Rev. Andrew Teal’s relationship with Jeffrey R. Holland led him to Utah as a Visiting Scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies. He intended to study the life of Joseph Smith, but plans changed when he severely burned his feet. The Oxford scholar discusses his background, his friendship with Elder Holland, and the way suffering has refined his relationship with the Savior.
When did Andrew Teal first realize that his life’s work was going to be centered on teaching about Christ?
I lived with my grandparents as parents divorced at an early age, and they gave stability and direction for which I am really grateful. When I was 13, my grandmother died, and I found to my surprise that everyone at school was suddenly kinder. I wondered why it was that it took someone’s death to make us more human.
We were reading Mark’s Gospel at the time, and suddenly the drama and power of the death of the Son of God made immediate and relevant sense. I was confirmed and from that point knew that Charles Wesley’s amazing words were spot-on and my life was claimed:
Jesus, confirm my heart's desire to work and speak and think for thee; still let me guard the holy fire, and still stir up thy gift in me. Ready for all thy perfect will, my acts of faith and love repeat, till death thy endless mercies seal, and make my sacrifice complete.
Was Andrew Teal’s faith ever tried in divinity school?
There weren’t real moments of doubting God, though sometimes I found the power-structure of the Church oppressive; and puzzled as to why God called the people he did!
I was only 21 when I started residential seminary training for 2 years, and I guess it took me some time to see that my neighbour—like me!—was unfinished and imperfect. It may take time, but I kept faith that God wouldn’t leave us that way.
How did Rev. Andrew Teal end up in Utah?
I’m in Provo, primarily to research with the Maxwell Institute—for a book by an outsider to the Latter-day Saint community on Brother Joseph—The Outcast—and his early community, The Outcast’s Outcasts.
I was very honoured to be asked, but know that my time here has been profoundly disrupted.
How did Rev. Teal’s visit to Utah unexpectedly change?
Stupidly, I walked on a patio on the last Sunday of August (to put an avocado to ripen!). There were very hot tiles which profoundly burnt my feet. I was eventually admitted to the University of Utah Burn Unit Intensive Care, where I stayed for three and a half weeks and had two sets of skin grafts.
They are much improved, but as now I’m deemed ‘fit to fly’, my insurance company want me back home in the UK where all healthcare is free at the point of delivery.
Has Andrew Teal ever experienced spiritual growing experiences that were as painfully “stretching” as medical efforts to extend the skin on his burned feet?
My goodness, that’s a good question, and hard to answer. I remember when I started out in public ministry I had a tussle with obedience to authority, and I steamed over one Christmas at the workload. I’m aware I’ve been very ungracious at times. And getting married was wonderful, as was becoming a parent, but the changes you need to make to be a good husband and dad are quite profound, and getting the balance right between public ministry and personal family life can be a tricky thing to achieve.
I guess in order to be stable, you have to keep moving—have you ever see a bird of prey apparently hovering still in the sky, to achieve that the bird has to exercise so many muscles all the time—I guess it’s the same with us!
What are the practical realities of suffering that make it difficult to draw nearer to Christ? Similarly, how can we overcome those obstacles to know Him in our darkest seasons?
I think it’s very hard to see people you love suffer, and that can make you bitter and resentful. Two people I’ve talked with here who have left the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], left because of witnessing loved ones suffer – and in one case, a sense of betrayal that the Church didn’t make good the perceived promise of financially supporting the person.
I know how awful it is to feel powerless to help or save a loved one, and how easy it is to be tempted to blame God and the Church.
But I’ve also seen people regain a dignity in dreadful circumstances – and to be honest have learnt first-hand (or first-foot) whilst here that I needed to be humbled in order to be healed. I think I’m a better, more faithful and thankful person for the experience of the recent burns, care and healing.
What strikes me as more dangerous to faith than ‘darkest seasons’ is the rage that sometimes comes as a consequence of what happens to us—violent anger which is aimed at people every bit as imperfect as we are—in the church or beyond, and on to God. Rage is real and fury never does lead to the truth or to love.
Weaponizing truth so that there’s no tenderness beneath something that poses as truthfulness will always be an act of violence rather than love. That’s an obstacle—and love and prayer are needed in abundance to overcome.
What is the scriptural symbolism of feet?
Isaiah 52:7 springs to mind and was quoted by a friend, Ann Madsen, this morning: I’m quite tempted to send a picture of them with the Wasach front in the distance and the words ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!’ That’s what I want to say lovingly to Zion gathered here, but my feet aren’t beautiful on the outside!
I also thought many times of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, as countless have carefully uncovered, washed and bandaged my feet over these weeks.
When I’ve seen marks of blood from the wounds on towels and mats, I’ve thought of the Lord’s pierced feet–and know that every thing I have experienced, he has shared infinitely more.
How did Andrew Teal become friends with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland?
Through his son, Matt, and Elder and Sister Holland met in London at a conference supporting the Yazidis community. He then came to Oxford as part of a conference on Inspiring Service, and after that I visited Utah.
What stands out about Elder Holland’s knowledge of and love for the Lord?
It’s deep, it’s real, it’s joyful, and it’s infectious!
If you were to co-author a book with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, what would be the working title?
Well of course we’ve done one—Inspiring Service (Deseret/BYU and Sacristy Press Durham UK). I guess it might be Inspiring Learning, or even about Mission Together.
What tips does Andrew Teal have for Latter-day Saints as they embark on a one-year Come, Follow Me study of the Old Testament?
Enjoy it—try to keep an eye on the overview and really relish the detail.
Is there anything else you’d like to share as you prepare to wrap up your time in Utah?
Just thank you to so very many people. And ‘I’ll be back’!
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