Youth and young adults lead tours at ancient tabernacle replica, pointing to Christ and temple covenants

SYRACUSE, Utah — In a large field adjacent to the Syracuse Utah South Stake center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a full-size replica of the Old Testament tabernacle has been set up to let visitors walk through and experience what an ancient tabernacle looked like, in every detail.

On Saturday, May 7, Gabrielle Johnson, 24, greeted a group of visitors walking up to the east side of the replica, in front of the red, blue and purple cloth marking the gates to the tabernacle. 

Inside, she listened as a young man spoke about the altar of sacrifice. Moving through to each station, Johnson smiled at and encouraged each youth as they gave their presentations.

Johnson experienced an ancient tabernacle display when she was 17 and living in Huntington Beach, California. Now living in Layton and a member of the Layton Utah YSA Stake Relief Society presidency, she knew when the tabernacle experience came to northern Utah, young single adults and young men and young women must be involved.

Gabrielle Johnson, 24, of the Layton YSA Stake Relief Society presidency, talks about the ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
Gabrielle Johnson, 24, of the Layton YSA Stake Relief Society presidency, talks about the ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“The youth need to understand the covenants they are going to make,” she said.

Seventy-one stakes in the Utah Layton Mission boundaries are involved, with the Bountiful, Layton and Syracuse YSA stakes taking the lead.

More than 42,000 visitors attended from April 4 to May 5 in the location by the Bountiful Utah Tabernacle. And 2,100 visitors went just on May 7, its first full day in Syracuse. In June, it will move to Kaysville, Utah.

More than 5,000 volunteers have been involved so far, almost all of them youth ages 12 to 18 and young single adults.

With Johnson as Tabernacle Training Committee chair, her committee of 10 young single adults trained others in the YSA stakes, who then went to their home stakes and trained the youth.

The youth, young single adults and full-time missionaries have played key roles by greeting guests, giving presentations, answering questions and sharing their testimonies.

The re-created ancient tabernacle is on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
The re-created ancient tabernacle is on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Pointing to Christ

When visitors arrive, they watch a video inside before heading outside to tour the tabernacle. Afterward, they go back into the stake center and walk through a visitors center display about the symbols of ancient temples and how they relate to modern day temples.

Each aspect of the experience points to Jesus Christ and sacred covenants.

Elder Kevin W. Pearson, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Utah Area, said he has heard story after story of strengthened testimonies and increased knowledge of the purpose and power of the temple. 

“There are roots that go back to the ancient tabernacle, and there’s a consistency over time of what Heavenly Father is trying to teach us, and the way He’s trying to teach us,” he said. “Visitors are having a spiritual experience with the very foundational principles and covenants of holy temples in a way that many have never had before.”

The youth hosts, each taking an assigned shift for a day, explained to the visitors how each aspect of the tabernacle points to Jesus Christ, His life and His atoning sacrifice.

Aaron Yardley, 13, from the Roy Utah North Stake, gives information to visitors at the re-created ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
Aaron Yardley, 13, from the Roy Utah North Stake, gives information to visitors at the re-created ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

On May 7, Sister Layla Van Tassell and Sister Elle Hanson, full-time missionaries in the Utah Layton Mission, stood at the gate to the tabernacle and explained to a group, “Jesus Christ is the way we enter the Lord’s presence.”

Ethan Shepherd, 19, from the Roy Utah North Stake, gave information about the altar of sacrifice in the yard. He told the visitors about how the offerings had to be unblemished — like the Savior. And the sacrifices in the Old Testament represented His sacrifice in the New Testament.

He told the Church News, “It’s been cool to learn more about it with the training and it’s been a good experience.” 

Inside the tent, Aaron Yardley, 13, also from the Roy Utah North Stake, talked about the shewbread, incense, oil and other items. Beyond that station, the group moved into the replica of the holy of holies and learned more about the ark of the covenant.

