As a young man in England, William Penn saw his father imprisoned for his political beliefs. While pondering his father’s plight, young William’s room filled with light. From that time forward, William Penn devoted his life to God.
He joined the Quakers, preached, wrote and tried to share the comfort he had received with others. This would ultimately lead him to receive a charter for a new land called America, where he would establish religious freedom.
To the sound of a fife and drum and original patriotic music, 1,700 youth in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple district celebrated his life on Sept. 17.
The youth temple cultural celebration — titled ‘We the People’ — also honored, among others, the lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross.
During the production, held on Constitution Day in the Liacouras Center at Temple University, the youth recreated important scenes from American history with music and dance. In addition, they paid tribute to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, giving thanks for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tying every scene together in the production was the appearance of a single, white brick. In the final moments of the celebration, the youth combined those bricks to build a replica of the new Philadelphia temple.
Speaking on the eve of the dedication of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, President Henry B. Eyring told the youth he was delighted to be with them on the historic day in Philadelphia.
The day was historic for many reasons, said President Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency.
“First and foremost, it is historic because we are celebrating the dedication of the temple of God in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” he said.
Faithful Latter-day Saints and prophets have looked forward to this day since the time when Joseph Smith preached to and converted what became a strong branch of the Church in Philadelphia in 1839.
“Second,” he continued, “this day is historic in your lives.
“You will always remember the feeling of celebration and faith as you prepared for this performance tonight.”
Finally, he said, “the day is historic as our nation celebrates Constitution Day marking the 229th Anniversary of the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America.
“That inspired document protects the religious freedom that allows us and all Americans to worship God according to the dictates of our own consciences.”
Candy McNaughton, chair of the youth cultural celebration, said organizers wanted the youth to realize that — like William Penn, the Founding Fathers, Joseph Smith and the ordinary musicians or soldiers who left their families to go to war — all the youth have their own “mission for this day.”
“Our goal has been to bring them to the temple,” said Sister McNaughton. During the celebration “each youth touched the temple and helped to build it.”
In addition to looking back to the past, the production allowed the youth from 11 stakes to celebrate the things that make them unique today. In honor of the mural arts program in Philadelphia, each stake painted a mural that represents their geographic culture.
Melanie Hoffman, who wrote the music for the production, continually reminded the youth: “William Penn had a part in building the temple, but so do you.”
Influenced by their shared heritage of United States and Church history, the youth — in many ways — became part of history themselves.
The production was “trying to portray the joy we feel in the founding of the country by the hand of the Lord, to allow for the restoration and ensure our freedoms,” said Eliza Peterson, 17.
“We are celebrating the fact that we get to have a temple in our area,” said Ben Latey, 18. “We also get to show our cultural uniqueness.”
Dylan L’heureux, 15, said it is a blessing to have a temple in Philadelphia. “It will help the Church grow so much,” he said. “It is a Church site now. We have something we can talk about that we can call our own.”