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The gospel of the great outdoors: Mormon pageants aren't the only ones looking for a moment

By Samantha Strong Murphey

for the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 17 2012 1:52 p.m. MDT

The production company is about the people, too. It organized Club Forty 31, a companion youth center, and Real Life Church, a nondenominational congregation, to reach out to young people. More than half of the cast and crew are under the age of 20.

The cast of the Hill Cumorah Pageant is also filled with young people. This year, the pageant accepted 800 of 2,500 applicants, most of them in family groups. With attrition, the final cast of 760 included families from United Arab Emirates, Japan and Kazakhstan — and the Stewart family from Lethbridge, Canada.

"I had seen the pageant as a youth and decided that I wanted to do it with my family someday," said Karri Stewart, mother of four. "It was kind of a bucket-list item."

Stewart, along with her husband, Dave, and their children, lived in dorms with the other cast members, experiencing an efficient, effulgent week of casting, crash-course rehearsals, missionary training sessions, spiritually uplifting devotionals and recreation.

Sara, age 12, survived long hours of staggering heat in her costume and found that participating in the play enhanced her personal belief in the Book of Mormon, the story the pageant depicts.

As Sara and the other members of Christianity's rising generation grow up and decide what level of commitment they want in their religious life, pageantry's place in their worship will continue to evolve. But for now, its effect is simple.

"In the scriptures, they don't use the same words we do, so it's kind of hard to understand," she said. "Seeing the scenes performed made it more real. When I saw it, I could understand it better."

A graduate of Brigham Young University's communications department and former editor at Utah Valley Magazine, Samantha Strong Murphey now works as a freelance writer based in Atlanta.