Monday, July 9, 2012

Hill Cumorah Pageant

          As a child, my family and I used to attend the Hill Cumorah pageant every year, which is a large theatrical production put on every year in the birthplace of the Mormon religion, Palmyra, New York.  The pageant is a dramatic re-enactment of the Book of Mormon.  The pageant was a festive affair -- my family and I packed snacks and piled into our rickety blue station wagon for the two-hour trip to Palmyra.  We sat on the hill, waiting for the show to start.  When darkness fell and the hill lit up, I sat in wonder at the story that un-folded before my eyes.  All of the Book of Mormon stories I learned about in Sunday School were appearing right before my eyes, larger than life.  Lehi, being ordered to leave Jerusalem.  The rift between Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel.  Jesus, coming to the Americas after his resurrection to preach the Gospel.  A dying Moroni, burying the gold plates in the very spot that we were sitting in, which was later found and translated by the prophet Joseph Smith.  I was enthralled by the re-enactment of the stories my family held so dear.  
          One year, when I was five or six, I noticed some people standing at the periphery of the show, holding up sheets of paper.  The pageant had just ended and we were heading back to the car.  I was sleepy -- the time was hours past my normal bed-time.  My family looked at these people askance, while my father warned us in the strongest of terms not to accept anything from them or to engage them in conversation.  These people seemed so out-of-place, standing mute with their sheets of printed paper while pageant-goers streamed past them.  I had been warned that Satan was trying his hardest to tear the Church apart with lies and deceptions.  These people seemed to be proof of what the leaders had been saying.  My little-girl mind just knew that whatever was printed on those sheets of papers would be vile untruths.  And maybe they were untruths.  Or perhaps they weren’t.  Either way, my family and I refused to find out.  And perhaps that was for the best -- any attempts to engage the protesters would have lead to anger and turmoil during a peaceful family outing.  
          That night, as my father drove us home, I fell asleep in the backseat snuggled up against my siblings.  The unsettling hum of the speeding car combined with the eerie muteness of the protesters to give me uneasy dreams about a world stacked against my family.  


  1. I was only there once, as an eleven year-old. (Living in Oregon it was a much longer drive, after the flight, etc.) and while I thought the pageant was great I think maybe my memories are a little different.

    1) My father, whose only real claim to fame is that he and his twin brother played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, was doing his best to make sure NO ONE missed who he "was.". (or at least had been 30+ years earlier when his biggest acting skill was clapping)

    2) My youngest sister was still nursing. Public nursing was no big deal in Oregon. Apparently in Upstate New York it was a horrendous crime, punishable by being sent to the very hot rental van so that a baby can eat.

    3) While there were lots of people moving around, we never found a place to refill out water bottles. (This was another thing that was unimaginable at a large park or other outdoor space in Oregon.) When my father left to get more bottled water he came back with a cooler full of ice and sodas too, which he sold to other people for $1.00 each. (We were very embarrassed because we knew they didn't cost more than a quarter, and making money at a church event just felt wrong, except to my father.)

    4). When you have spent the entire afternoon "soaking up the ambience," you also soak up enough sun for a fantastic sunburn.

    5) We took the flyers, which had an invitation to a local church and a bunch of scriptures about only needing the bible. I remember thinking it was nice that they wanted to learn about the Book of Mormon, by coming to the pageant, and wanted us to learn about them by coming to their church. We didn't go, since we already had other plans, but it was nice of them to invite us. :-)

    Maybe next time we should go together, just with enough water bottles and a copy of NY law that says breast feeding in public is legal. We can leave both of our dads at home and take the papers from the nice people so they can smile back when we smile at them.

  2. Oh no! That sounds exhausting and traumatic. And I'm glad to hear the flyers were nice - I always did wonder about what was contained in them. And there was such fear in my mind surrounding the very fact of those people - I'm glad you helped me resolve one of my childhood memories in a good fashion.

    Sounds like a plan! Although we may not be able to pull the logistics off any time soon. :(

  3. I have a feeling that sometime in the next 25-30 years we should be able to come up with a plan that doesn't involve great-grandchildren pushing us in wheelchairs and needing to yell to hear each other. Lol

    I don't know if the people were scarier when you went. They weren't super friendly, but they did smile (and to be honest they seemed more relieved that they could go once they got rid of their papers) and they obviously thought it was funny to have each of us kids politely take a paper and say "Thank You." Being polite seems to stick, I guess.

    1. We can be grouchy people grumbling about "kids these days!".

  4. That's an interesting story, PMG! I wonder if anyone else in your family felt as besieged by the people handing out flyers as you seemed to have felt?

    By the way, do you recall whether anyone was taking the flyers? Or was the whole crowd ignoring those people?

    1. I was pretty little so my memory is pretty fragmented. But I don't remember seeing anyone take a pamphlet. But it was a situation where my family averted their eyes and walked away as quickly as possible. I'm pretty sure my father felt besieged. If you look at Julia's first comment, her family did take the flyers.

  5. Ahhh, the Pageant. We went once when I was twelve or thirteen. Strange experience fraught with family drama, but my most vivid LDS travel memory is of the time I went to General Conference in Salt Lake with my mother and stepfather. The masses of protestors out front really frightened me--they still kind of do, many years later. That was the first time I had been exposed to any kind of really virulent hatred.

  6. I haven't ever been to General Conference. The closest thing to real hatred I was close to was when the Portland Temple was dedicated there were a bunch of protesters that obviously ex-members, since they were in the full temple clothes including their robes and aprons. I remember feeling sorry for them because none of them seemed happy. They weren't handing out pamphlets, they were just screaming obscenities and telling us we were all damned. I was in primary, and mostly felt sad that they were so mad at me, and I hadn't even met them.
    It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood exactly what they were wearing. I certainly understand people who have had bad, painful or even abusive situations deciding to leave the church, either before or after going to the temple. I understand those that choose a different path that is right for them, and wanting to talk about their experiences as members and after they left. I also can see the point of view of people from other churches who truly believe LDS members are going to hell and want to "save" them.

