, which, as I drew closer, revealed the figure of the Saviour with his arms outstretched toward me and the people of ancient America who were also shown in the poster. At that wonderful moment, I felt as if a volcano of light was surging up inside me. I had the overwhelming sensation that this message was crucial.’
Reg continues. “At this point, a young sister missionary emerged from the chapel and asked Victor if he would like to know the history of the scene depicted in the poster. She explained that he could read about it in a special book of scripture called the Book of Mormon. Of course, my brother could hardly believe his ears.
“He recalls that the minute the book was placed in his hands and he flipped through its pages, he knew this was it, the book by which he could find God. He was also presented with a second hardbound book called Meet the Mormons. This was a fairly comprehensive, illustrated book outlining what Latter-day Saints believe. As well as fundamental beliefs, the second book gave an overview of church history, where the Book of Mormon came from, details about priesthood, the restoration, revelation, church government and more. When my brother returned home, three miles away, it was around 5:00pm.
“He commenced reading and didn’t stop until the following morning at 5:00am, having read Meet the Mormons in its entirety, and various parts of the Book of Mormon. “In Victor’s words: ‘I simply could not put the book down. I didn’t want to eat, or drink. As I became sleepy, I prayed for strength for further concentration and enlightenment. I read, I pondered, I prayed, I was taught by the Spirit, I read some more – and repeated that cycle through the entire night. By five a.m., I felt as though I could sleep for a thousand years and nodded off. Yet despite that, by eight a.m., I awoke feeling fully refreshed and with a burning desire to be baptized.’
“Victor immediately dressed and went to the Hyde Park chapel but, in his enthusiasm, failed to realize that no one would normally be there at that time in the morning. However, the Lord, knowing my brother’s faith and sincerity, provided missionary sisters who just ‘happened’ to go to the chapel at that unusual hour.
“As Victor related his experiences to the somewhat astounded missionaries – especially when he asked for immediate baptism – their response was understandably: ‘But you can’t be baptized yet, you don’t know enough. There are a series of discussions that we need to share with you first.’
“To this, my brother’s response was, ‘Fine, but its not necessary, because I know the Church is true. I’m ready to be baptized.’ One of the missionaries interjected, ‘But we need to teach you about things like tithing. Do you realize that members give ten percent of their income to the Church?’
“The missionaries were staggered when my brother replied, ‘Ten percent! Is that all? I would gladly give all that I have to know God, here, take my camera!’ He knew from their meeting the previous day that one of the missionaries admired his professional camera.
“The three, together with the mission president, later agreed that it would be wise to complete all the discussions, and soon after, Victor was baptized.
At this time, Reg and Victor worked together. They were employed by the internationally famous fashion photographer, David Montgomery (see previous article entitled New Exhibition For Award Winning English LDS Photographer), and were daily photographing the rich, royal, famous and fashionable all over the world.
Reg continues. “It was into this somewhat worldly studio environment that my brother came one morning to announce his newfound faith. I have to say, in all honesty, that I thought he was having some sort of nervous breakdown and becoming a religious fanatic. He was so excited about his discovery and scriptures were tumbling out of his vocabulary. It all seemed very new and strange to me.
“He tried patiently to share his faith and feelings with me. And because we daily created photographic prints in the darkroom together – such as seen in Vogue magazine and the like – he had me as a captive audience. Once the light was switched off in the darkroom there was no getting out until the print was completed!
Over the two years that followed, whenever the brothers were in the darkroom together, Victor made sure that Reg heard virtually every talk and music tape by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, General Authorities, and BYU professors’ firesides, that he could find.
“I used to pretend I wasn’t really listening,” says Reg, “but much of what I did hear drew me. Because I had traveled extensively, I had encountered many beliefs and had a great deal of respect for them. Now, I began to feel the Spirit whisper that this one was special and my serious attention was required.
“I talked these feelings through with my wife, Wendy. We had two children at the time and we eventually agreed that we should have my brother arrange for the missionaries to formally teach us. In those days, it was usual to have the ward Seventy-who was normally the ward mission leader-involved in such discussions, and he and his wife, both of whom were artists, often attended. We immediately felt the Spirit of all these wonderful people which fused with the truths as they were unfolded in each discussion.
“We were baptized on the 30th May 1969.”
‘Church, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, April 1974’
Reg relates that Victor has served faithfully in the Church in various callings for the past 35 years, most notably as a ward mission leader, high councilor and bishop. He is especially gifted in missionary work and has been instrumental in bringing hundreds of people into the Church.
He adds, “Over the years, Wendy and I have come to know, through the same channel of revelation and our own spiritual experiences, that life does not end at death, that our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, love us so much; that this church has been provided with a prophet at its head under Christ to assist us on our journey through life. It’s so encouraging to know that the challenges that we continue to face daily play a vital role in our individual spiritual development. If we make the best possible use of our time here on earth, we will eventually enjoy a maximum capacity for happiness with loved ones and eternal salvation.
Reg and Wendy Wilkins are members of the Whitechapel Ward, Hyde Park Stake, in London, England, and have six children – four daughters and two sons – and sixteen grandchildren, with more on the way. After serving in numerous callings in the Church including High Councilor and Counselor in several bishoprics, Reg was ordained and set apart as the Bishop of the Wandsworth Ward in south London in 1977. Other callings have followed including Public Affairs Director for the Crawley Stake. He is currently serving as Sunday School President of the London’s Whitechapel Ward.
Reg concludes, “I sometimes shudder to think what might have happened to us all if my brother had not listened to that inner voice all those years ago as he walked in the park. Thinking about it reminds me, ‘Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is vain for anyone to minister without it.’- Joseph Smith Teachings pp160. And from Doctrine & Covenants 76:10, ‘For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will – yea even those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.’
Article by LDS author, Anne Bradshaw
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.