Mormon Parenting: Looking back at the 'Mormon Pavilion' at the New York World's Fair
We are writing this week's column from New York City, where we have just welcomed our 23rd grandchild into the world. (Hey, if you are a fresh, new spirit going to go down into the world, why not start your life off right in the middle of the Big Apple?)
This city has been a second home to us in many ways for many years. I (Richard) served my first mission here, several of our kids studied here and two started their careers here.
During my mission, there was only one LDS chapel in Manhattan, and it was a converted Jewish synagogue on West 81st Street, where we met without a choir but with a chamber music group composed of Julliard students who had joined the church. The Upper West Side was a dangerous place in those days. One Sunday morning, a brother got stabbed on his way to priesthood meeting, and we missionaries were glad for the flannel boards we carried under our arms in long black cases, which some mistook for firearms and thus left us alone.
We had a "Mormon Pavilion" at the New York World's Fair out on Long Island at Flushing Meadows, now the site of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament and of the Mets baseball park.
It may have been the biggest World's Fair in history, and tens of thousands came through the gates every day to look at exhibitions by big companies, various states of the Union and several religious denominations. Our church pavilion had a fa?de of the Salt Lake Temple and inside consisted of a long hall that connected two large, circular rooms, one with Thorvaldsen's large Christus statue signifying the Resurrection and the ancient Church of Jesus Christ; and the other with a diorama of Joseph Smith's First Vision, signifying the Restoration and the modern church of the latter days. The connecting hallway told the story of the Apostasy through large paintings (which now reside, with the Christus, at the Salt Lake Temple visitors center). Just off the hallway was a theater that showed the film "Man's Search for Happiness," a representation of the plan of salvation.
It was a wonderful place to do missionary work, ready-made groups of curious people from all over the world lined up to be instructed and guided through the displays.
Directly across the walkway in front of this Mormon Pavilion was the Vatican Pavilion, the official exhibition of the Roman Catholic Church that featured, borrowed from the Vatican, the incomparable Pieta, Michelangelo's masterpiece of Mary holding the crucified Lord. The first time I saw it, it seemed that the white marble came alive, its blue veins becoming the veins of Mary and Jesus.
The Vatican Pavilion was manned by older men, priests of the Catholic Church who often commented on how remarkable they thought it was that our church could get young people like us to be guides and to operate our pavilion. Several had asked me how much we were paid and how we were recruited.
Late one evening, when my companion and I had the responsibility for closing up the pavilion for the night, and when we were cleaning up in the Joseph Smith room, thinking we were alone in the building, I looked down the long hallway and saw a solitary figure, dressed in black, standing in front of the Christus. As I approached him to tell him that we were closing, I noticed that his shoulders were shuddering and realized that he was crying. I gently put my hand on his shoulder and he turned toward me, revealing his priest's collar.
I asked if anything was wrong, and he answered with words that I have never forgotten.
"No, it's just that I was thinking … we have the dead Christ, and you have the risen Lord."
In that moment, it was clear to me that he was speaking of more than the two statues, and I left the fairgrounds that night more grateful than I had ever been for the vibrancy of the restored and living church to which I belonged.
Of all the things that we can teach our children, perhaps none is more important than the resurrected reality of Christ and his once here, then lost and finally restored church.
Richard and Linda Eyre are the founders of Joyschools.com and New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.valuesparenting.com, or read Linda's blog at www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html. Their three latest books are "The Entitlement Trap," "5 Spiritual Solutions" and "The Three Deceivers." Listen to their weekly radio show on Mondays at 4:30 at www.byuradio.org.
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