In the stake center cultural hall were replicas of the ceremonial clothing that would have been worn in the ancient tabernacle. Tall, lighted wall displays outlined facts, data, symbols and other information. A large mural of the covenant path then led to a video display showing a timeline of temple building in the latter days. When turning around, visitors stood before a Christus statue.  

Organizers said so many people offered their time and talents to help bring the whole thing together so quickly. 

The youth

Youth from different stakes have had assigned shifts each day — first at the Bountiful location, now in Syracuse, and then in Kaysville next month. They have been trained by young single adults in a series of firesides, said Johnson. 

“We wanted the youth to see the YSA doing it. We have a lot of youth getting ready to go to the YSA stake but not a lot are going. We wanted them to have a familiar face when they come,” she said.

Most of the volunteers are ages 12 and up, but Johnson was thrilled to see a 9-year-old girl come one day for a shift: “We had her in the place that represents God’s presence, and she testified to the general Young Men and Young Women presidencies when they came to visit,” said Johnson.

Items inside the ark inside the re-created ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
Items inside the ark inside the re-created ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Patrick Russell, executive secretary in the Utah Layton Mission, said watching the youth take ownership and leadership of the whole thing has “just been amazing.”

“The young single adults are so capable as leaders. They have taken this, and we have been able to step back as older adults and watch them take it and go. It is so inspiring,” he said. “To see them get engaged with this, speak in firesides, they have also provided the music and conducted the meetings — it is wonderful to watch them do that.”

Said Elder Pearson: “They are learning about aspects of the tabernacle and aspects about temple covenants and the ancient historicity of temple practices — and they are just blossoming.”

Jarom Richins, 20, from the Syracuse Utah YSA Stake, served with Johnson on the training committee. He called it his most rewarding experience since he served a mission.

“It helped me strengthen my love for the temple and for the Old Testament as well,” said Richins.

The covenant path

Data from the sign in sheets shows that in the first month, visitors represented 44 states in the U.S. and 22 other countries. They included members and leaders of several other faiths and congregations, as well as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As visitors prepare to leave the display, they can fill out a comment card. Visitors were particularly touched by the mural showing the covenant path, designed in a matter of days by 22-year-old Elder Nathan Hale, who is a Church service missionary. 

Some commented about how the displays helped them understand why the Church builds temples around the world. Many spoke about coming to a deeper understanding of the scriptures.

One visitor said, “This is a physical representation of what we’ve been studying in the Old Testament.

Another said, “This opportunity has helped me draw closer to the Savior.”

Natalie and Reed Wool talk with their kids as they look at al the displays after touring the ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
Natalie and Reed Wool talk with their kids as they look at al the displays after touring the ancient tabernacle on display in Syracuse on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Another wrote, “Coming through this last portion has really made me realize that I am ready to receive the gift and peace the endowment brings.”

Because of what she learned about ancient and modern temples through the experience, Johnson felt more prepared to go to the temple for her own endowment.

“Throughout my preparation, questions would come to my mind, like, ‘what does it mean to sacrifice, what do you need to do to be clean, what would you give up for the Lord?’ which all follow the pattern of the tabernacle,” said Johnson.

“There was no covenant I made that I hadn’t previously decided I would keep. When I made it to the celestial room, the only way I could describe it was familiar.”

Russell said the Spirit bore witness to him that Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the Restoration, particularly in regards to the temple: “All that we learn about the law of sacrifice, consecration, washing and anointing, garments — they have been around for thousands of years. This is not something that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young came up with; they restored what had been on the earth.”

Elder Pearson said many people have shared how the whole experience helped them focus on the temple and temple covenants.

“And in the Utah Area, where we will go from 14 to 28 operating temples in the next few years, I think it’s a significant way to understand and appreciate better the power of the new and everlasting covenant and the way our Heavenly Father has constantly prepared His people going back to the time of Moses to understand and make and keep those sacred covenants.”

For more information about the display, go to tabernacle2022.com