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LDS Youth Cultural Celebration expected to draw thousands to Pocatello today

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Kay Hodges, Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

POCATELLO — Tonight the Gate City will host what Doyle Batt calls “the largest event in its history.”

Batt, the chairman of the Idaho Falls LDS Temple Open House and Rededication, said more than 24,000 people are expected to attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Youth Cultural Celebration at Idaho State University’s Holt Arena today at 7 p.m.

About 12,000 youths between the ages of 12 to 18, along with 2,000 chaperones and another 12,000 spectators, are expected to convene at the Pocatello arena to commemorate the rededication and reopening of the Idaho Falls LDS Temple. The youths in attendance will travel from as far away as Salmon and the Wyoming border.

Plus, Batt, who also serves as the chairman of the Youth Cultural Celebration, said that at least another 75,000 will either watch from home or at LDS churches.

A member of the First Presidency of the LDS Church, at least one member of the LDS 12 Apostles, many other LDS leaders, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, and other religious, national, state and local leaders will all be counted among the audience.

For the past two years, the Idaho Falls Temple has been closed for renovations. Once the renovations were complete, Batt oversaw the temple’s open house, which allowed the public to see the interior from April 22 to May 20. Before that, the interior had not been open to the public since 1945.

“There were well over 200,000 attendees to the open house, which required 400 to 500 volunteers per day to make it happen,” said Batt. “The open house was not a proselyting event. It was a gift to the community to help with understanding the Mormon faith.”

Batt continued, “Our open house was well-received by our community, for which we are very grateful. … There were some people of different faiths and countries that were a bit apprehensive about coming, but overwhelmingly, they have left with a more positive understanding of the Mormon faith and that we are Christians.

“There is nothing in the temple that you cannot find in the Bible and many recognized that.”

Batt also noted that the attendees to the open house represented a cross-section of different types of people, religions and lives, coming as far away as Asia to visit.

The attendees were also comprised of Muslims, Fundamentalist Mormons, American Sign Language groups, inmates from jails and other rehabilitation programs, as well as national, state and local leaders, including First Lady of Idaho Lori Otter, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Senator James Risch and Congressman Raul Labrador.

Once LDS temple open houses are complete, the temples are rededicated — an LDS term for blessing and making sacred — and then only entered into by members of the LDS faith.

The Idaho Falls Temple District area incorporates 140,000 LDS members, divided into 43 large congregations that the Mormons call “stakes.” Holt Arena provided the largest facility available in the area to host an event that involves so many people.

“It will break all attendance records at Holt Arena,” Gayleen Meservey, the executive director of the cultural event, said.

The event will not be open to the public.

“With over 12,000 youth whose parents and grandparents want to come, there just isn’t enough room,” Meservey said.

Ticket distribution is at the discretion of the 43 stake presidents.

“Stake center buildings throughout the district will have the event broadcasted and will be open to the public,” said Batt.

The Idaho Falls Temple Rededication Ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 4, in three separate sessions broadcast from the temple to the church’s stake centers. The dedication ceremonies are not open to the public. LDS members ages 8 and up, who have received recommends from their leaders, are able to watch the ceremony.

Temple rededications are often celebrated with a Youth Cultural Event, and the one Pocatello is hosting on Idaho State University’s campus is expected to involve the largest number of youth to date.

According to the Idaho Falls LDS website, the 70-minute program at the Holt Arena on June 3, entitled “Temple by the River — Reflections,” will “include a brief narrative of the history of the Snake River Valley, interwoven with drama, music, and dance — including a choir of 500 young people. A massive screen at the east end of the arena will magnify the action on the floor and be broadcast to each stake center in the temple district.”

In regards to the logistics of executing an event this large, Batt said, “I’m a little nervous about managing 12,000 youth in one place, but the people of Pocatello have been so incredibly helpful with providing ushers, parking, housing, even golf carts with six backups for the Church leaders. Everyone there has been so willing to help.”

Meservey said that the youths will arrive in cars Friday night for a practice and then return home. Then they’ll return Saturday morning and stay until the end of the event that night.

Each group of six youths will have one chaperone. They will not be allowed to leave Holt Arena because of safety concerns. So they will bring sack lunches and extra bathrooms have been provided. Those traveling from far away will be housed in LDS homes in the Pocatello area.

Events of this proportion require an immense amount of time and planning.

“My kids don’t think I like them anymore!” Batt jokingly stated.

Meservey added, “It has become almost a full-time job,” on top of her being the director of the Idaho Falls Sounds Summer Musicals.

Batt said everyone involved in the Youth Cultural Celebration has donated their time and their talents. Meservey said that there is an “army” of people who help. They sew costumes, design sets, construct sets, create props, write and find music, coordinate tickets, direct the choir, choreograph and direct the dances, and manage the audio/visual needs.

Except for the Native American and Spanish dance music, all of the musical numbers are either original pieces or original arrangements.

Meservey and Ronda Groberg, who is one of the co-chairs of the Youth Cultural Celebration under Batt, wrote lyrics for two of the four original pieces. Local artists, Terry and Linda Hale, set the pieces to music and wrote original works of their own, including one to celebrate potatoes that’s called “Spuds.” Eric Wenstrom, another Southeast Idaho native, made arrangements of all the other music.

“The goal of the Youth Cultural Celebration is for the youth to learn about the temple and want to set their sights on keeping strong and pure and want to attend it in the future,” Groberg said.

Meservey added, “I do it because I value the temple, my religion and I love the youth. I and other leaders want them to stay pure, clean and true. We want them to experience something they will remember so that when they are faced with things like drugs or other trouble, they will think, ‘Maybe I really don’t want to do that.’”

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.