|Eintime Conversion for education and research 10-20-2007 @
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I love being a missionary! Sister Kimber, an enthusiastic, apple-cheeked woman of 23, proclaimed to a couple in her tour group at the Publication Building in Palmyra, N.Y., the sleepy town where the Mormon faith was born. Outside on a bright and cool day last week, a line snaked toward the building, passing stands selling Mormon literature and advertising the clothing company ModBod, which promises modest (yet stylish) clothing for girls and women. Skip to next paragraph Finger Lakes Travel Guide Multimedia
Across the street, a gift shop sold T-shirts and hats printed with messages like Child of God, ARMY (for A Righteous Mormon Youth), or a listing of the costs of a trip to Palmyra ending with Seeing where it all began: priceless.
Inside, Sister Kimber described the 19th-century process by which the Book of Mormon was originally printed, in excellent detail. Along the way, she also told the group more than once that she was convinced beyond any doubt of the books truth.
The holy sites of the world the Kaaba in Mecca, Lhasa in Tibet and St. Peters Basilica, among others double as some of the planets biggest tourism draws. Believers (and nonbelievers, where they find a welcome) flock to see firsthand the dwellings, graves and shrines of prophets whose charisma and teaching launched global faiths. For American tourists, most of these trips require a trans-oceanic flight. But not Palmyra, a town of 8,000 nestled in green countryside between the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario.
Palmyra was the home of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church. It is the logical destination for travelers interested in learning about Mormonism including those whose curiosity is piqued by the current news coverage of the presidential candidacy of , a Mormon, or by the HBO series Big Love, which fantasizes about the renegade Mormons who violate the churchs modern teachings by practicing polygamy.
Touring in Palmyra last week, I discovered that from the churchs point of view, the Mormon sites there function year-round both as places of great historical interest for practicing Mormons and as venues for proselytizing. All of the guides I met were missionaries, working in the stints that young Mormons are encouraged to take. And although the majority of visitors they see in their months or years in Palmyra are Mormons, often from Utah, many others are not.
EVERY July, both kinds of tourists crowd into town, filling hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for 25 miles around, to witness the churchs major annual commemoration of its founding, the extravaganza of drama, special effects, proselytizing and piety known as the Hill Cumorah pageant. A colossal affair with 10 lighting towers, a booming sound system and 680 cast members, it draws tens of thousands of spectators each year over eight days; this years final performance was last Saturday. At the pageant, between 15 and 30 percent of spectators are non-Mormon, church surveys show, and, as Sister Kimber confided, Its like Christmastime for missionaries.
The village itself is not predominantly Mormon, although relations are cordial. Its Mormon church is only one of half a dozen or more churches in town, all the rest of other denominations. Many pageant attendees arrive by bus, Mayor Vicky Daly said, and do not stay long.
I arrived at Hill Cumorah on July 18, one of the opening days of the pageant, at around noon, when the site was dominated by teenagers the largely adolescent cast of the pageant along with busloads of youth groups. I climbed the little hill to the golden statue of the angel Moroni on top. Two young boys of a typically hellion age walked the path in front of me, and when one strayed onto the grass, the other immediately chastised him.
I used an umbrella to reserve one of the 10,000 or so plastic chairs lined up for that nights pageant (its free and first come first seated) and drove to the Joseph Smith Farm. I wasnt sure how Id be received, not being a Mormon myself, but I wasnt worried. I couldnt imagine anyone would ask.
Are you a member of the church? asked the guide outside the welcome center, a pretty young woman with curly blond hair, immediately after she inquired about my name and where Id come from. The other visitors were families with an average of four children each, and were all members. I stammered out a reply in the negative, but added truthfully that I was anxious to learn more.
Inside the farmhouse, a low-ceilinged, cramped but cozy wooden building, a second guide, Sister Smithee, showed us the places where each of the 11-person Smith family slept and the sorts of furniture and tools they would have used, giving particular attention to how supportive and close-knit the family was. A plump young woman whose smile covered her whole face, she said that it was within these walls that Joseph Smith first spoke with the angel Moroni. I know these things are true, she said before ushering us out, smiling beatifically. Ive asked the Heavenly Father, and I encourage you to do the same.
A walk down a gravel lane lined with log fences and haystacks took us to the frame house where the Smiths lived later. Again we were greeted by a blissful-looking, pretty young woman, who had us wait outside until it was our turn to go in. She told us how, once Joseph Smith had visited the Hill Cumorah at Moronis prompting and dug up the golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was written, he had hidden them from the greedy people of Palmyra in various spots around the house. He had listened to the feelings of his heart in choosing the plates hiding spots, she said, and she enjoined us to do the same, for that was how we would know that what she was saying was true.
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10-20-2007 @ 07:24:16