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Episode 127: The communications director for Mesa Temple Events, Jill Bishop Adair, on the historic Mesa Easter Pageant

Jill Adair shares the history of the pageant that draws more than 100,000 people each year to the Mesa temple grounds to celebrate the life and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

For over eight decades, the Easter pageant at the Mesa Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has entertained and uplifted generations of people as it boldly declares the reality of the resurrected Christ. Performed the two weeks before Easter each year, the annual pageant draws more than 100,000 people to celebrate the life and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This episode of the Church News podcast explores the roots and branches of this beloved community event with Jill Bishop Adair, who serves as communications director for Mesa Temple Events, has written a book about the pageant and whose love for the pageant began in 1979, when, as a high schooler, she was cast into the production.

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Transcript  

Jill Bishop Adair: These people are involved because they love the Savior and they want to share His story with others. Their participation is testimony-driven. It kind of reminds me of the loaves and the fishes story. The Lord asked us to bring what we have and no matter how small it may seem compared to the multitude before us, if we bring what we have, if we bring our loaves and fishes to Jesus, He blesses them in such a way that we have enough. And we’re able to share our testimonies with this vast audience that comes. And even though it’s a uniquely personal experience for each person involved, it’s also immensely universal for everyone there; the audience, the cast, the crew, they’re all participating in this marvelous production that shares the Savior. It’s truly the greatest story ever told.

1:17  

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For over eight decades, the Easter pageant at the Mesa Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has entertained and uplifted generations of people. For the two weeks before Easter Sunday each year, this annual pageant draws more than 100,000 people to celebrate the life and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today on the Church News podcast, we explore the roots and branches of this beloved community event with Jill Bishop Adair, who currently serves as the communications director for Mesa Temple Events, has written a book about the pageant and whose love for the pageant began in 1979 when, as a high schooler, she was cast into the event. Jill, welcome to the Church News podcast.

2:21  

Jill Bishop Adair: Hi, Sarah, thank you so much for inviting me.

2:24  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think it’s also interesting to note, although we didn’t do it in the introduction, that Jill has been a Church News correspondent for many, many years, actually, as long as I have worked there, so probably at least three decades, wouldn’t you say, Jill?

Jill Bishop Adair: Yeah, it has. We’ve known each other a long time.

Jill Adair with her friends in 1979 during the Mesa Easter Pageant. | Provided by Jill B. Adair

Sarah Jane Weaver: So let’s just start. Can you tell us a little bit about the pageant? And I really want to start with how you came to know and understand what this pageant can actually mean to people.

2:56  

Jill Bishop Adair: Yeah, my love for the [Mesa Easter] Pageant goes back to 1979. I was in high school and some friends invited me to try out with them and that’s kind of the nature of the pageant. Even today, whoever wants to be in it auditions and then they cast who they need that year. So, I was cast as an angel and, you know, I was not raised in a religious home at all. And so, being in the pageant and seeing the life of our Savior told and feeling the Spirit there, I really wanted to learn more. And it was really a beautiful experience to be an angel.

We got to dance on the old visitor’s center at that time. There wasn’t a stage that accommodated the angels that rejoice and dance and celebrate at the birth of the Savior, and then also His Resurrection. We did all of that on top of the old visitor center, right there on the temple grounds. And it was a great vantage point to look down and see the pageant being put on and, and from that point on, there was an interest for me. There was prior to that, but that really brought the life of the Savior to my heart.

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4:11  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and that is so interesting. I know that you wrote a book on this.

Jill Bishop Adair: I did

Sarah Jane Weaver: Is that experience typical for other people?

Jill Bishop Adair: There are a lot of stories that we’ve heard and collected and are told from year to year, where people want to know more. They feel a love for their Savior. They feel the love that the Savior has for them as they witnessed His story told and that’s what this Easter pageant is. It’s His birth, His life, His teaching, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection. And the beautiful message of Easter and of the Easter pageant is that He lives. And so, while this pageant is present It is a gift to the community to enhance the celebration of Easter, and it has been from its earliest days, it’s not uncommon to have those experiences where you want to learn more and you want to draw closer to the Savior. And while that’s not exactly the purpose that the pageants put on, it often happens that people do want to know more and learn more.

