CEDAR CITY, Utah
In 1851, Joel H. Johnson was one of the original Saints sent by Brigham Young to travel to Iron County in southern Utah. He founded what is now Enoch, Utah, about six miles away from Cedar City in the northeast of the Cedar Valley. Almost two years later, in the midst of the rigors of establishing a settlement in a harsh environment, he penned the words:
“High on the Mountain Top
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations, now look up;
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land,
On Zion’s mount behold it stand!” (“High on the Mountain Top,” Hymns, No. 5).
The words of that beloved hymn were the opening strains for the youth cultural event celebrating the completion of a temple in the valley where it was written.
The new Cedar City Utah Temple — like the words of the hymn — sits high atop a hill. At night, it shines like a lighthouse across the Cedar Valley, which inspired in part the title of Saturday’s event, “A Light on a Hill, Iron in Our Will,” explained the program’s director and producer Michael Bahr.
The program featured songs and choreography paying homage to the area’s rich heritage and culture while striving to connect the youth to the new temple. More than 3,700 youth from 14 stakes gathered to the America First Event Center on the Southern Utah University campus to participate on Dec. 9.
The youth provided a warm welcome to President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other visiting Church leaders and their wives. Also in attendance were Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Elder Joseph W. Sitati and Elder Larry Y. Wilson, all General Authority Seventies, in addition to Sister Patricia T. Holland, Sister Debbie J. Christensen, Sister Jane C. Curtis, Sister Gladys N. Sitati and Sister Lynda M. Wilson.
President Eyring promised the youth that participation in the cultural event “will stay in your memory like a light and will draw you back to the light of the temple time and time again.”
He encouraged the youth to record in their journals what they saw and felt during the evening. “That record will help you when you tell your children and your grandchildren what it meant to you to be a part of the celebration of the completion of a temple of God in Cedar City.”
The production developed several themes throughout the program, repeatedly using images of light, red rock, iron and the woven patterns of a quilt. Youth sang and danced to music from a combination of LDS and contemporary artists and two original songs composed by local Steve Meredith.
One of the beginning numbers highlighted the pathfinders, such as Father Dominguez and Father Escalante, who blazed the first trails through the rugged terrain, and then the Mormon pioneers who answered the call of a prophet to forge mines in the iron-rich mountains.
“Like those who answered the prophet’s call in the winter of 1850 to mine and forge iron, we today continue to forge the iron within ourselves,” said one of the narrators.
Other songs told the story of the Panguitch quilt walk that saved the lives of early starving settlers, as well as the founding of Southern Utah University and the importance of education in the area.
Pre-recorded video montages played throughout the roughly 60-minute production. The segments not only featured youth from stakes throughout the temple district, but also showcased the diverse and dramatic local landscape including the aspen trees, juniper bushes, columbine flowers, and the red rock hoodoos of Cedar Breaks.
“We realized the temple isn’t just for Cedar [City], but for all the stakes in the district,” Bahr said. “It was important to us to tell stories from the entire district.”
The program acknowledged the holiday season by explaining that another hymn often sung at Christmas — “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” (Hymns, No. 212) — was also written in the Cedar Valley by a pioneer who responded to Brigham Young’s call — John Menzies Macfarlane.
Youth rehearsed the music and dances in their individual wards and stakes for close to two months before the event. The logistics surrounding these events can be formidable. However, Bahr said he saw many daily, small miracles in every step of the planning process — from production to casting to feeding and transporting close to 4,000 youth.
“A cultural celebration is kind of like the world’s largest Primary program. Everyone brings their A-game — whatever that is,” he said. People love it because they see the kids enthusiastically participating and connecting to the theme. The same has been true for his involvement in the cultural celebration, he said.
“I’m really pleased with watching the youth connect and get involved.”
Brynlee Barrick, 14, said participating in the cultural celebration was fun. “There’s a lot of energy,” she said. “We’re excited for the temple. This is how we show how we feel about the temple.”
Melo Egerton, 16, said she made the goal to be more spiritual this year. Participating in the cultural event and all the practices has helped her to feel connected, she said, both with other youth and with her Heavenly Father.