This article is a compilation of personal experiences, interviews and web postings contributed by Juliet Ashwell, Alan Duvall, Sean Roberts and Peter Trebilcock.
“I have to come back. I have to come back.” At the conclusion of the night’s performance, John, who had been less committed to his faith for the past 20 years, stood in front of the stage and stared at the platform recently filled with song, dance and spirit. A friend came to his side and asked if everything was all right. Still staring at the stage he simply repeated, “I have to come back.”
During his August 2013 visit to the first-ever British Pageant, entitled “Truth Will Prevail”, Elder Russell M. Nelson blessed its participants and, through them, their arriving audience. His blessing was to see near-term realization and still promises long-term fulfillment. Elder Nelson blessed that “your families will be strengthened in the gospel through your service. I bless you that you will be a beacon to your contacts. I bless you with health and healing.”
In many cases Elder Nelson’s blessing would see immediate effect in the lives of the 17,000 attendees, actors and choir who enjoyed this celebration of the beginnings of the Church in the British Isles.
Participating in the Pageant awakened the missionary spirit in those who attended as well as those who participated. “I couldn’t sleep after watching the Pageant. I wanted to go knocking on doors and share the gospel with those who don’t know it but my husband convinced me that 11:30 p.m. was not the time to do so.” Cast member, Zoe Page sees things very differently now. She says, “I have been changed. I feel as though I have been pole-vaulted over whatever barriers were there and onto my next level of progression. I have no idea what this new level of gospel living will bring, but I am determined not to slip back. I have a new awareness of the needs of others and how I can help.” Alan Cotterill who came from Bournemouth to sing in the choir said that his appetite for missionary work has been renewed. “I just hope I can carry this missionary spirit back into my ward and do great things.”
Richard and Linda Cook invited nine friends and neighbors to the Pageant. Five accepted and brought their families with them. The Cooks feel a renewed urgency and enthusiasm for sharing the gospel and are keen to share it with everyone they meet.
The Evans family wanted to participate in the Pageant to provide a memorable experience for their children. Mother Louise knew the Pageant was having an impact when her four year old asked after exiting one of the scenes, “Mummy when am I getting baptized?”
Some actors were direct descendants of those they depicted as cast members. Jared Cowley played one of the missionaries who converted his family which made his pageant experience deeply personal and moving. Kevin Bentley who is a descendant of original Preston England converts said, “I realize this it’s nothing to be proud of unless I take from this pageant something that will reignite me and help me truly build on what these great apostles did back in 1837. Hopefully, I can go back and make my heritage as a Prestonian count by building the ward from within and then extending out to invite others to come unto Christ.”
Even before opening night Pageant President, Stephen Kerr, reported having received emails from people who had come to see the dress rehearsal the night before and had decided they needed to return to the Church. One less active brother told Pageant board member, Sean Roberts, after the performance that he would be returning to full fellowship. This brother returned the next evening with his six children in tow to ensure that they would each feel what he had felt the previous night. “The joy on this brother’s face was a blessing to behold and I marveled at the influence that the spirit accompanying the Pageant had upon this beautiful family,” reported Brother Roberts.
Elder Conner Hawks of the England Manchester Mission shared the experience of Jean, a less active member, who enjoyed the Pageant and felt the Spirit’s influence on her. She was moved by the sacrifice early converts made to keep their covenants and live the gospel standard and touched by the hardships they were willing to endure for the cause of truth. This inspired her to be and do more than she was then doing and to be more of the true Latter-day Saint. She has now returned to activity in the Church, received a calling (regular responsibility), spoken in sacrament meeting and is now preparing to receive her Patriarchal Blessing (a formal blessing from a specially called priesthood leader in her congregation).
Cast and crew members alike took the opportunity to bear testimony to those not of their faith. While cleaning up after a performance, Ashley Matteson greeted a family who had recently moved to Manchester from Mexico City, Mexico. He told them of a living prophet and modern revelation. This family is now being taught by the full-time missionaries.
The father of a family from St. Helens, who was not a member, found himself deeply moved by the performance. He attended Church the next Sunday with his family and asked the bishop if the missionaries could come to their home to teach him. He especially wanted to know how they could be an eternal family. A few weeks later this father was baptized and the family is now preparing to go to the temple to participate in an ordinance (or sacrament) that will bind their family together not only for this life but eternity as well.
After one night’s performance a choir member noticed a man and his son standing and looking up at the Preston Temple. When asked how he liked the performance, the man responded, while pointing at the temple, “I can be there in a year, right?” This man had lost his wife a year earlier and, though not a member, was touched and inspired by the Pageant message of forever families.
Lives Blessed, Lives Changed
On a Saturday afternoon in early August 2013 a British Pageant cast member testimony meeting saw tears shed and testimonies born of changed lives, gratitude for blessings and a conviction that the people depicted in the Pageant story were still close by and helping the Pageant be a success. This is the message and story of the British Pageant and its effect on the lives of those connected with it. It is a story that is still being written as the spirit of the British Pageant lives on in the hearts of a people who will never be the same for having been touched by its power.