News Story

Raising the Bar for Mormon Youth: From Seminary Students to Servants of the Lord

Sixteen years ago, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began to emphasize “raising the bar” for missionaries. Now the focus of general authorities, local leaders and teachers is to raise the spiritual bar even earlier for Mormon young men and young women. One of the primary ways to elevate the spiritual bar for youth will occur in seminary programs throughout Canada and the rest of the Church.

In May 2014, the commissioner of the Church Educational System, Elder Paul V. Johnson, announced, “Beginning with the upcoming school year, students who wish to graduate from seminary or receive an institute diploma will now be asked to meet two additional qualifications. Number 1: Complete the designated readings for each course. And number 2: Pass a course learning assessment.”

The new standards for seminary students in the 2014–15 school year are intended to strengthen the spiritual preparation of tomorrow’s missionaries, mothers, fathers and leaders of the Church.

Seminary instructors in Canada are eager to hold students to more robust standards of spiritual growth. Dana Puddington is a teacher of a small seminary program in Kanata, Ontario. She and her three students meet in her home.

“Seminary is very different now,” she says. “Here, it isn’t the teacher who does most of the talking. We discuss the gospel concepts together. The students teach each other.”

To prepare her students to pass the seminary learning assessment, she focuses on those who are less inclined to participate. “The boys are shyer. So I make sure that they feel safe in our seminary environment. Now they open up to things they experience, [they] express their spiritual feelings and they write in a journal what the Spirit's telling them in their own heart and mind.”

Puddington uses student interests to evoke spiritual truths. “We play games involving scriptures, [games] which better enable the students to learn and recite verses. More importantly, we talk about the context of the story. They are learning to relate all scriptures to the context of what was happening in the scriptures and to their own lives.”

“Now when they are in Sunday School class or become a missionary, they know exactly where to go. They know the scriptures, not just the verses.”

The practices Puddington has put into place support the counsel of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Oaks has reflected on seminary’s importance to the lowering of the missionary age, saying, “Speaking of the young men, [the lower missionary age] means they can go right out of seminary and into the mission field. Therefore, the priesthood priority is to get them ready at an earlier time.”

Michael Pilling, the Canada area Director of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, says, “Most of Canada’s seminary student population is stable, and there is growth in southern Alberta.”  During the 2013–14 school year, 4,491 students enrolled in seminary. Of those, 513 attended in British Columbia, 992 in eastern Canada, and 2,986 in the central portion of the country.

The Church in Canada has the added dimension of a dual-language population; thus, skill and adaptability of seminary teachers is required. “We have a challenge, because my students are multilingual,” says Lisa Crutcher Desjourdy, who conducts seminary courses in Sherbrooke, Quebec. “Though we live in a French-speaking [congregation], we also have a number of English-[speaking]-only families. Here, I teach the students in French and in English, and students study in English.”

“It requires a lot for them; they have to be ready to do it on a daily basis,” says Crutcher Desjourdy. “We have kids in our [congregation] who come to church every week, [but] their parents are not participating. Without parental support, why would a 14- to 16-year-old get up [early] and [attend seminary] if he wasn’t benefitting?”

Seminary is a worldwide, four-year religious educational program for youth ages 14 through 18. It is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but is open to teenagers of all faiths. In seminary, students and their teachers meet each weekday during the school year to study scripture.

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