5:26  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk about the location of the pageant, because it’s right on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple. And this is such an historic pioneer temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1919, President Heber J. Grant announces the temple. Ground is broken for this temple three years later. And so many people have made a journey to this temple as part and a reflection of their faith in the Savior. You have also had many things happen in connection with this temple. Talk about how you feel about the temple, itself.

6:05  

Jill Bishop Adair: Well, the temple goes back to 1927 when President Heber J. Grant dedicated it. Mesa really only had a few thousand people living here at that time. And here was this beautiful temple that came to Arizona and it was the only temple until the Snowflake temple was built in, 80 something years later. I love the temple. I was married there. I received my endowments there. I’ve been involved in the pageant there. Even before I went through the temple, I remember going and just walking around the temple grounds. I think one thing that does make the pageant really special, I think there’s a million things that make it special, but one of three things that I think are really special is that the entire presentation and these large audiences that view it are on this sacred ground dedicated by prophets of the Lord.

And when President Grant dedicated the temple, he specifically prayed for the grounds. And he said at that time, “May all who come upon the grounds which surround this temple, whether members of the Church of Christ or not, build a sweet and peaceful influence of this blessing and hallowed spot.” Then in 1975 when President Spencer W. Kimball rededicated the temple after its first major renovation, he too blessed not only the building, but the surrounding land to be, quote, “A haven of peace and rest and holy meditation.” And then when President Dallin H. Oaks dedicated the temple again just last December and 2021, he repeated the same blessings regarding the temple grounds. And so we hear those comments over and over and over again when people come to the pageant and also to the Christmas lights that they feel something really special there. And I know with me, I have always felt that too. It’s a place to go and feel the Spirit and feel peace and feel a refuge from all the chaos and stress of the world.

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8:26  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us about your conversion, how you actually came to know the Church was something that you wanted as part of your life, that you wanted to make covenants with the Savior. And then how did you meet your husband?

Jill Bishop Adair: So I moved to Mesa from Florida when I was 9 years old. I’d never heard of the Church down there. And I wasn’t raised in a religious home. We didn’t go to any kind of church. So I moved to Mesa and many friends I had from that time on were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so I would get invited to Primary activities. And then Young Women’s. I actually went to general conference when I was 16 with the young women, got invited to, you know, different things over the years. Lots of times missionaries would come to my house referred to, to me and my family by my friends and my mom would always stop them at the door and say, “No, we’re good, not interested.”

And being in the pageant, my junior year, then, the summer before my senior year started, I was invited by two of my good friends to take the missionary lessons at their houses. And so I did that and I read the Book of Mormon and read the book, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder,” which I have always really liked that book. The Book of Mormon spoke to my heart. “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” kind of spoke to my mind about why there was a need for the restoration. And I just really, with a lot of prayer and, going to the temple grounds, and praying, and reading and thinking, I really felt that the Lord wanted me to be baptized.

So I asked my mom that, my senior year in high school if I could be baptized, and my mom and dad were separated. That’s why I just say “my mom.” They were divorced at that time. And she said, “No, you need to turn 18 before we make that decision.” So I turned 18. And I asked her again. She said, “No, I think you need to graduate from high school before you make that decision.” So I waited, still attended church, still read the scriptures and then after I graduated from high school, I got baptized.

And then I met my husband, oh, I met him the next year, my first year at ASU [Arizona State University]. I met Scott and then a year, exactly from our first date, we were married in the Mesa temple. Now, we have three children and eight grandchildren and I’ve lived in Mesa ever since. Oh and then another fun thing, too, was when in the ‘90s, when our kids, they weren’t little, but they were still young, we tried out for the Mesa Easter Pageant, and we were cast in the multitude scenes. So that was really fun to be able to be in it as a family.

Jill and Scott Adair in the Mesa Easter Pageant with their children. | Provided by Jill B. Adair

11:38  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And is that something your kids remember?

