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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The LDS Provo Tabernacle burns as fire fighters try and knock down the flames and hot spots in Provo, Utah, Dec. 17, 2010. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The word tabernacle originally referred to a temporary place of worship. But the tabernacles built buy the pioneers who first settled Utah's mountain valleys were built for the ages. It is hard to comprehend how those small, newly formed communities, made up of poor, displaced people, marshaled the physical capital and talent — let alone the time — to construct such distinctive landmarks. But the monumental pioneer tabernacles of Utah witness our forbearers' commitment to community.

For those who had gathered in the pews of the Provo Tabernacle to hear concerts or lectures, to see loved ones graduate or simply to worship, Friday morning's news of a devastating fire was heart wrenching.

For over a hundred years, the community had gathered beneath the Provo Tabernacle's high-pitched roof to be edified — not just from what was said or sung, but from the building's own distinctive sense of space made beautiful by the craftsmanship of masons, carpenters and glaziers, and made sacred by their sacrifice.

Although built to gather the entire community, the tabernacle's space was surprisingly intimate. The large balcony matched the raised podium and choir seats, bringing the entire audience close to speakers and musicians.

As fire consumed the tabernacle's intricate polished woodwork and its massive pipe organ, Utah Valley lost a vital part of its culture — an architectural gem that has hosted innumerable dignitaries, community leaders and musicians. Since it opened its doors in the 1890s, the Provo Tabernacle consistently elevated the culture of the entire community.

Now that the tabernacle molders, where can the community gather together in soft natural light like that which diffused through the tabernacle's stained glass windows? Where can an unaided voice reach an entire congregation? Where can congregational singing compete with a powerful pipe organ? These distinctively memorable elements once afforded by the tabernacle are hardly essential for life — but they were important for the culture of a distinctive community.

In its penurious early days, Provo came together as a community to build and furnish the tabernacle. We trust that the members of this now prosperous community can come together, heal from this loss and consider how they might appropriately match their forbearer's commitment to community and culture.