    I guess what has always baffled me is ex-members who never seem to want to stop "picking fights" with the church. I don't mean people who want to share stories and frustrations and get support from other people. I don't mean people who have been abused in some way and sue the church or church leaders they believe contributed to their abuse. I mean people like my father, who "believe the church is true," except that they know better than the prophets, or bishops or whoever, what God wants to have done. So, if they "know" the extra part that will make it better, why not go start their own church and find a way to make that their happiness?

    I guess what my confusion boils down to is: Why would anyone choose to be miserable and hateful and filled with spite, when they could be spending that energy finding ways to be happy and healthy? I don't think they have to be LDS to do it, I guess I just think they should be looking for happy instead of mad. Does that make sense to anyone else?

    1. That makes a lot of sense. And although I can have the tendency of veering too much towards at anger at times, I always try and remind myself to see the issue in a larger picture. And see things from other people's perspective.

    2. "I guess what my confusion boils down to is: Why would anyone choose to be miserable and hateful and filled with spite, when they could be spending that energy finding ways to be happy and healthy?"

      Same could be asked of those who protest outside of abortion clinics*, or of women who participate in protests over rape.

      In Payback, Dr David P. Barash (psychologist and eveolutionary biologist) lays out a interesting hypothisis that retaliation has biological and psycological rewards.

      *I nkew a guy who protested outside of abortion clinics. The thing I didnt understand was he was a calvinist. And he never could articulate why he bothered to protests he he truly belived everything was foreordained by god

    3. I understand the connection to abortion clinic protesting, since it is individuals making choices about their lives, and either there will be no consequences, or those consequences will be between the woman and her God.

      I am confused why you would equate religious choices and choosing happiness in whatever choices are right for them, and rape.

      What makes you equate religious choices and rape? Do you see someone being raped as a choice made by the person being raped? Do you rape as morally neutral?

  7. That's the hill where Joseph Smith reached into the ground and pulled out those golden plates! Oh yeah!

  8. Later in life, did you ever learn what the demonstrators were protesting about? Were they ex-Mormons, or some group that felt the LDS had treated them unfairly?

    1. I don't know for certain but my hunch is that they were from different denominations and trying to point out issues with Mormonism.

    2. I can only speak to one day, in one year, over twenty years ago.

      The handouts we were given had several scriptures that were about only needing the bible. There were a coouple of crosses in the corners. The bottom half had information about what a good thing their church was, their address and times they had their services.

      The only two other things that stick out in my mind was that I had to ask my mom what NIV meant, and that I didn't know why there was such a big cross on the picture of their church that was next to their schedule. I had seen crosses inside a lot of the churches of my friends, but not where the cross on top was as big as the church. (Since it was a pen and ink drawing, I am pretty sure that it was not what the church really looked like, but my literal brain at the time was confused.)

  9. I am so EXCITED!! I have an update on who the people are who stand at the Hill Cumorah pageant and hand out papers AND all the Fab and Drab costumes and goings on this year. I know, I know, I am toooooooo awesome for words!!

    You have to go pretty far down to find the two people with signs, but they looked pretty much like the ones I saw when were there over 25 years ago, although I think they have changed the color of the t-shirts, and maybe even the color of the lettering. (I seem to remember white with red lettering, but apparently they like to mix things up a bit.)

    Also vrey interesting, they had fewer people protesting because they had to split up the group to have some people to protest at the pageant and some to protest a gay pride parade on the same day.

    If they had coordinated better I bet they could have gotten some LDS members of the church to go protest at the gay pride rally, and then they would have had the full compliment there to protest the Pageant. Sheesh, these upstate New York types really need to learn to work together!! ;-)

    ;-) Julia

    1. I think the link is funny too. Does that mean that the same people are mad about someone having a gay rainbow parade and a play?

      Maybe I just don't understand. Is the pageant very controversial? When I looked it up on Wikipedia it said it was an outdoor play about the Book of Mormon. I thought when you were talking about a pageant that it was like Miss America, but for Mormons. I thought maybe the people were upset that only Mormons could be part of the pageant and so they wanted people to know about their church too.

      I don't get all the costume stuff for the pictures and why some are better than others, but it says it is about the Book of Mormon, so it might be that I just don't know the stories the costumes go with. It is a play though, right? The costumes aren't a part of a talent competition?

      I guess I should have asked sooner, but since I don't like beauty pageants I thought I would be nice and not say anything about it being weird for a church to have one. Julia has to get better soon so I can ask her about all the things I don't know what they are. Thanks for being nice.


    2. Hi Tina,

      So the pageant is a pretty family-oriented event - I loved going as a kid. Which is why the protesters seemed so out-of-place. And I don't think that was an appropriate time/approach for protesting, as the pageant was inherently peaceful. It did highlight some of the unique stories of Mormonism but overall, it was just a big colorful play. The protesters of Prop 8 I understood - Prop 8 hurt a lot of people - but these protesters I didn't.

      All the best,

    3. OMG Tina! ROTFL

      So you thought it was a beauty pageant? Given my refusal to wear anything that showed my shoulders, during the school talent show, I can't help but wonder what the hell you thought a Mormom Beauty Pageant would be. (okay, I really can't stop giggling.)

      I am pretty sure your flight already left, but when you get back we can laugh until we cry together. It was very kind of you not to tell everyone that churches shouldn't have beauty pageants. (now I am laughing again. I guess it is good I am just up to take meds and change dressings and go back to sleep.)


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