Jill Bishop Adair: They do. They really like it. In fact, I have a frame on the wall that shows pictures from that time that we were in it and it was a special time for them. They were all old enough to remember. And I think it strengthen their testimony too, to be able to, you just can’t help but feel the Spirit. You’re telling the story of Jesus, you’re on the temple grounds, everyone’s there for the same reason, because they love the Savior and they want to tell His story. And so it was a great experience for our family.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And as you took the opportunity to actually record some of the experiences that people have as they come to this sacred spot for the Easter pageant, what are some of the highlights? What stands out to you about other people’s experiences?

12:27  

Jill Bishop Adair: Wanting to know more about the Savior, feeling His love. I just think that that stands out, over and over again. There’s some really special experiences that people had. One is actually kind of funny. This was probably 20 years ago, but we found this story that a father with his family, they were driving by the temple, because that temple’s right there on Main Street in downtown Mesa, it’s a main, it used to be the highway through there, it’s still a main road down through the center of Mesa. And, and he was driving right past it. And at the end of the production, the actor portraying the Savior is illuminated with a spotlight and is lifted high above the stage. And he drove by, and he saw that everybody was looking. So he looked up too and saw this and, you know, “There it is,” like, “What’s going on?” And he turned his car around. And he went back and he said, “What’s going on?” They said, “Well, you know, it’s over for tonight, but why don’t you come back the next night?” And he felt compelled to see it. And he was one of those that again, feeling the Spirit of the story, because it is the story of Jesus Christ. And it’s truly the greatest story ever told. And so the Spirit bears witness to that and again, he wanted to know more.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well tell us a little bit about what the grounds, what the atmosphere, what it feels like to be involved in this pageant.

14:03  

Jill Bishop Adair: I think the best way to explain the experience that, especially those in the cast and crew have, is that they come back year after year. Some of these families have been involved for literally decades. Scott Peterson, who runs the lighting, he has been in it for 40 years and they just love being involved. And the other thing I think that’s really special, I said there were three things that I think that really makes this pageant stand out. And one, is that it’s life of the Savior, two, that it’s on the temple grounds, and three, is that these people are involved, because they love the Savior and they want to share His story with others.

That really is an example that their participation is testimony-driven. They want to bear testimony. They want to be involved in this. And they prepare themselves spiritually, to be able to do that. You know, they give up other things that they could be doing with their time for weeks and weeks through the Easter season. But it kind of reminds me of the loaves and the fishes story, the Lord asks us to bring what we have. And no matter how small it may seem compared to the multitude before us, if we bring what we have, if we bring our loaves and fishes to Jesus, He blesses them in such a way that we have enough. And we’re able to share our testimonies with this vast audience that comes.

And even though it’s a uniquely personal experience for each person involved, it’s also immensely universal for everyone there; the audience, the cast, the crew. They’re all participating in this marvelous production that bears the Savior. And as Jenee Wright Prince, who is the treaty director, and she has been for more than 10 years, she mentions a lot, “We need more Jesus. We all need more Jesus.” And this gives to our community and also to many that come from around Arizona, Utah, throughout the country. Many come from other countries in the world to see this presentation. And I think we all need more Jesus and we get some of that as we witness His life being portrayed in this way.

16:46  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and in addition to you writing about the pageant for so many years and being involved with general communications, for events that revolve around the temple in the property there, your husband’s a photographer. And so he would have taken literally tens of thousands of pictures of this event. Do you have them in your home? What does it mean to be able to reflect on the images from this sacred event?

Jill Bishop Adair: Yeah, he started taking pictures in 1990, I think the same year that I started writing for the Church News. And those have been special to us. And it’s kind of funny, because I’m pretty much not a keeper of stuff. And I usually kind of clear out whatever we don’t need at the time. But I’ve always kept the negatives and the film back in the day before, you know, we had the digital camera, and kept all those files, never, ever crossing my mind that someday I would write the story of it. But I had all that when the pageant went on hiatus in 2018. And the temple pageant was paused for what ended up being three years. And, boy, that was rough.

