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Church History Museum reopens after year of renovation

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Church History Museum has been officially reopened.

With a small gathering looking on, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cut the ribbon Tuesday afternoon, reopening the museum after an extensive, one-year renovation.

"We've winced along with other visitors and especially children who haven't been able to come to this facility for a calendar year now," Elder Holland said. "We're very grateful for the work that has gone into this museum and new exhibits. We're thrilled to realize that now, quite literally, thousands will be able to come and enjoy this and get a view of our collective past."

Elder Quentin L. Cook, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, accompanied Elder Holland at the ribbon-cutting. The two apostles are advisers to the Church History Department. Elder Steven E. Snow, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the church's historian and recorder, was also in attendance, along with other church leaders and members of the Church History Department.

Preserving the past has always been an important part of the LDS Church, Elder Holland said in remarks addressed to the gathering. A museum of church history was planned as early as 1843 in Nauvoo, Illinois. This Church History Museum in Salt Lake City was dedicated and opened in 1984.

Plans for a new interior with interactive exhibits started in 2011, according to Maryanne Stewart Andrus, the museum's manager of exhibitions and programs. She said there existed a desire to appeal to a younger audience with "stories that make a difference," while continuing to display the church's treasured artifacts and objects. Those planning the new design also wanted to find a way to spark conversations between parents and children, Andrus said.

With those ideas in mind, the museum’s new permanent exhibit, "The Heavens Are Opened," walks visitors through the early chapters and foundational events of LDS Church history, from Joseph Smith's First Vision through the Nauvoo era (1820-1846), with a combination of art, artifacts and cutting-edge technology.

For example, after examining early Book of Mormon-related documents and images of a seer stone, visitors can sit at a small desk and use modern technology to attempt to be a scribe.

Touch a large interactive screen and learn about the early missionary travels of Wilford Woodruff in the United States, Parley P. Pratt in Canada and Heber C. Kimball in England.

There are large displays of the Newel K. Whitney store and the Kirtland Temple.

Visitors can stand in a replica of the Liberty Jail and get a sense of the space Joseph and other church leaders lived in during a harsh and frigid winter.

See pistols and revolvers used at Carthage Jail, Hyrum Smith's clothing, John Taylor's pocket watch and a large mural depicting Joseph Smith's martyrdom.

One part features the contributions of women in church history and the organization of the Relief Society, which is now considered one of the largest women’s organizations in the world.

"Every new generation asks different questions of our history,” said Reid Neilson, assistant church historian and recorder and managing director of the Church History Department. "The goal of the Church History Museum is to build the faith of the next generation of Latter-day Saints and to help others outside of our faith understand our history."

The highlight of the whole place, Elder Holland said, is a uniquely designed, 220-degree theater that allows visitors to see and feel as if they were in the Sacred Grove watching the First Vision unfold in a new, 10-minute film. The short movie blends all of Joseph's accounts of seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ into one account, and is considered the signature piece of the exhibit.

When Elder Holland's children and grandchildren toured the exhibit, they came away having had a spiritual experience, the apostle said, which is the hope for each visitor. Their favorite part was the film of the First Vision, he said.

"The highpoint for the whole family was the spiritual impact of that new film and theater showing the Prophet Joseph," Elder Holland said.

The Church History Museum is free and open to the public starting Wednesday at 9 a.m. Regular hours include Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum will be closed Sundays. For more information, visit history.lds.org/museum.

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