In November 2009, when meditating on the subject of ward unity and how it might be increased in the Kentlands Ward, an image came to my mind of the solidarity that seemed to come into a ward—particularly to its youth—during the production of what we used to call “road shows.” From that mental image sprang the following thought: You know a little about these things. You should lead your ward in the production of a musical. This seemed like an odd thing for a bishop to contemplate but I let the idea play out, mentally checking off the list of musicals I had seen over the years, when a follow-up thought came to me: You should do the Church musical "Savior of the World". With that insight, I instantly experienced, in that timeless way we glimpse what I have to come to regard as heavenly things, the end of everything that would eventually flow from it, absent any of the intervening detail. I also experienced an unarticulated confidence that if I were to respond to that push, the actual making of the thing would take care of itself. Between that glimpse and the two ward productions that spanned the next 13 months, hundreds of tiny details would eventually make their way into my mind, usually in the quiet of the early morning, just as dozens of tiny miracles would come into the lives of those who helped bring about what I now consider one of the transformational experiences of my life. Following are examples of how an initial vision turned to line-upon-line ideas, and then to deliberate action, between November 2009 and December 2010.
At a Stake Conference training meeting a few days after the initial idea was sprung, Bishop Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric challenged bishops in the stake to devise ways to increase their ward council’s capacity to act as a complete leadership team, particularly in areas of responsibility not exclusive to the bishop’s stewardship. The next stage of the vision, then, was that the production needed to be led not by me, nor by a specialist committee, but by the entire ward council. This notion led to a guiding principle that the show was not to be about just a performance but an all-encompassing program whose message about the Savior’s birth and resurrection was to be the central focus of the ward for the next year, a focus of such magnitude that it would eventually require a sustaining vote from the entire congregation.
Although the primary objective for taking on the program was to strengthen ward unity, there were three other formal and often reiterated goals that would also be at work throughout the year: Invite the Savior more fully into our lives; Open our building to the community; and Increase our exposure to wholesome cultural art. At every step, the ward council was guided by these four objectives as they made decisions about things like inclusivity—Do we invite those outside our ward to audition? About participation—Given everything else going on in their lives, how involved should the youth be encouraged to become? And about overall ward involvement—Since only about half the families in the ward would be involved in the production side of the program, how might our meetings, lessons, talks and other activities reflect a comprehensive ward focus on the “Savior of the World”? From these decisions emerged another guiding principle, that participation in all aspects of the project throughout the year would be far more important than the theatrical performances that would occasionally punctuate it.