Youth fireside or false hypnotic memory?

I think this really happened, but one can never be sure.

We went to the church building on a Sunday evening, and the foyer was decorated vaguely like an airport terminal. The buffer zone was set up like an airplane, and we pretended to be going somewhere. Then the plane crashed, and we were taken from room to room, reenacting the post mortal world or the judgment — I don’t remember that part so well. The grand finale was going into the chapel to see all of our parents dressed in all white clothes, hugging us as we came in, congratulating us on our valiance.

I only remember two things about this evening vividly: first, they had little packets of peanuts for us on the airplane. At the time, I thought it was a bizarre effort for authenticity when sitting on folding metal chairs in a small room with construction paper ovals taped to the wall.

Second, I remember my emotions on seeing my father dressed in all white, waiting for me in the chapel: profound embarrassment. I knew the white clothes had something to do with the temple which was very important to him, and to me it looked like he was wearing it as a costume in a play. I was probably mirroring his discomfort: he hates this kind of thing, and I’m sure he did it out of a sense of duty. (I have no memory of mother being there: perhaps her sense of duty was not as strong.)

Does this sound familiar, or is this some kind acid flashback? Any other bizarre youth firesides?


  1. esodhiambo says:

    I have heard of this fireside, but never participated, thankfully. Last year at girls camp they had the girls wander in dark woods re-enacting Lehi’s Dream and they had to find the tree with YW leader dressed in white to welcome them there. I find this sort of thing to be ridiculous (thank goodness I have kids to get me out of GC), but someone, indeed, a great number of someones must like them.

    I applaud whoever provided the peanuts, though–that was a nice touch.

  2. I can remember something similar at a youth conference and we created it last year in our stake. Rather than the morbid plane crash theme though, we had a “Carnival of Life”. Youth arrive to chapel for a short talk about choices and are given two types tickets. They are then released to the gym where there are multiple stands/games set up. Although it should be clear that the cerebral or spiritual activities are giving one type of ticket and the fun games are giving another, most youth don’t really pick up on this (nor did I when I was their age).

    The kicker here is that after 30 minutes or so a leader begins plucking off kids one by one and telling them to follow him or her. Then comes a judgement of sorts with an accounting of how many “good” points and how many “earthly” points have been gained. Of course, this is followed by a division into three different rooms. After all the kids have been plucked and “judged” they all get together in the chapel again for a talk putting everything into context.

    Is this a bit heavy-handed? Can be. Did the vast majority of the kids love the activity? Yes. Did at least one burst into tears at being sent to a lesser kingdom? Yes. Did the intended message of the activity get across. I think so. Would I recommend this activity for other stakes? Depends upon the personality of the leaders and the kids.

  3. We (the missionaries) did an evening like this for a branch in France, only it wasn’t quite as personally hokey — we just had a young family dressed in white. They, and the two or three people in each of the other rooms, gave a straightforward reading from D&C 76. Since our chapel was really a multi-story chateau with everything from a dungeon-like basement to an elegant tower room, the physical setting supported what we were trying to do — a pageant-like dramatization of the Vision.

    It seemed to work well then and I don’t cringe now remembering it. Either I’m even dorkier than I suspect, or else ours was a little more effective and less manipulative than yours.

  4. John Taber says:

    My stake did this as part of the annual “standards night” back in 1983. I’d like to know whose idea it was to have the “telestial kingdom” be dark and hot, with the guides there speaking in cackly voices.

  5. There was recently a letter about not doing this (wearing temple whites for hokey church programs) if I recall correctly.

    Are you sure this wasn’t a dream Norbert? Was anyone from “Fast times at Ridgemont High” there?

  6. John Taber says:

    Wait, it was 1985. (I wouldn’t have been old enough in 1983.) For the “celestial kingdom” (in the chapel, where else?) they had children dressed in white as well as adults, with the guide enthusiastically proclaiming “There are children here!”

    To top it all off, they served us angel food cake afterwards.

  7. We did the same carnival activity when I was a youth. The memory that sticks with me most is my disappointment that I didn’t get the devil’s food cake they served in the “telestial kingdom” (in the “celestial kingdom” we got angel food cake, of course). So, I’m not sure that the right message got through.

  8. anonforthis says:

    We did this a few years back, in our little branch house. We had an individual in attendance (since deceased) who had mental health issues.

