SALT LAKE CITY — In 2013, more than 1,000 members the LDS Church in the United Kingdom volunteered in the British Pageant, billed as a once-in-a-lifetime event, the first official Mormon pageant held outside the United States.
The event was a major success, but afterward church members tore down the temporary theater and disposed of the set and the costumes.
On Tuesday, back by popular demand, the British Pageant returned, retelling the story of the migration of thousands of Mormon converts from the British Isles to the United States in the mid-1800s as well as stories of sacrifice and martyrdom that produced the first English translation of the Bible.
And on Thursday, a special visitor joined more than 1,500 spectators for a performance of "Truth Will Prevail" in a new temporary theater on the grounds of the faith's Preston Temple in Chorley, England. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the pageant recalled the rich legacy of music dating back to the Mormon pioneers.
"Even on the Plains," he said in a news release, "when they were moving across in those very difficult times with their wagons and their handcarts, they would find themselves singing, oftentimes dancing in order to try to keep their spirits up and to feel the joy and the power that comes from music and song and socialization."
The pageant is a massive undertaking that draws volunteer cast and crew from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. More than 300 people worked for six months to choreograph, learn lines, build sets and craft costumes. More than 2,000 Mormons are involved overall, which means pageant participation surpasses 1 percent of the 185,000 church members in the United Kingdom.
The pageant's stories include the legendary Mormon missionary Captain Dan Jones of Wales, who became a great friend of Joseph Smith's and was with him the night before he died. Jones is credited as being responsible for the foundation of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Elder Ballard has deep roots in England. His grandfather, Henry Ballard, joined the church in England. Elder Ballard served an LDS mission throughout the United Kingdom from 1948 to 1950, serving as a first counselor in the presidency of the British Mission and as the president of the Nottingham District.
"Every chance I get to come to England, I feel like I'm coming home," he said.
In the past, he has said that England means everything to the Ballard family. At the pageant, he said England meant just as much to the LDS Church.
"I think anybody who reads the history of the contribution the British Isles made, really in many ways saving the church, you almost stand in awe. At least I do."
Last month, Elder Ballard told the Deseret News that "the believing blood that came out of the British Isles was a very, very important part of the restoration."
"… Out of England came great power and great leadership," he added. "Those pioneers … raised up a posterity that go out and cover the world as full-time missionaries. … It all came from that tremendous harvest of those that came in from England and other parts of the world. It’s a marvelous story."
Elder Patrick Kearon, a Brit and a member of the church's presidency of the Seventy who just completed service as the church's Europe Area President, said the early Mormons from the United Kingdom continue to have an impact today.
"They set off to build temples in Kirtland and Nauvoo and beyond," he said. "They understood that there was more to come under the direction of the Prophet Joseph in the restoration and the foundation of the church, and they knew they had to go there to become a part of it and be part of the temple-building people that we've become, and to now see their descendency, more than 150 temples over the whole globe and growing."
Elder Kearon said his fellow Brits loved creating the pageant a second time.
"They approach it with a sense of anticipation and some anxiety," he said, "but once they're involved, they love it, they're engaged in it, there's a sense of excitement that grows and it touches everybody involved."
The church's new Europe Area President, Elder Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy, attended Wednesday's performance with Elder Ballard and Elder Kearon.
"It was just fantastic," Elder Johnson said.
The Preston Temple, located in northern England, is one of two LDS temples in the United Kingdom. The cast and crew will stage 13 performances over two weeks through Aug. 12. Visit ldsbritishpageant.co.uk for more details.