18:10  

Sarah Jane Weaver: So then, in 2018, President Russell M. Nelson, announces the Mesa Arizona Temple would be closed for a major renovation. That also meant a pause on the pageant. And then that was followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. So Mesa went a few years without this pageant. Did people miss it?

18:33  

Jill Bishop Adair: Oh, yes. We heard that over and over and over again, “We miss the pageant.” It just had become such a beloved community tradition, whether you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not. I mean, everyone in the community loves to come and participate and view the pageant and be involved in it in the cast or the crew. And so, when it was not here for three years, we did miss it.

And during that time, also was when the Church reevaluated the pageants and decided and announced that the Mesa Easter Pageant would continue. That was a wonderful, happy time, because we’ve just all come to love it. And glad that it came back and it’s a wonderful thing. There’s a future for the pageant here at the Mesa temple. The grounds have been landscaped to accommodate the massive stage and the chairs. And so the pageant continues into the future after eight decades of history.

Mesa Easter sunrise service in 1938. | Photo by Max Hunt

19:51  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And looking back, as you had the opportunity to do, as you co-authored a history on this event, you actually would have seen patterns and highlights. Can you tell us some of the things that stand out, for you, as you think of the history of this event?

Jill Bishop Adair: Yeah, so that was one of our motivations for writing the book, documenting the history. Both Cecily Markland Condie, who’s my co-author, and I were both local journalists. We’ve both covered the Easter pageant for several publications. We’ve both been involved as publicity director. We’ve both been involved in the cast. And there was a lot of questions about, “When did the pageant start? Did it go every year?” You know, “How did it start? Why? How did it continue?” And so a lot of that was getting lost as the people who remembered back in those older times were passing away.

And we just kind of felt this urgency of, we were in leadership meetings at times, and these questions would come up and nobody really knows the answers. And we would say to each other, “Somebody needs to document the history of the pageant before it’s lost.” And not really thinking that we would do that. But then when the temple pageant did go on hiatus, we said, “Maybe now is the time. It’s been 80 years. It kind of worked out that way. It started 1938. It went on pause, and 2018. And we said, “Let’s do it. It’s time for somebody to document not only the history, but the wonderful, inspiring stories, the people who have been involved.”

Because it really wasn’t grassroots organization. It started and it continued because of local people who wanted to do it and kept doing it year after year. And so it’s, I didn’t want those people to be forgotten either. The production actually started in 1938 as a sunrise service. It was a culminating event of a weekend of festivities for a state convention of the “M Men and Gleaner Girls,” which is similar to our young single adults now. And that was the first time they’d had a statewide convention in Mesa. And so they had all these sports activities, banquets, a parade, a dance and the culminating event on Easter morning was the sunrise service. And from that point on, it was continued year after year by the Maricopa stake, which was the only stake in Mesa at the time. The Phoenix stake had just been created, right before the sunrise service that year. So there was two stakes in the valley, the Maricopa stake and Mesa continued that tradition.

And it continued for nearly 30 years as a choral presentation featuring sacred music that was linked with a brief narration, focusing on the life of Jesus Christ. And it changed from year to year. There was always a progression of, “Let’s rewrite the script. Let’s add these songs. Let’s add this.” So that’s been kind of the progression of it throughout the decades is, “Let’s make it a little better. Let’s change it. Let’s add this.”

In 1963, that was kind of a cool year. It was its 25th anniversary. A local TV station began broadcasting the service on Easter morning. And so some of this history adds to what we have to the pageant today. So when the TV station started broadcasting live from the temple grounds, they would show the choir singing, but there wasn’t a lot of other things going on. And so the producers at the TV station said, “You know, we need some more visuals. Just showing the choir singing is kind of boring. We need a little more.” So they ended up putting up these big, iconic paintings of Christ’s life and set them on an easel. And so the TV camera could zoom in and look at, you know, the different moments in Christ’s life through these famous paintings. And then they said, “Oh, you know, that’s still a little bit stagnant. Is there anything else we can do?”

