When he discusses religion with his non-member friends, Daniel Lifferth of the Nashville (Tenn.) 3rd Ward surprises them with his knowledge of the scriptures.
"In early-morning seminary, I've learned enough about the New Testament to really support the Church in these discussions," he said.But just as important, he said, is the way early-morning seminary has brought the youths in his ward closer together. "If we can stand each other at this hour," he explained, "we can stand each other at any hour. In fact, I would rather spend all day there."
For tens of thousands of LDS teenagers, early-morning seminary starts each day of the school year with a prayer and scripture study. It gives them a chance to be around other LDS youths - a big plus when a student may be the only Latter-day Saint in a high school. In the last few years, the program has spread to Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, South America and Africa. It has also been expanded in the Southeast, where the North America Southeast Area presidency has urged wards and branches to replace weekly home study with early-morning seminary.
The following are examples of what is happening in thousands of daily seminary classes worldwide:
- Japan - Last year an early-morning seminary program was started here with many unanswered questions. Japanese high school students must pass rigorous entrance exams to get into high school and college. "People say if a student sleeps three hours a night, he will pass the exam," said Shozo Suzuki, CES area director in Japan. "But if he sleeps five hours, he will fail the exam."
Despite this and other challenges, daily seminary
has taken hold and prospered in Japan. Fifty-nine classes have been formed with 334 students. In Sapporo a class is held in the teacher's home located high on a hill. The students push their bikes up a steep slope to get to class each morning. A bishop suggested renting a more accessible meetingplace, but the students rejected the idea, saying the physical challenge had strengthened them spiritually.
- Africa - In 1987 missionary couples started the seminary program in Ghana. A year later classes were begun in Nigeria. The program has grown nearly as quickly as the Church in that area with 1,800 seminary students enrolled in Ghana and 1,300 in Nigeria."The students are very anxious to study," said Bruce Lake, CES zone administrator.
- The Caribbean - The daily seminary program started among the island nations here during the last five years when CES representatives in Florida and missionary couples began to supervise and train teachers. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico each have more than 1,000 seminary students. Haiti has about 185 students while Jamaica has 141.
- Nashville, Tenn. - In the Nashville area (in the heart of the Bible Belt), religion plays a significant role in the lives of many teenagers, local Church leaders said. Early morning seminary has helped LDS youths build their faith while learning the gospel.
"You really learn the scriptures and that makes it easier to defend the Church even to your teachers," said Jeff Scott of the Nashville 3rd Ward. "We also have the best seminary teacher in the world."
Hydee Ballantyne said early-morning seminary wakes her up in the morning and gets her ready for the day. "Going to seminary has helped my grades improve," she said.
- Ohio-Pennsylvania - The early-morning seminary classes in northeastern Ohio and Erie, Pa., started a reading program in which the students were expected to read the scriptures every day. Some of the youths have kept their dates waiting while they read their scriptures. Others have asked their dates to bring them home before midnight so they could get their reading done.
- Colorado - At 5:30 a.m. in Greeley, before high school junior Brian Bagley leaves for early morning seminary, his father, Steven E. Bagley, cooks breakfast. "His father is a dentist and second counselor in the Greeley Colorado Stake presidency," said Ruth Ann Bagley, stake public communications director. "Their schedules often have both away from home during the evenings and weekends." Early morning seminary has opened the door for them to have one-on-one time every day.
- Irvine, Calif. - Ninety young men and women meet in the Irvine Seminary/Institute of Religion building each day at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. "They are bright and happy," said Richard Holzapfel, institute director. "Many of our youths are student officers, athletic heroes, cheerleaders, band members and play lead roles in high school plays. It is amazing that they come to seminary before going to school and then participate so much in school activities and other Church activities, too."
Holzapfel calls the volunteer instructors the program's unsung heros. "Most of them have full-time jobs and families, yet prepare lessons each night and get up early themselves to come to a dark building each morning to teach these kids."