On Aug. 4-6, youths in the Huntington Beach California Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in a youth conference they will not soon forget. During the 3-day conference, the youth learned from what one leader called a "giant object lesson": a life-size replica of the Tabernacle of Moses that the ancient Israelites used for worship.

The replica, which was constructed on land within the Murrieta California Stake boundaries, drew the attention of the community and after the youth conference was over, the doors of the tabernacle were opened to the public. During the course of four days, Aug. 8-11, over 3,000 people were taken on 45-minute guided tours by members of the Murrieta California Stake.

Plans to make the massive structure began in 2015, according to Mal Richardson, the stake Young Men president for the Huntington Beach California Stake. The idea originally came from the Meridian North Idaho Stake that built a full-size tabernacle replica for a Young Men camp to learn about the Aaronic Priesthood.

The leaders in California decided to turn their tabernacle camp into a stakewide youth conference. So with the help of Donald W. Parry, professor of Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls at Brigham Young University, and Ed Hoke, a member of the Huntington Beach Stake and retired contractor, construction began.

Members of the Murrieta Stake had purchased 20 acres of land that the tabernacle was constructed on. According to Richardson, the design and construction of the tabernacle took thousands of man-hours, but as they began planning they found, “that there was an incredible power in the symbolism” of the tabernacle.

While craftsmen from the stake were designing and constructing the structure, the youths who would attend the conference were attending preparatory classes that were led by their peers on the stake youth committee.

Then during the camp, the youths continued to learn about the symbolism in the tabernacle and how it all points to Jesus Christ and his Atonement. It is “a giant object lesson,” said Richardson, who said the youths were taught that while the replica itself was not sacred, the lessons that they were taught there were very sacred.

The teenagers were divided into 12 “tribes” and were led to the tabernacle by their tribe leaders, who also served as the youth committee leaders. While at the tabernacle they camped around the structure, grouped in their tribes, in a way reminiscent of the ancient Israelites. They also toured the tabernacle and viewed the results that endless hours of prayer, study and work had created, including the outer court, the altar of sacrifice, the holy place and the holy of holies.

Another lesson that was taught was on the symbolism behind the olive press and the word “Gethsemane.” Youths were able to participate in making olive oil on a press that was made for the conference. Brad Ward, second counselor in the stake presidency, said that while the lesson on the olive press had been planned to be taught, the object lesson and the press were not on the actual schedule. The night before the olive oil lesson was to take place, a leader constructed the press from materials on the property.

“I saw the olive press in use,” Ward said. “And I watched the youth. There was just a reverence there and a deepened understanding of the Atonement.”

Richardson called the replica a “serious structure.” It is so large that it requires multiple custom sheds to store and hours to reconstruct.

“I am glad we are not lugging it around the desert for 40 years,” Ward laughed.

With the help of Parry, those in charge of construction and design tried to adhere to what is described in the book of Exodus and in modern scripture. It had the altar of sacrifice, a seven-branched menorah, the laver and the table of shewbread, all in an effort to recreate the original. The replica even included a giant spotlight that was symbolic of the pillar of fire that watched over the Israelites by night (Exodus 13:21).

“The artisans and craftspersons from the Huntington Beach Stake who built the full-sized replica of the Tabernacle of Moses did a superb job,” said Parry. “They used the scriptural texts of the Old Testament, chiefly the Tabernacle texts (Exodus 26-27, 30-31, 33, 36-38 and 40) as they moved forward and built the Tabernacle, its courtyard, and all of its furniture and appurtenances.”

During construction, Richardson said that there were often roadblocks that seemed insurmountable. For example, he said that the craftsmen had several cases where a lack of information on an element of the tabernacle inhibited their progress. While much of the structure is described in detail, many elements are not and it was only with study, prayer and fasting that the roadblocks were removed, said Richardson.

Parry said that all of the components were “carefully constructed according to these Exodus texts,” but that there were some important differences. “For example,” he said, “rather than use pure gold for some of the Tabernacle’s objects and furniture these modern workers utilized other items as substitutes.”

Richardson said that the youths stepped up and enjoyed the experience, saying that they were “hungry to understand” the symbolism in the structure and how it points to Christ. “The biggest takeaway,” he said was, “when we trust the spiritual maturity of the youth of the church, they are up to the task.”

Ward, who said he has been a part of youth activities for over 30 years, said that it was one of the most impactful youth experiences he has ever participated in. “It was a youth conference that was completely focused on doctrine in a manner that the kids couldn’t get enough of,” he said.

“Short of viewing the actual Tabernacle of Moses … and short of possessing actual blueprints of this sacred structure, these artisans and craftspersons did a remarkable work,” Parry said. “The final product provides a significant view of what the ancient Tabernacle must have looked like.”

Between the youth conference and the public tours, over 3,500 people saw and learned about the replica.

The tabernacle is currently in storage, but for a week in November it will be open to the public again. The replica will be reconstructed at one of the meetinghouses in the Huntington Beach Stake and open for 30-minute tours from Nov. 8-12.