    The crashing of the plane and the “I’m sorry to inform you, but you have all died, please follow me…” didn’t happen exactly as planned. The screams of “NO, NO, I DON’T WANT TO DIE!” added to the ambiance of the crash but didn’t really do much for getting the intended point across.

    Luckily the sirens died down before everyone was ushered into the celestial kingdom. I am sure it made for some real interesting coffee talk about those goofy Mormons over at ER and mental ward intake desk.

  9. I believe this fireside concept has roots in a plane crash in Wyoming in 1955. The fireside I went to as a youth was called “Flight 409” -the same flight number as the crash.

    Got to love youth firesides (or not).

    Maybe someone could revamp the concept to be a little more like ABC’s LOST? That would be cool.

  10. LDSus,
    I believe LOST is actually based on a discarded script from a 1976 youth fireside. So was Alias.

  11. I was also involved in a Carnival of Life activity when I was about 13. Ours ended in one fell 2nd Coming-ish swoop with loud lightning and thunder sound effects and a rapid maneuvering of the light switches until it was pitch black (come to think of it, maybe that’s how particularly boring sunday school lessons could be cut off to put everyone out of their misery).

    During the commotion, someone cracked the curtain to the chapel open to reveal the bishop standing in white under the two lights directed right at the pulpit – he then doled out the judgment which was banana splits for the celestial kingdom, and I think Oreo’s (and no milk, I think…talk about eternal punishment!) for the Telestial, and something incrementally delicious for the Terrestial I assume.

    I was also assigned to be a “devil” and tempt people to the fun activities. I distinctly remember being shrugged off by the priests who saw right through the whole thing.

    I remember really enjoying the activity at the time, but look back and get a good chuckle at the cookiness of it all.

  12. Last Lemming says:

    Then comes a judgement of sorts with an accounting of how many “good” points and how many “earthly” points have been gained

    Ah yes…the scorekeeping model that I spent so much effort debunking in my younger years. Now I hope it comes back as it seems to be my only hope.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    I remember when this fireside concept was making the rounds, although I never personally experienced it. I think the Lost update idea has great potential! Throw in some bewildering time travel paradoxes and the kids won’t know what hit ’em.

  14. The grand finale was going into the chapel to see all of our parents dressed in all white clothes, hugging us as we came in, congratulating us on our valiance.

    But if the Youth were dying young in a plane crash, why were their parents dead too?

  15. Was anyone from “Fast times at Ridgemont High” there?

    I want to go to whichever Kingdom Phoebe Cates goes to.

  16. Cynthia L. says:


  17. I too had a ‘Carnival of Life’ type of activity. I remember that it was very obvious to me and my friends, so we got all the ‘good’ tickets we could. Then it was funny to see who was genuinely surprised by the whole thing.

  18. With a little bit of creativity, this activity could be melded with the Left Behind series.

    “We regret to inform you, your pilot has been taken up to Heaven in The Rapture, and you’ve been Left Behind. Guess you didn’t make the cut.

    Oops. Plane crashed.

    Well, here’s your second bite at the apple. Let’s play this part by Mormon rules, and see which of the three kingdoms you get into. . . “

  19. My family went through the airplane crash fireside when I was young. I remember the plane “crash” as we sat on the stage, the overly-somber heavenly messengers leading us around from room to room (including a representation of outer darkness), and finally ending in the Relief Society room-as-celestial kingdom.

    The part I remember most was how one of the “inhabitants” of the celestial kingdom (dressed in white) came up to my dad and thanked him profusely for baptizing her on his mission. (This stranger had somehow colluded with my dad ahead of time to find out some details of his mission.) All of us kids just thought it was weird that this sister would try and trick us since everyone saw through it.

  20. Oh, and the Carnival of Life is an abomination. Our Ward did it as an activity for the youth not two months ago. It teaches two false ideas: (1) You get a reward in heaven through your own efforts (as opposed to being valiant in the testimony of Jesus like the Doctrine and Covenants says); and, (2) So-called “spiritual” activities are not fun (or said in the inverse: Choosing to do “fun” activities are of the devil).

    If you think that I hated it, well, you’d be right.

  21. Yikes, SC.

  22. Between LOST and the plane going down in the Hudson, I’m afraid that any future airplane crash youth activity would be far too susceptible to becoming an hour-long string of snarky referential jokes.

    SC: Dollars to donuts that’s the guy identified in the kitschy billboards on I-15 as the Parowan Prophet.