So in 1966, Irwin Phelps, who was the drama teacher at the local Mesa Community College, he became the director and he had a vision of a more dramatic production. And so, with permission, he wrote a new script, based on James Talmage’s “Jesus the Christ” book. He depicted the story of Jesus with a costume cast in tableau. And we don’t really hear that word too much anymore, but it was motionless actors that recreated these iconic paintings of Christ. So, with these makeshift stages, they pull in cotton trailers and make a stage, rigged up some curtains. So during a song that described a certain event and Jesus’s life, they pull up the curtains and here would be these costumed actors not moving, but recreating those iconic paintings or scenes in Christ’s life.

So it gave a little more interest to what the television station was broadcasting, but Irwin could still see, and we call him the “father of the pageant.” Because he had that vision, “We can do more. We can become a more dramatical production.” That was first time it was called in 1967, when this new script debuted with the costumed actors, it was called a pageant. And that, by one definition, means an outdoor performance of a historical theme, which I think is interesting, because even the word pageant, I don’t think we use that a lot anymore to describe this kind of storytelling.

So from then on, the actors began to move. They made it more of a play. Then Irwin also saw a vision to having more lighting and special effects. And so he requested that they could go to the evenings and also the crowds were getting so big for just a one morning production. There were thousands and thousands of people that would come. So in 1977, the evening production debuted, with permission of President Spencer W. Kimball at that time.

And from then, it was a two-evening event prior to Easter that featured hundreds involved in the cast and crew, and multiple stages, and theatrical lighting, and live animals and a new soundtrack recording. And that was so popular, like 20,000 people attended those two night performances. And so the next year, they expanded it to four performances. And again, it doubled in size of attendance. There were 40,000 people that attended then. And so it just kept continuing to grow and grow. And we’ve hit 100,000 people in attendance for many years now. And you have to remember all of this, I think, that came before to appreciate what the pageant is today.

Actor Robert Allen with children during Mesa Easter Pageant in 2010. | Provided by Scott P. Adair

27:27  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think that is a remarkable story. Now the question I have is going to go down a little different path, because when you involve so many young people in a pageant and they spend a lot of time together, romance has to blossom somewhere, right? Are there some, are there some stories of of love from the cast and crew of the pageant?

Jill Bishop Adair: Oh, absolutely. And we got some of those stories when we were collecting for our book. And David and Patti Clement, they sent me a photo and they were in the pageant together in the late ‘70s and the romance bloomed. They were married in the Mesa temple and they love the pageant. I think there are just countless examples of that, where they’ve met. Actually, another one was the oldest person that we found to interview for the book was a Grant Gunnel. And he was in the sunrise service in 1944. He was just getting ready to go off to war. He was a senior at Mesa High School. He and his to-be wife were in the choir together and he paid tribute to that experience of being with her and being on the temple grounds. And not only adding peace to his life as he was getting ready to go off to World War II, but also, he and his to-be wife were able to just talk about how much the temple meant to them and to have this time on the temple grounds. And so when he came back, they had a romance and they ended up getting married in that temple. So that was beautiful.

I’m glad you asked that question, because of course there are those experiences as people work together on the beautiful temple grounds and having this already spiritual experience and it makes you think of eternity and what’s important in our lives. And so, the young single adults, they’ve played a big part in the pageant for many, many years. They used to be called the pageant warriors. Now they’re called frontline. There’s just dozens and dozens of them that volunteer and help with a lot of the behind the scenes things that the security, and the parking, and lost children, and cleaning up after these crowds go home for the night and the trash that they picked up immediately. And so there are those opportunities that they can come and do something really worthwhile and also get to know each other.

30:10  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to paint a picture for what this is like down there, because no tickets or reservations are needed. Anyone can come. There’s, what, just a little over 9,000 seats that are set up. So if you want to see you got to be one of the first 9,200 people on the, on the temple grounds.

Jill Bishop Adair: You do have to come early. And we always recommend the first week and not the second week, because it does get crowded the Thursday, Friday before Easter Sunday. We had 16,000 people last year on those two evenings and, standing room only, and really almost like not even standing room. It was so crowded. Now there was a lot of excitement that the pageant was coming back for the first time after the renovation of the temple on the grounds. But yeah, it gets crowded. You want to come an hour or two beforehand, but we invite people to bring food and drinks. They can sit and wait. And it’s worth it.

