100 Years of religious studies for Mormon youth
Special to The R-C
A good education is an important component of any child’s upbringing. Combine good education with religious studies, and you gain life experiences and spiritual foundations that yield benefits for years to come. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have long since believed in and encouraged its members to seek quality education in both secular and religious areas. More than 100 years ago, the church started a seminary program in religious studies for its youth.
In 1912, adjacent to Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thomas J. Yates assumed the task of organizing and teaching the first seminary class. Yates, a Cornell University trained engineer, rode his horse at midday from his full-time job to teach the 70 students enrolled in the fledgling program, reported the Church’s Newsroom in a story published on Jan. 19, 2012 (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/seminary-celebrates-century-teaching-mormon-teens).
Seminary is a four-year religious educational program for high school students. It is open to teenagers of all faiths. Seminary grew from the original 70 students to over 375,000 enrollees in more than 140 countries today. Students study the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants/Church History.
The church’s seminary program has been operating in Nevada for over 70 years. When the seminary program started keeping records in 1953, there were 394 students in all of Nevada.
Seminary in Carson Valley
It is unknown when seminary started in the Carson Valley, but it likely began in 1966. According to Bob Ellison, a long time resident of Carson Valley and noted historian and author, the Valley’s first seminary teacher was the junior high school band teacher. He would pick up all of the students in his VW bus and then take them to the CVIC Hall in Minden for seminary at 6:30 a.m. His class consisted of his two boys, and five other youth.
In late 1972, seminary meetings moved to the newly completed meetinghouse on Spruce Street. Seminary moved to a second chapel built in 2005 on Mahogany Drive, across the street from the Douglas High School campus. Seminary classes continue to be held there today.
Ellison recalls, “At the 1979 seminary graduation, The (Gardnerville) Record-Courier published an article which included quotes from President Ed Carlson. He noted there were 145,000 seminary students worldwide and 100 students between Carson City and Gardnerville.”
Ellison started teaching seminary in the fall of 1985 with a class of 15 students. He remembers a time when active youth from seminary were also exceptionally involved in everything else good in the community. “Anytime one of the students would miss class for a variety of reasons, they quickly made up their seminary work,” said Ellison.
Today, the seminary program in the area consists of early morning classes beginning at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday during the school year. Youth enroll in seminary when entering their freshmen year in public school.
“The curriculum gives students a chance to understand sequentially what the scriptures teach,” says Chad H. Webb, administrator of Seminaries for the Church. “They discover the stories, the people, the backgrounds, and the history of those volumes of scripture. It’s a process that allows them to find answers to questions in their own lives.”
The seminary legacy that began 100 years ago will continue to build youth of character and commitment to strong moral values. Nevada leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have emphasized their commitment and support of seminary. Carson City Stake President David Haws stated, “The youth of today have a lot going for them, but they also have challenges that are more difficult than we had in our day. The church’s seminary program provides youth with an added arsenal of tools to remain strong in the face of moral and ethical decisions they face now and in the future.”
Curtis Palmer is assistant director of public affairs for the Carson City, Nevada, Stake