  23. John Taber says:

    StillConfused: I heard the part about LDS and LSD at youth conference from our stake young men’s president. At the time (1987) he was LDS chaplain of the air force base in our stake. He would later serve as a regional representative, a mission president, and president of the Provo MTC.

  24. Wow. Mormon youth activities are weird.

    The most awesome evangelical youth activity I ever went to involved two men running into the room and pretending to beat the crap out of my pastor, then dragging him away. We then had to walk around the youth camp at night trying to avoid guards and find the Christian underground.

    Probably not very accurate re: historic persecution of Christians, but that did nothing to diminish the awesomeness of seeing my pastor get the snot kicked out of him.

  25. StillConfused says:

    My experience was in 1983 in the Newport News Virginia Stake (the actual conference was held in Longwood College).

    On the plus side, my non-member friend and I acquired keys to the boys dorm and put gelatin in their toilets, toothpaste in their cookies and other forms of fun mischief.

    In an act of rebellion against the seemingly obnoxious rules for the dance, I retaliated by pulling my hair through an empty paper towel roll, pulling it back around and tying string around it. The result was a very tall, very wobbly bun on the top of my head, which unfortunately for them, did not go against any of their myriad of rules. (SO if there is now a height limit on hair at LDS dances, you know the source.)

  26. Struwelpeter says:

    I have a co-worker whose ward recently did the airplane crash, but purposely did not invite him or his wife to be waiting for the kids in the chapel. Instead, his kids were “sealed” to the Bishop as an illustration of not everyone making it to the Celestial kingdom, but the plan still including a way for them to enjoy the blessings of eternal families. We’re still laughing (awkwardly) about the process the YW presidency must have gone through in deciding which set of parents not to invite.

  27. Mark Brown says:

    Isn’t a disastrous plane crash a pretty good metaphor for about 75% of youth activities?

  28. Steve Evans says:

    Where did they bury the survivors?

  29. We had both the plane crash and carnival of life activities when I was a youth in the 90s. The thing I remember most about the plane crash activity was that we watched Johny Lingo as our in-flight movie.

  30. I never participated in one of these, but my sister-in-law tells stories about the Young Women’s leaders bringing wedding dresses for the girls to try on, then taking them to the temple to get their pictures taken in front of the temple. In a wedding dress. Gah! That would have totally creeped me out as a 15 year-old.

  31. An interesting tidbit:

    Members of the MoTab were aboard flight 409 that crashed in 1955 (see wiki link posted on comment #9).

  32. I was a teenager and new convert of a few months when our ward did this “very special fireside.” I remember thinking the whole thing was kind of embarassing. Then at the end when we entered the chapel/”Celestial Kingdom” and I saw people’s families were there dressed in white, I felt sad that I was going to be alone. And then, there was my (non-member) mother. The youth leaders had invited her to come, and dress in white, and she was there. I still thought the whole thing was hokey, but I was very touched that they had thought of me, and that my mother was willing to play along so I wouldn’t be alone.

  33. Ugh. We had both these activities. I remember the telestial kids had to sit in the dark in the chapel overflow and read scriptures by candlelight. Or something like that. Our celestial kingdom was in the RS room and there weren’t parents there (what did they do for the kids w/inactive parents?) but there were white cookies and sprite. We totally saw through the carnival thing and there was a contingent of kids that purposely avoided all the scripture chase/articles of faith/name that hymn booths so they’d have NO ‘good’ tickets.

    Talk about hokey.

  34. Make that flashlight, not candlelight.

  35. I agree with Hunter. My thought was – why says a good, worthy life has to be boring and not fun? Also, when does repentance and forgiveness come into play?

  36. I am seriously thinking about suggesting this activity to my Young Men, just because I think it would be really funny and memorable.

  37. My ward in Southern CA did this activity sometime in the mid-to-late 80s. I immediately saw through the carnival tickets, my competitive side kicked in and I very aggressively collected as many points as I could. Upon making it to the “Celestial Kingdom”, I was dismayed to find out my reward was the Angel Food Cake rather than the Devil’s Food Cake and I really wished that I had been “bad”. I don’t think that was quite the result the youth leaders had in mind. Seriously, who makes chocolate the punishment instead of the reward???

  38. Then there was the “standards night” that started off with the beginning of a “civil” (non-temple in LDS-speak) wedding complete with a real Protestant minister. It then turned into a production about the importance of temple marriage . . .

