Explorers in the Church engage in a variety of activities that broaden their vocational, physical and cultural horizons. Yet much of the Exploring undertaken by the Church's 29,000 16- to 18-year-old young men is spiritual and helps prepare them for successful missions, careers and fatherhood.
Post 480 in Fairfield, Calif., is representative of many of the 3,985 Church-sponsored Explorer posts in the United States.Sponsored by the Cordelia Ward, Fairfield California Stake, Post 480 has 25 members and includes a diverse cultural mix of boys - two Laotians, one Hmong, one Vietnamese and a Guatemalan, among others - who have been molded into a cohesive unit by shared experiences.
"We have kind of an interesting mix of people," said Craig Gillespie, 34, Explorer leader and assistant priests quorum advisor. "We have four languages spoken besides English."
Yet, despite the diversity and what Bishop James W. Warner describes as young men who are "extremely different" in terms of interests and backgrounds, the post has a closeness brought about by an investment of time and energy.
"This group has a cohesiveness I have never before seen in priests and Explorers," Bishop Warner noted. "It's due to the leadership on the part of the boys and adults. They don't associate at school that closely, but when they come to Church, they all feel comfortable."
Gillespie was called to lead Post 480 when the Cordelia Ward was organized inAugust 1987. He and priests quorum adviser Ken Hinckley, who moved from the ward four months ago and was replaced by David Smurthwaite, started visiting all of the boys. At the time, there were seven active and three less-active boys.
"For the first year, the advisers were going out and visiting every boy," reflected Bishop Warner. "They then realized that the youth leaders should be doing that. The adult leaders worked with the boys and taught them their responsibilities. The young men were very receptive to visits from their peers."
Church members and non-members who belonged to the post responded to the invitations to participate in well-planned Sunday lessons, week-night activities andoutings, and the post grew rapidly. Youth leaders blossomed, according to Gillespie and Bishop Warner, and some non-members who belonged to the post joined the Church.
"Each time a new member comes into the quorum, we take the presidency and go meet them," Gillespie explained. "During that meeting, the boys explain what is involved in the program and what is offered. They talk of the importance of bringing the scriptures on Sunday and about sacrament preparation.
"To help the youth leaders, once a month we have leadership training. It's been gratifying to see the youth leaders actually become leaders. That's been the most gratifying part of the program."
One young man who has benefited from the friendshipping is Charles R. Clark Jr., a 16-year-old who joined the Church three months ago.
"Before I joined the Church," he explained, "I didn't have many friends. Since I joined the Church, I have found friends and worthwhile things to do. I've joined the ward basketball team because of their influence. We spend time togetherand have great experiences.
"On Sundays, I really enjoy the scripture study. All of the guys are really into it. I'm learning, and have memorized several passages. I haven't missed a meeting yet."
"We have great leaders," praised David A. Harvath, 17, quorum second assistant. "Our bishop really works well with our advisers and youth leaders. It's a good program."
Besides monthly training, youth and adult leaders meet weekly to plan quorum meetings and review upcoming events.
"The boys have a big input with what goes on in the program," Gillespie emphasized. He said the program's emphasis is on missionary preparation and on exploring hobbies, vocations, cultures and sports.
"I've learned a lot from our Sunday meetings in priests quorum," said Jaron S. Barney, 18, quorum first assistant. "Our leaders teach us directly from the missionary discussions and teach us how to use them. They also share a lot of personal experiences. We use the scriptures a lot, which is helping me prepare well for my mission."
Gillespie added, "The number one thing we emphasize on Sundays is that the boys - including non-members - bring their scriptures. That is a bottom line, that all have their scriptures and are learning to use and mark them. The young men who forget them check them out at the library before going to class. We take time at the beginning of each class and ask where to find the baptism prayer, sacramental prayers, Sermon on the Mount or whatever."
Bishop Warner said he has visited many excellent priests quorums, "but I havenever walked into a quorum where the boys pore over scriptures like these do."
Though the boys recognize the worth of Sunday activities in the priests quorum, they also enjoy the activity side of the program offered through Exploring.
"I definitely feel that Exploring is worthwhile," said Jaron, "and that it has helped me a lot. I got my Eagle award in the Explorer post.
"Last summer we went to Lake Powell (Utah) with 14 guys, including a couple who were partially active. In all our activities, we try to get as many out as wecan. We had a lot of work projects that helped raise money for the trip. We had many good experiences raising funds. We found that if we wanted something, we had to work for it."
This year the Explorer post will participate in five activities - a snorkeling trip; a diving excursion; water skiing; a just-completed snowmobiling and cross-country skiing trip; and a bicycle trek - instead of one "Super Activity."
Weeknight activities include "exploration" of how to job hunt (resumes and practice interviews), budgeting, mission "survival skills" including bachelor cooking, sewing and laundering, medicine (Gillespie is a physician), fire fighting, air traffic controlling, city government, photography, journalism, dentistry (using Bishop Warner's office), law, business, veterinary medicine and automobile maintenance.
Explorers study the various vocations, visit many types of businesses and entertain guest speakers. The young men often receive hands-on experience, such as cleaning their leaders' teeth, putting on casts and taking photographs and then evaluating them as a group.
Service projects are not ignored. The group last year had a Christmas party with a widow in the ward, cleared three miles of lakefront property, designed and built a safety house used by the local fire department for demonstrations in schools and helped install a drainage system at the ward meetinghouse.
"I've never worked as hard in a Church calling as I have with this one," Gillespie concluded. "And I've never enjoyed one more.