A Sparrow in the Tabernacle
June 1989

“A Sparrow in the Tabernacle,” Ensign, June 1989, 24

A Sparrow in the Tabernacle

Shortly after the 1985 April general conference, a guest band and chorus were to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This event was being recorded, so there was a great deal of equipment set up in the Tabernacle.

The department I managed was responsible for tuning the great pipe organ. Fluctuation of the building’s temperature greatly affects the sound of this fine instrument. The performance had occurred on an especially warm night, so afterward we had left the Tabernacle doors open to allow the fresh evening air into the building. The organ could then cool down and be tuned for the next evening’s concert.

Unknown to us, a sparrow had flown into the Tabernacle while the doors were open. The building was later closed, and the bird was not discovered until the next morning.

When I arrived at work, I received a phone call from my employees, who had spent several hours trying to remove this bird from the Tabernacle. The Salt Lake City animal control people had been called, and they came with long-handled nets to capture the sparrow.

When I entered the building I found my employees racing through the Tabernacle, waving the long nets at the frightened bird. As they would run to one end with the nets, the frantic sparrow would fly to the other end of the building.

It flew from the top of the facade of the great pipe organ to the back of the building, where it would perch atop a bench. The only thing the nets accomplished was to terrify an already frightened bird. It couldn’t recognize that all the doors in the building were open for its escape.

The animal control people brought some pellet guns. Although they were not allowed to fire them on private property, they pointed out that our employees could borrow them to shoot the sparrow.

I immediately put that idea to rest. The ceiling in the 118-year-old building was the original—made from plaster combined with fine animal hair to give it stability and its beautiful acoustics—and I didn’t want it damaged by pellets. There were other practical reasons not to shoot at the bird, including the risk of damaging the delicate recording equipment and musical instruments still on the stand. But more important, I did not feel it would be appropriate to kill this tiny creature. I remembered a talk by President Spencer W. Kimball about not shooting little birds.

The animal control people then suggested setting poisoned food out for the bird. I wasn’t comfortable with this, either. But the bird needed to be removed from the Tabernacle as quickly as possible. That night there would be a full house with several General Authorities and other dignitaries in attendance.

As the bird continued to fly back and forth, chirping loudly, the thought came to me that if this bird was important to Heavenly Father, perhaps I should ask him how to get it out of the building. I turned my back to the others, bowed my head, and said a simple prayer: “Heavenly Father, if this sparrow is important to you, could you please let us know how to safely remove it?”

I immediately had a strong impression of what to do. Closing the prayer, I turned and gave instructions to the workers. They turned off all the lights in the building, shut the window blinds, and closed all but one of the doors.

At that moment, the bird was perched on top of the organ’s facade. Suddenly he left his lofty perch, and in a perfect swan dive flew out the open door to freedom.

The sparrow reminds me of the predicament many of us find ourselves in. We feel trapped by our own actions or by the actions of others. We feel frustrations from health problems, family problems, and finances. We fly from one point to another, flapping our wings and making a lot of noise, but that does not solve our problems.

But just as God loved that sparrow, he loves each of us and will give us inspiration and direction if we will only ask.

  • Ronald D. John, manager of Temple Square operations, serves as a home teacher in the Layton Twenty-first Ward, Layton Utah Holmes Creek Stake.

Illustrated by Ron Stucki