  39. Wow, there’s a lot of people on this blog with extremely crass memories of their childhoods!
    I joined at 16, and they did this that same year. I thought it a little strange, but the point was to help us make the decision of choosing the celestial kingdom.
    Of course, this was back in the late 1970s, when Elder McConkie’s view that anything less than Celestial was equivalent to hell was in vogue.

    They attempted to show the Telestial as a horrible place. Which it isn’t. But then, no one back then knew that. It took me the first dozen reads of the Book of Mormon to begin understanding that. After reading it over 60 times, I know now that it’s really a nice place for righteous-challenged souls.

  40. best activity ever. Never tell the facilities people you are planning this one. This really happened in our stake a few years ago

    SP member stands on a plastic sheet on the stand dressed in a real suit of armor. Gives a talk about putting on the armor of God.

    Another HC member in back of the chapel armed with a paintball gun fired paintballs across the chapel and repeatedly hit the guy in the suit of armor.

    Good times. In hindsight maybe we should have done this in the gym but somehow the Stake approved it so we went ahead

    The secret to good stakewide activities is 3 part.

    1. SP with skin in the game AKA kids in the youth program
    2. having an involved Youth Committee that meets regularly and takes ownership of the activities.

    Best recent activities
    Game of Life for Y Conference
    Special Olympics for Y Conference
    Human Foosball P & L activity. With uniforms, scoreboard, ref etc

  41. bbell, apparently you live in the wealthy part of texas.

  42. In my case Terrestrial was modestly lit, and quiet. Our guide there told how his wife and kids made it to Celestial and he didn’t – so they were given to another man.

    I wonder how much of the LDS/LSD ranting came on the heels of Star Trek IV (released in 1986)?

  43. “Our guide there told how his wife and kids made it to Celestial and he didn’t – so they were given to another man.”

    Aaack!!!! That is terrible.

  44. Matt,

    I am not sure why you are thinking it costs lots of dollars for any of these activities. Your stake can do Human Foosball for $20 (the cost of the PVC pipe)

    The church employment staff will come and put on the Game of Life for free at your request

    Volunteering at the Special Olympics is also free

  45. I think I’m going to have a special FHE with my young kids tonight and teach them what to do if they ever find themselves at a youth activity involving a strange “carnival” with two kinds of tickets.

  46. These activities make me feel all icky inside. Which I think might prove that I’m just past feeling and the spirit can’t possibly touch me anymore. Or that I’m sane.

  47. bbell, the special Olympics we worked when I was seventeen was life-changing. I’ll take authentic service over staged salvation any day.

  48. #47 – Amen!

  49. #47 agreed. Youth are so me me me all the time. They need to think outside themselves and about others more.

    My next goal is to have a ongoing year to year stake wide youth service project at a homeless shelter, old folks home, womens shelter etc.

  50. happened in 1995 in san diego. i was catholic and went to mutual with my boyfriend. we had to check in with the bishop, who was seated at a desk at the entry. he gave each kid a brief interview, then handed them a slip of paper with a glittery stamp of either a sun, moon, or stars. we were divided up from there and i was furious that my boyfriend got to go to the celestial kingdom and i was sent to the telestial. we were split up and i was sent to the cultural hall with a bunch of people i didn’t know. we sat on the folding chairs in a circle, no one speaking, and waited till it was time to gather together again. better than hellfire and brimstone in the lesser kingdom, but i still think it was a crummy thing to do to a potential convert who was attending an activity for the first time. i can’t remember what the other two groups did or what the final gathering was supposed to teach me.

    of course, i joined the church a few years later, so i guess the joke is on me!

  51. I experienced the ““Carnival of Life” in Berlin in 1977 for a YA conference for the serviceman Stake. I was taken by surprise when they pulled me out of the fun carnival where we were earning tickets for things or gambling them away on various games. I made it to the celestial kingdom where we got to take our shoes off. The other kingdoms had to leave them on. I’ve never been bad since. Imagine going to a place you could not take your shoes off. If that doesn’t scare you into goodness nothing will.

  52. We did this when I was in Young Women (1998 in London), only we progressed through the various kingdoms. First, a dark room where everyone had to sit very far away from each other and not speak. Second, a dimly-lit room (I don’t remember what we were allowed to do there). And third, the grand finale party. Our parents were there, though not dressed in white.
    I’m not really sure how sitting in a dark cultural hall is supposed to scare me out of living a telestial life. But I hadn’t remembered this activity until reading this post. Thanks for reminding me of another ridiculous youth activity.

