When gas at $3.50 a gallon and finances tight, is it still worth driving hundreds of miles to take in a short theatrical production about the Book of Mormon — and not the one that won Tony Awards?
The Hill Cumorah Pageant provides a unique experience for people who have been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints their entire lives, recent converts to the LDS Church and those who just want to know more about the Mormon faith. I believe everyone should see it at least once — although once may not be enough.
I remember watching the Hill Cumorah Pageant as a child and as a teenager. I have returned a few times in the eight years since my mission. Each visit offered a sacred and unique experience that was worth traveling 20 hours for the round trip.
The outdoor pageant is performed on seven nights every July. A cast of more than 650 actors enacts stories from The Book of Mormon. The show lasts a little more than an hour, telling stories such as Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, Abinadi’s preaching to King Noah and Jesus Christ’s ministry in the Americas.
Aside from the pageant, LDS Church history sites provide great insight into the restoration. Sites include the Grandin Printing Shop, where the first Book of Mormon was printed; the Whitmer farm, where the restored church was organized; and the Sacred Grove, where you can reverently walk in the woods where young Joseph Smith first encountered a heavenly vision.
In the summer of 2008, I had planned a trip to the pageant with several friends. Unfortunately, all my friends backed out except one.
With gas prices about $4 per gallon, we thought about canceling the trip. However, I knew that the pageant would be a good spiritual experience for my friend, so we went. The pageant helped him understand and get excited about the Book of Mormon. The church history sites invited the spirit and gave both of us a greater appreciation of the restoration of the gospel.
About one year later, my young single adult group went to the pageant and toured the same historical sites. That was my third year in a row in Palmyra, and the presentations at each site change very little, if any, from year to year. But I also can say that it is always a new and stronger experience with the spirit.
Last week, my friends Jared and Jennifer Wight took their three children, all under eight, on a vacation that included the New York church history sites and the Hill Cumorah Pageant. It was a stressful trip at times. But it all became worth it when Jared took 7-year-old RJ into the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center. RJ said, “Dad, I really think The Book of Mormon is a special book.”
“That made the trip for me, to know that it was a good experience for him and obviously made an impression on him,” Jared told me.
It might require a good deal of traveling, but the Hill Cumorah Pageant is not to be missed — and will not be forgotten.
Bryan Gentry is a graduate of Southern Virginia University. He writes for a private college in Lynchburg, Va., and provides freelance writing and web design services. His under-construction website is www.bryangentry.us.