By Laurence Furr
Thursday, June 14, marks the first of eight performances of the Mormon Miracle Pageant held annually at the foot of the Manti Temple Hill.
The pageant tells the historically-based, yet fictional, story of the affluent LDS Henshaw family, who left New England to head west with the Mormon pioneers.
Throughout their trip, flashbacks depict scenes from the Book of Mormon and of the restoration, including a new scene of Christ visiting the Americas.
Emma Lou Keller, who lives directly across the street from the Manti temple, describes the pageant as “glorious, wonderful and awesome.”
“If you have a testimony at all of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is surely inspiring and you love it,” she said.
Since the pageant began, Keller has been every year, watching it evolve into its present form.
So has Helen Dyreng.
Thirty-five years ago, Dyreng and her husband were asked by their Stake presidency to organize a musical rendition of Ephraim resident Grace Johnson”s short story “The Mormon Miracle.”
The first performance was in conjunction with Pioneer Day and was held in the rodeo arena of the Manti fairgrounds, Dyreng said.
“It was all pretty homemade, but it carried a beautiful spirit with it,” she said.
Angel wings were constructed from plywood, lighting was reflected through gallon cans and microphones were borrowed from the square dance caller, Dyreng recalls.
The night of the performance arrived and it began to rain on the 50-person orchestra and choir of nearly 200.
“It started to sprinkle and the musicians started to put their instruments away,” she said.
Dyreng said the stake president offered a prayer, asking the Lord to stay the rain clouds.
“And He did. It rained to the north, south, east and west, but not here in Manti,” she said. “It was one of the first miracles of the pageant.”
Doug Barton, the first technical director for the pageant, also recalls those days.
“We borrowed the lighting from local high schools and Snow College, and BYU did all of the sound,” he said.
Today Barton plays a smaller roll in the pageant because the Church Pageant Department now handles the production.
“They”ll do this pageant and then they”ll be on the road to New York for the Hill Cumorah,” he said.
While the Hill Cumorah Pageant still reigns as the largest church pageant, Barton said he believes the Manti pageant is still the most widely attended.
Dyreng calls her 35 years of involvement with the pageant a “faith-promoting experience.”
“It”s a true picture of what a little community can do when they all come together to get something done,” she said.
The Mormon Miracle Pageant runs June 14-16 and 19-23, beginning at each night 9:30.
Admission is free and gates open at 6 p.m., with turkey dinner served from 5 to 8 p.m.