So this year, there are nine shows. It runs at 8 p.m. every evening. It’s about an hour and 10 minutes. So, come early. A lot of people bring a pizza and sit there and eat it and wait for the show to start. So we’ve asked people not to save massive amounts of seats. It’s hard to do that. We ask that people come and at least one person be there if they want to save up to four seats, have somebody sitting there, because the saving the seats thing gets a little tricky, but we want people to come. We want to invite all, especially those who have never come to the pageant before.

I’d like to issue a personal invitation to come and experience it. It’s a beautiful presentation. It comes almost entirely from the story of Jesus Christ from the King James version of the New Testament. The music, it’s a new script and score, starting last year when the pageant came back, written by Rob Gardner, whose most recent work includes “Lamb of God,” the concert film. And the music was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra just last January. And then the singing voices and narration recorded here, locally. And it’s a beautiful presentation and it will add to anyone’s celebration of Easter.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I know parking is limited but people can take light rail.

Jill Bishop Adair: Yeah, a few years ago, light rail, the station came right up to the temple grounds. So we actually, we refer to it as the “temple stop.” So people can come from all over the valley, get on the light rail and come within just walking distance of the temple grounds. So light rail is a great option and not have to worry about parking, because parking is limited. There are some parking lots and some parking on the street. We ask people to be aware of places that where we’ve posted not to park, because you’re in front of people’s houses and stuff. But yeah, there’s room for you.

A scene from the Mesa Easter pageant in 1995. | Scott P. Adair

33:37  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And if you’re a Spanish-speaker, you can get a headset that will translate everything right?

Jill Bishop Adair: Yes, yes, there are 400 headsets available for each performance that attendees can pick up and listen to the pageant in Spanish, live translation of the production.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to emphasize something that you pointed out when you were sharing your own story, which is, this pageant is not a missionary tool. No one is putting on this pageant hoping that people will join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What the pageant is, is a path for them to come to know the Savior.

34:18  

Jill Bishop Adair: That’s exactly right. There are hosts that will help you find a seat and will answer your question. There are signs with QR codes that can take you online to our mesatemple.org website. And you can look up some more of the history of the pageant and currently, you know how many people, 400 people in the cast, that sort of thing. But there are no, no missionaries that will approach you and ask you if you want to know more. That’s not the purpose of our pageant. It won’t happen.

We invite you to go in the visitor’s center. There’s some great exhibits on, again, history of Mesa and the temple, and that sort of thing. But it really is looked at as a gift to the community and not a proselyting tool, we want to share the story of Jesus. And I think another interesting thing to know is that this pageant, which is titled “Jesus the Christ,” it’s not a passion play focusing on the Crucifixion. But rather, it is a heartfelt celebration of the life, the teachings and the Resurrection of the Savior. And it invites all to come unto Him and partake of the good news. And that is His gospel.

35:46  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk about this massive cast and costumes. How do you get everyone in a costume?

Jill Bishop Adair: There are more than 1,000 costumes for the cast, which is a little over 400 this year. This costume committee, they are just incredible. And they have been for just decades. The authenticity, they will research and want to make the costumes as accurate as possible to that time period. And I think that’s important, because they want the actors to feel that they really are living in that time and feel like what it would have felt like to be in that era that Jesus was alive, and among them and teaching. And so they just sew away. They start in probably August and just sew, sew, sew. They revamp anything that looks old or needs to be mended, or they make new costumes. They have to have a lot for different sizes too, that fit into these characters and what they would wear and then the laundering of it is an amazing undertaking.

As soon as the pageants over, they launder all of it. They sort it. Because every costume not only just has the one standard piece that, you know, is the tunic, but there’s a robe, and there’s a headpiece, and there’s often, you know, scarves or other things that go along with it. So to keep track of all that, I’m just always so amazed at the dedication and the time spent to costume that cast. So kudos to the costume committee. They’re fantastic.

