ANAHEIM, Calif. — In the final moments of a massive production, thousands of teens held colorful flags — significant for an area filled with diverse populations and cultures.
Then, with a march as steady as the Church itself spreading across the world, the flags changed from their bright colors to a unifying white — much in the same way a temple in nearby Newport Beach has unified Church members in this community.
The production, staged to celebrate Church history, the Restoration, and the construction of temples across the earth, was performed twice on Aug. 27 in Orange County's Arrowhead Pond arena, and was the final event before the dedication of the Newport Beach California Temple Aug. 28.
With the theme "A Sacred Place," the celebration featured 4,000 local teens performing original music and dance numbers that highlighted the rich cultural heritage of Orange County. Intertwining the narratives of local families, the story begins in an early Native American village and progresses through the settling of the American West to the modern eras of economic growth.
Performances highlighted dance reflecting early Spanish settlers and the historic march of the Mormon Battalion. Later came settlers who cultivated the land, the big band era, and the construction of suburbs, freeways and the opening of Disneyland.
Finally, a closing number emphasized the "strength in numbers" shared today by Orange County Latter-day Saints, unified by a new temple and "a much greater gift — salvation and exaltation."
The show, said director Joel Swenson, wove a thread that connected the purpose of temples, the restoration of the gospel, the Church's pioneer legacy and the history of Southern California.
"We love our home," he said. "We really feel this place is sacred."
Joseph I. Bentley, chairman of the Temple Youth Celebration Committee, said organizers hoped the show would reflect who Church members are and what having a local temple means to them. The unifying theme — "A Sacred Place" — was strong enough to drive the story and music and ultimately "direct the focus of the youth" to the most sacred of all places: the temple, he said.
Participants repeatedly spoke of the event as a unifying cause that not only taught them about local Church history, but also allowed them to be an important part of the temple dedication — part of something much bigger than themselves.
Practices began in May and more than 100,000 total man-hours were spent in preparation, organizers said. More than 600 Church members were involved in the writing of musical scores, choreographing of the dance numbers, building sets and props, and creating nearly 4,000 costumes for the production.
"It was so powerful to see all those people dedicated to be in such a cause," said Erica Hawkins, a 14-year-old member of the Laguna Niguel California Stake.
Becki Wert, 14, of the Cypress California Stake said she now knows that she is not alone, but one of many Latter-day Saint youth in Orange County.
Daeoo Lee, 18, of the Irvine California Stake said he didn't initially realize how big the production was. "When everything comes together, it is amazing," he said. "It is so big."
In the show's final moments, all 4,000 youth joined in a choir, singing a medley of temple-related hymns.
The production, said Brother Swenson, became the means for youth to sacrifice for the temple. "It made them an integral part of this dedication."
Brother Bentley added, "It raised the spirits of the youth closer to God than they have ever been."
E-mail to: email@example.com