In my last post I outlined what I see as the major challenges with trying to hold a British pageant. Pageants are likely to focus on spectacle and fail to reflect the lived faith of those who suffered and struggled for their religion. They will not work as a missionary tool (this will not be The Book of Mormon musical). And they draw on an American model of cultural expression that is somewhat alien to many British Mormons. Creativity and the arts are not areas where I am particularly gifted and so I am sure that others could offer far more exciting possibilities than the ones I outline below. Nevertheless I have offered some ideas around how we might develop this idea of a British Mormon pageant.
If the pageant were to go ahead, what could be done to solve some of these problems that I see. First, connecting the restoration with the reformation might make the narrative more relevant to other UK christians. There are problems with this suggestion, but one approach to the UKs religious history is to the frame the reformation as asking the questions to which the restoration provides the answers. In this narrative, tribute could be paid to religious reformers who have shaped British society. Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery (although this might raise other problems for Mormons) could be represented. So too could we honour musically the hymns of the Wesley’s or Isaac Watts which still remain in our hymnal. It might be wonderful to dramatize the conversion and ministry of the Wesley’s amidst a rendition of ‘Christ the Lord is risen today’. This approach could allow those who are not of our faith to connect with our story by drawing parallels between Joseph Smith personal conversion and the Wesley’s.
Second, the pageant could highlight narratives of faith that involve transnational migration both from and to the UK. Mormons know well the struggles and sacrifice of those who left Great Britain to worship their God among the Latter-Day Saints. This same narrative of religiously motivated migration is not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Yet, stories of hope and sacrifice are common to many other nationalities and faiths. Through this perspective it would be possible to tell the story of Mormonism through those who have joined the church in other countries and moved here or who have moved here and joined the church. I do not know whether this would be easy to capture but it would begin to represent the ethnic, cultural and narratival diversity of Mormonism.
Third, while discussing this with Ronan, he reminded me that Britain is the home of the Mystery Play. These tableux-based local productions would tour local towns dramatizing scenes from the Bible. They often involved music and some form of antiphonal song (chant and response). There a number of texts available of these mystery plays and our pageant might draw on these ritual and dramatic forms as a means by which to explore the biblical narrative within the British context. Mystery plays are not so common today but they are still a part of the faith tradition of many and so, again, this may be a way to speak of our faith across religious divides. We could even develop a Book of Mormon tableaux – though no Aztec iconography please! Although these plays became more dramatic over time they were not always extravagant productions. This is the type of theatre that Mormons could potentially do quite well with our limited resources. Such revivals of the Mystery play have happened at other points in British history and it could be that British Mormons are able to offer their own approach.
To reiterate, I am not convinced that this is the best way forward. In fact, I am certain that others would be able to suggest far more interesting ideas. And yet, I hope that these suggestions show that there are ways of pursuing this project that draw explicitly from the cultural heritage of the UK and from other parts of the world.