Sarah Jane Weaver: That is a mammoth task. It has to be a mammoth undertaking every year.

37:49  

Jill Bishop Adair: And they love it. That costume director now, her name is Kay Walker. She told me that that’s just their little piece of heaven. They love to go down there. And mostly women, there are some men who help especially with the Roman soldier costumes that have metal pieces. They take care of some of the metal and the leather pieces, but they go down there every week. And they talk and sew and still like they’re just participating in this wonderful thing that they feel very privileged to be able to share their talents in that way.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And my producer KellieAnn, she has a theatrical background. And I can tell just from looking at her that she’s so jealous, that she doesn’t get to take part in that every year and help get everyone all spiffy for the big event. But you know, I want to talk more about you, Jill, because in addition to your involvement with the pageant, you’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to a record of the restoration as you’ve been a correspondent for the Church News. And you’ve written other stories through journalism and taught journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Mesa. And what has it meant to you to be able to write about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

39:12  

Jill Bishop Adair: I feel like it’s been one of my greatest privileges. When I graduated from, I not only taught at ASU, but that’s where I graduated from, and started my career at the local Mesa Tribune. here in Mesa. The Cronkite school is actually in Phoenix now, beautiful new campus down there. But I was expecting my second child working as a reporter at the Mesa Tribune and decided that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. So I quit my job, cried all the way home, because that was the job I always dreamed of since I was in third grade. I used to make little Mesa Tribunes and write news for them. So I cried all the way home and then I never regretted that decision ever again. I was really grateful and felt very blessed to be able to be at home and raise my children.

But other opportunities came up for me. And I felt like that was such a blessing. The Church News was one of those. I was actually covering the Mesa Easter Pageant for a local paper here. It was a local [Latter-day Saint] paper privately owned called the Latter-day Sentinel. And then I was able to connect with the Church News and say, “Hey, I’m writing stories on the pageant here. Would you like me to cover the pageant for the Church News?” And that’s how I began and so I’ve been able to write at home and do other things, too when my kids got older. I was able to go back and work at a newspaper and teach at ASU.

But covering the events of the Church and being able to do that with my husband, who’s a photographer. And early on, I actually had a different photographer that I worked with and then he wasn’t able to do it anymore. And the Church News, I don’t remember if it was you at the time, Sarah, or not, but they said, “Hey, we’ll find you another photographer to work with.” And I said, “You know, my husband’s,” he was a hobby photographer. He wasn’t a professional, you know, a little bit professional, but not really. He worked at the post office. And I said, “You know, he’s got a great camera.” When we were still using hand-me-down couches, we had a nice Canon camera. We just felt like that was important to take nice pictures, especially of our little kids.

And so I said, “He’s a great photographer.” And they said, “Let’s try him. That’d be great.” So since that time, we’ve been able to work together. And we have had wonderful experiences. I mean, there have been so many times that we’ve looked at each other. And we say, you know, pinch ourselves. This is such a privilege to be able to be here at temple dedications, and at beautiful devotionals and just those important events that happen. And for us, it’s been the Arizona news to cover so that other people would be interested in outside of Arizona, but it’s been really, a very choice, blessing in our lives to be able to do that.

Easter sunrise service on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple in 1970. | Nyle Leatham

42:26  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And with that, that leads us to the final question. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we always end with the same question. And we always give our guests the last word. And so Jill, after working with, and writing about and being cast in the Mesa Easter pageant, what do you know now?

Jill Bishop Adair: I know that the Savior lives. I know that He loves me. I know that He loves every one of us and I’m grateful to know Him. I’m grateful to have Him be a part of my life. I needed Jesus and I’m grateful to have a testimony. I’m grateful to be a member of His Church. I’m grateful to have the beautiful temple here in our midst, the Mesa temple, and to have an eternal family. So number one is, I know He lives and that’s the message that I take into my heart, when I read the scriptures, anytime I have that kind of the experience where I am seeking the Savior, I just feel that my life is better, because the Savior’s in my life. I know He lives. I know He loves me.

44:01  

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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