Last night The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broadcast a special regarding the 100th Anniversary of the program known within the Church as “Seminary“.
It started in 1912, a class for teenagers in one stake (like a diocese) in Utah. The idea was simple: a chance to focus on the study of Scripture.
But is it really necessary? One would assume that a typical Sunday School class might offer enough, after all it works for other Churches.
Looking outward, no, it’s probably not necessary. Seeing the effect it has on our youth? I would say the answer is a resounding: YES!
I did not have the opportunity to attend and graduate Seminary. I really wish I had. However, I can attest that the knowledge my friends learned during that one hour every weekday morning before school started helped them understand the doctrine of their church like nothing I had ever seen. Furthermore, even though they attended a class in the wee hours of the morning before traipsing off to a full day at our high school, these teenagers were not only awake but positive about the experience.
I don’t know about you, but my thought about 6 AM as a teenager was more along the lines of: Can I beat you with this pillow for attempting to wake me up. It is sleep time!
OK, so that’s pretty much my opinion of 6 AM, now.
On the bright note, when I began to ask questions regarding my friends and their beliefs, they actually knew how to answer. Which is probably why Mormons ranked so high in religious knowledge in a recent Pew Forum study.
Four years of Seminary. Often at ridiculously early hours of the morning when their peers still see sugar plums dancing in their heads.
It is why I take my own son to Seminary, even though it is completely wrecking me mentally and physically from lack of sleep. I love the program, even if my body cannot figure out this whole “early to bed early to rise” thing.
So what happened in the broadcast, or “fireside” as we called it? A lot, mostly featuring the history of the program and remarks from a few teenagers from the North and South America as well as Europe. The most amazing story I heard centered around a teenager that wakes up at 4:30 AM to travel to a dock in order to board a canoe that takes him to Seminary. That is dedication and whew, I’m tired contemplating it! I will try to remember his story as I struggle with only a few brief hours of sleep to wake up at 5:45 AM to drive the seven minutes to our class.
We learned that in 1912 there were 70 students enrolled, but now Seminary students number over 350,000 across the world. One of the girls in that first class was the mother of President Eyring, first counselor to the President of the Church.
The most interesting fact, to me was that for the first two decades, Seminary didn’t teach a class on “The Book of Mormon”, as one might expect. Current President of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, actually spearheaded the inclusion of “The Book of Mormon”.
The keynote speaker of the night was President Packer, and I enjoyed his remarks. He reflected on his own years teaching Seminary and why he felt it so important. It was great to hear a first hand account of the growth of the program.
One of the things that touched me most was Packer’s simple statement reminding us that the term discipline comes from the word “disciple”. He wanted the youth to know that all the rules of morality serve a purpose and they should hold to their morals so they can be better disciples of Christ.
I know I want to better prepare myself as a disciple of Christ.
So the next time you see a Mormon teenager and they look a little tired, ask them how their Seminary class went that morning. Consider if you would have the same dedication at their age. When you spy those two missionaries in their suits and riding bicycles, realize that many prepared for their full-time 2-year mission by attending four years of Seminary, much like your average priest, pastor, or preacher. Ponder how fitting that is considering we are a lay church, expecting all of our membership to stand ready to serve in the role of clergy when called upon.