SALT LAKE CITY — The Hill Cumorah Pageant of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will cease its 81-year run after its 2020 season.
That announcement was issued Saturday, hours after the church issued a statement saying such pageants are now "discouraged."
The church said there will be changes to local celebrations, including pageants, explaining that "the goal of every activity in the church should be to increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to share his gospel message throughout the world.
"Local celebrations of culture and history may be appropriate," reads the official statement from the church. "Larger productions, such as pageants, are discouraged."
Pageant officials with the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti said Saturday they anticipate the shows will likely go on but with some changes. A church leader in Illinois said the Nauvoo-British Pageant will continue to be held as it has been. What will happen to the church's other four pageants — including two others in Utah — is not yet clear but will be decided after additional discussions.
According to one longtime pageant organizer, the events have attracted millions of attendees over the years.
Hill Cumorah Pageant President Neil Pitts said the staff of the Palmyra, New York, pageant is supportive of the decision to stop production after 2020.
“We had a wonderful run,” Pitts said in a statement. “Our church has asked us to focus more on the family, and this is certainly in line with that desire. We have had a wonderful 81 years and will focus on making the next two years an amazing experience for our cast, crew and audience.”
Pitts said right now, the focus of pageant officials is to communicate with regional and community partners and the pageant staff most affected by the announcement.
“We are sensitive to the fact that this will affect our wonderful community partners,” Pitts said. “We have been blessed by exceptional relationships with our friends in Manchester and Palmyra. We thank those communities for their years of generous support, and we will continue to work with them on future endeavors.”
Manti Utah Stake President Mark Olson said he believes there will be an effort to continue the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti beyond the performances scheduled for next summer. Olson said he learned at a meeting Saturday that the church will no longer be directly supporting the event in Manti after 2019.
"We’re going to continue to move forward through 2019 and probably make some adjustments in the way we … go about our production in advertising and casting and in delivering the pageant," President Olson said.
"There will be some modifications. We are currently planning further discussions with various local leaders, the pageant presidency and others," he said. "Those discussions will determine whether or not we will continue with the pageant after 2019."
Suzanne Hollist, of Oneonta, New York, told the Deseret News she and her husband, Taylor, and their seven children participated in the Hill Cumorah Pageant eight times over nearly two decades, beginning in the late 1970s. Hollist said she was disappointed to hear of the impending cancellation of the event, one she noted was not only a much-loved family staple but a favorite venue for introducing non-Latter-day Saints to the tenets of the church.
"I think it's very sad," Hollist said. "It’s been a part of our family for such a long time and a way that we could say to our friends, 'Come and go with us to this production.' It was a nice way to expose people to the teachings."
Hollist said the pageant gatherings were also an opportunity to connect with other Latter-day Saints in an area where church members often live far apart.
"Our children, especially, did not have a lot of opportunities to associate with other church members," Hollist said. "So, the two weeks we'd spend rehearsing and performing, surrounded by other members, was very important in our lives."
Organizers of the Hill Cumorah Pageant said 25,000 people attended the July performances in 2018. Manti organizers said the Mormon Miracle Pageant typically draws between 75,000 and 80,000 attendees to its summer productions.
In its statement, church officials also noted they are communicating with local organizers in talks about the future of the popular pageant events.
"As it relates to existing pageants, conversations with local church and community leaders are underway to appropriately end, modify or continue these productions," the statement says.
Nauvoo Pageant President John Ricks released a statement Saturday evening, following a conference call he had with Elder Wilford W. Andersen, a General Authority Seventy of the church, indicating the Nauvoo pageant would continue with the church's support.
"The Nauvoo-British Pageant will continue in the future the same as it has in the past, being fully supported and funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," he said.
The Nauvoo Pageant is held three days a week during the summer run and the British Pageant is held twice a week in Nauvoo, Illinois.
The church lists seven pageants on its website. In addition to the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra and the Nauvoo-British Pageant in Nauvoo, the Castle Valley Pageant is held in Castle Dale, Emery County, Utah; the Clarkston Pageant–Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew is held in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah; the Mesa Easter Pageant is held in Mesa, Arizona; and the British Pageant is held in Chorley, Lancashire in England.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is growing across the earth," the church's statement said. "As this occurs, local church leaders and members are encouraged to focus on gospel learning in their homes and to participate in sabbath worship and the church’s supporting programs for children, youth, individuals and families."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified John Ricks as president of the Nauvoo Illinois Stake. Ricks is the Nauvoo-British Pageant president.