For first time, full-time missionaries volunteer at Smithsonian festival

Missionaries helped assemble rocking chairs for a Smithsonian Folklife Festival program about the Ozarks

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time, full-time missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were allowed to provide service for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The Folklife Festival, held this year from June 29 through July 4 and July 6 through 9, is the largest annual cultural event in the U.S. capital, according to the festival’s website.

Charish Bishop, a local Church member, is the festival’s assistant volunteer coordinator. She said missionaries previously haven’t been allowed to volunteer at the festival due to concerns about their name tags giving off the impression that they’re proselytizing.

But Bishop said she told festival leadership that, for instance, Jewish people would never be barred from volunteering due to their caps or other religious identifiers.

Festival leadership agreed with her, Bishop said. So shortly before the festival began, 14 local missionaries and their mission leaders helped assemble rocking chairs for a festival program dedicated to exploring culture in the Ozarks.

“As members of the Church, we find creative ways to serve others,” Bishop said. “So being able to go out and express our faith through service is special.”

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival began in 1967 and explores living cultural heritages each summer, the festival’s website states. It’s typically divided into programs featuring a nation, region, state or theme and includes music, art, dancing, cooking, craftwork and more. This year’s programs are “The Ozarks: Faces and Facets of a Region” and “Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S.”

Washington, D.C. FamilySearch Center director Frances Seay said the festival gets up to half a million visitors each year and never features the same program twice. So when Smithsonian leaders invited FamilySearch to participate in this year’s “Living Religions” program, she knew it was a unique and important opportunity to share the Church.

Over 160 locals are now volunteering at the FamilySearch station during the festival, teaching visitors how to work on their own genealogy.

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