News Story

Canadian Teens Forego Sleep for Early-Morning Scripture Study

Teens love sleep. In fact, teens are the sleepiest age group in the entire population, according to some studies. And yet, approximately 3,000 teen members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across Canada set their alarms to ring at the crack of dawn — not to swim early-morning laps but to study about Jesus Christ.

Some drive or take public transportation up to one hour every weekday to attend 50-minute study sessions alongside like-minded peers. These sessions are called “seminary” and are often held in the quiet hours of the morning. Other seminary students, whose distances prohibit them from gathering in person, join online sessions. It is a sacrifice of sleep with some big payoffs.

“I think going to seminary helped me stick with the gospel [of Jesus Christ],” said Emily Dunham, who joined the Church at age 16 in the small town of Grand Bay–Westfield in New Brunswick. “I’m the only member of the Church in my family, so seminary was super helpful. Every morning I had something to spiritually keep me going.”

It was not easy. “I’m not a morning person, and I think my parents thought I was crazy to get up so early,” Dunham said. “But I was excited about it, so that made it easier.”

Gaining Strength From Each Other

Early-morning seminary delivers a lot of benefits for teens in the Church, according to David Goldthorp, Canada Central Region Director of Seminaries and Institutes for the Church of Jesus Christ.

“Even kids who can only attend online get strength from each other,” Goldthorp said. “Sometimes they’re the only [Church] member in their school or family, or they attend a small branch with only a few other teens. Feeling the support and friendship of their peers is so important. It helps them to know they’re not the only person trying to live the gospel.”

Seminary also helps teens gain strength to face the trials and temptations of daily life, build faith, develop self-discipline, study the scriptures, learn gospel principles and feel closer to Jesus Christ.

One Size Does Not Have to Fit All

Early-morning, in-person seminary is not always the best fit for everyone, explained Karen Ross, who teaches online seminary in Nova Scotia. Travel distance in rural areas can be a challenge, or perhaps a student has social anxiety and prefers meeting online. But the commitment and self-discipline required are just as great.

“Online seminary students are responsible for their own learning,” Ross continued. “Instead of being called upon once or twice in class to read a scripture or answer a question, they do the entire lesson on their own and attend one group Zoom meeting per week. This helps them develop strong personal scripture-study skills. They have to be self-motivated.”

The Church is trying to meet the needs of students in a variety of circumstances so everyone aged 13 to 18 can participate. In Edmonton, Alberta, some classes are offered 5 p.m.–6 p.m. In other parts of Alberta, approximately 1,104 youth attend seminary classes during the school day in an adjacent Church building.

Canada First Country Outside U.S. to Hold Seminary

In Atlantic Canada, students are separated by significant distances. “And yet, seminary is a really important social experience for many,” said Richard Cartier, North America Northeast North Region director. “One example is a young lady who lives an hour and 30 minutes from the nearest Church building and the same distance to the nearest active youth in the stake. Seminary provides a very important touchstone for her to a gospel community.”

The first seminary classes were held in 1912 during regular school hours in a seminary building adjacent to Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. As Church membership grew throughout the world, early-morning classes were created. In 1948, Canada became the first country outside the United States to hold seminary.

“Our youth live in a very noisy world,” reflected Goldthorp. “Early in the morning, when the world is quieter, the Lord has a better chance to speak to their souls and still their minds. Our goal as seminary leaders is not simply covering information; it’s conversion to the gospel.”

A Nudge in the Right Direction

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, did not begin attending seminary until he was in grade 11. His father was not an active member of the Church and often worked on Sundays. A friend invited Ballard to attend seminary, and it changed the course of his life.

“My attendance in seminary is one of the things that set me in the right direction for my life,” President Ballard said at the 2022 Seminaries and Institutes Annual Training Broadcast. “In seminary, my heart was touched, and the seeds of testimony were planted within my soul. I don’t remember everything that was taught, but I do remember how I felt when I was there. I also remember feeling as though I belonged there.”

“In today’s conflicted world, these young people need the joy and the peace offered by the Savior Jesus Christ through His gospel,” Ballard continued. “They need to feel in their hearts the love that our Savior has for each one of them.”

Contributed by Gail Newbold, Canada Communication Council

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