  53. I was substituting in Primary on Sunday. They announced that all the kids would be getting mission calls and they were going on their missions on Saturday at 10 am (the upcoming Primary activity). They gave all the kids a mission call As I helped pass out the mission calls I asked the Presidency member “Please tell the kids this is for a pretend missionl, I don’t want any of them getting worried.” I have three kids in there. It might be obvious to some kids, but it is amazing what is sometimes not obvious to a kid. If you tell them they are going on a mission on Saturday, they might actually think you mean what you say.

  54. Our ward must have been less spiritual, but this was in the 70’s when activities were supposed to be fun. The announced luau dinner (starting with a flight to Hawaii) turned out to be a German dinner because German terrorists kidnapped the plane. Various RM dads wore lederhosen!

  55. #38 John Taber:

    Then there was the “standards night” that started off with the beginning of a “civil” (non-temple in LDS-speak) wedding complete with a real Protestant minister. It then turned into a production about the importance of temple marriage . . .

    This I would love to see.

  56. StillConfused says:

    #54 — oh my gosh.

  57. Ditto on #30. As Laurels we went to a bridal store and had to try on wedding dresses and have people take pictures of us. None of the dresses was in my size so they made me go out with a dress that didn’t fit and didn’t zip up in back. I was so embarassed that I cried all the way home. Twelve years later I’m still not married – maybe that activity had the opposite effect!

    My ward in Arizona also did the Carnival and the crash. I think everyone got the same dessert in the end though!

  58. I went to a carnival of life activity when I was about 13 or 14 (around 1993, I think). I ended up in the terrestrial kingdom thanks to the help of my little sister, who asked me to hold on to her much more numerous bad tickets while she went and traded her few remaining good tickets in at the gaming tables. She was taken on her way to the other games and so had more good tickets than bad and thus ended up in either the terrestrial or celestial kingdom, where they had treats. I got stuck in the telestial kingdom where I’m not sure we were even given water to drink and the room was fairly dark. I remember being quite annoyed.

  59. NoOneInParticular says:

    I was spared this activity in my adolescence, but when I first became engaged to my wife, Brother L, the very serious High Priest Group Leader of her ward, approached us one Sunday and asked with solemnity whether we could assist the ward with ‘an activity,’ which was revealed to be ‘guide couple for the terrestrial kingdom’ in this activity. I chuckled and made a joke about how it had always been my goal to make it to the terrestrial kingdom. Brother L thanked us and left.

    The activity went fine, I guess, if you go for that sort of thing. The following Sunday, Brother L found me before sacrament meeting began and, taking my hand in a firm clasp, looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for your service. I want you to know that the Spirit has inspired me to tell you that all of us should aspire to the Celestial Kingdom.” It took all of my self-control not to laught.

    The suggested implication of asking the ‘unmarried couple’ to do the terrestrial kingdom still cracks me up; the whole experience gave rise to my wife and I sarcastically using the phrase ‘Reach for the Moon!’ on and off for a couple years afterwards.

  60. Ugh. I had completely suppressed my memories of the Flight, the Carnival, and acting out Lehi’s dream (yes, I grew up in Provo). Good grief. At least they didn’t have our parents in the chapel waiting all in white. Freakshow. *shaking my head*

  61. Where was Jesus in all of this? Putting the kids in heaven without Jesus is tantamount to telling them that after all they can do, they’ll still be spiritually dead.

    If I did a fireside like that, I’d make sure that there was a Jesus in that heaven. A white guy with a white beard and a white robe. He could smile and look happy and peaceful and be sanctimonious.

  62. Steve Evans says:

    DKL, we’re all gonna look like Jesus in the hereafter, so it shouldn’t matter who you pick. I vote for Steve Buscemi. No apparent beauty, that man should him desire.

  63. I vote for Steve Buscemi

    Hooker No. 1: Well, the little guy was kinda funny-lookin’.
    Marge Gunderson: In what way?
    Hooker No. 1: I dunno… just funny-looking.

  64. I respect you’re recommendation of Steve Buschemi, but personally, I’d prefer Willem Dafoe. He’s just as ugly, but he has experience playing Jesus and The Goblin.

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