I am grateful for you and am pleased to spend a few minutes with you today. I am thankful for Chad and his talented and dedicated team who work so diligently to help in this work of the Lord. It is a blessing to have Sister Jean B. Bingham with us today, and I look forward to her message. She is a powerful and inspiring leader, and we are grateful she serves on the Church Board of Education.
As we have been considering important changes in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (S&I), I have also reflected on changes throughout the history of education in the Church. The other day, I started matching up what was happening in Church education with my own family history. My mother’s parents converted to the Church in Switzerland when they were young adults, so on that side of my family my mother’s generation was the first to intersect with Church education. Some of my father’s ancestors were members of the Church much earlier in the dispensation. Let me walk through some basic information on some of those ancestors and also mention Church education efforts during their time. You will notice changes through the years—some of them major.
Sarah Jane Angell, my great-great-grandmother, was a young girl when her family lived in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo. She arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1848, as a 14-year-old girl, and she received schooling in whatever community schools they had in those locations.
Jarvis Johnson, who eventually married Sarah, lived in Nauvoo as a young teenager. Any schooling he received would have been in one of the several schools in the city. After the Saints left Nauvoo and headed west, he enlisted as a member of the Mormon Battalion at age 17. During Sarah’s and Jarvis’s youth and young adult years, the Church and individuals in their communities offered schooling, but there was not a Church Educational System as we know it today.
Sarah and Jarvis’s son Rais is my great-grandfather. He grew up in Utah and attended school in a town called Honeyville. The building was used for both church and school. Charlotte, who eventually married Rais, attended school in nearby Call’s Fort, in a small stone building. They were teenagers in the late 1870s and early 1880s, a few years before the Church opened most of its academies. As more schools in the towns became government schools during the 1880s, these schools were not allowed to teach religion. This triggered an expansion of Church-run academies after Rais and Charlotte had finished their schooling.
Rais left an account of his proposal of marriage to Charlotte, whom he called Lottie. He said:
“The first time I saw Lottie she was driving a peddling wagon. Her father ran a store in front of their home. She looked like a daisy. I later met her at a dance, and we went together less than a year, and then I asked her to have me. She said, ‘You don’t like me.’ I said, ‘I do.’ We were engaged for three months.”1
I am pretty sure Rais would not make it as a writer of dialogue for romantic movies, but Charlotte married him anyway, and they had 12 children.
One of those 12 children, Alphalus—who went by “Alph”—is my grandfather and attended Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. My grandmother, named Blanche, also attended Brigham Young College, which was one of the Church academies. At the time they attended it was like a high school and junior college combined. At these academies, the students were taught both secular subjects and religion and had a full range of activities. My grandfather played on the baseball and basketball teams, and my grandmother was a pole-vaulter.
The first released-time seminary began in Salt Lake City in 1912, and from there the program began to spread to other cities. After these seminaries began to show that they gave a good religious foundation to students attending public schools, the Church made the decision to divest itself of most of the academies, including Brigham Young College. Because of this, the next generation in my family attended public schools and seminary.
One of Alph and Blanche’s sons, Vere, is my father. He could remember his seminary teachers his whole life. My mother, Winifred, also attended high school and seminary and could remember her teachers as well.
In 1926 the Institute of Religion program began in Moscow, Idaho, and by 1928 the second institute was established in Logan, Utah. Both of my parents attended what is now Utah State University in Logan during the 1940s. By that time, the institute program was well established in Logan, and my parents first met socially in connection with an institute activity. They eventually married, and after their wedding in the Logan Utah Temple, they held their wedding reception in the institute building.
I grew up in Logan, Utah, and attended the same high school and seminary as my mother. That high school was actually what used to be Brigham Young College. I also spent part of a school year in Monticello, Utah, and was in the same seminary class as a very wonderful girl a year younger than me. Her name was Jill. In fact, her name still is Jill, and although I am not sure I was any better at romantic dialogue than my great-grandfather Rais, she still ended up marrying me.
I attended seminary in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is the time period when there was some initial expansion of seminary and institute to different parts of the world. There had been experience with early-morning seminary classes and some experimenting with home-study seminary that made the expansion through the world possible. These were challenging times for those in S&I. They were trying to adapt programs that were established in released-time settings and in institutes at college campuses to very different circumstances across the world. They dealt with huge translation and printing challenges in those early days.
In fact, when I was on my mission in the early 1970s in Norway, seminary was introduced there the same year I arrived. I remember helping a young man, Tom Rui, with his home-study seminary lessons—something I had never seen before. It was the first time I realized that seminary could be something different from a class during the school day held adjacent to the high school.
I now make the shift from my ancestors to our posterity. Our children attended seminary in released-time programs, except for a couple of our children who attended early-morning seminary while we were on assignment in Chile. The curriculum had changed since Jill and I had attended seminary. I was a young seminary teacher when sequential scripture teaching was introduced. There were some challenges figuring out how best to teach this way. It was not an automatic transition. But the results were just what was needed for the generation being taught. They became more familiar with the scriptures, and as a result they were naturally influenced more by the scriptures and developed a trust in them. We have some recordings of my parents from a few years before they passed away, and my mother spoke of a difference she had noticed.
Listen to her comments:
“We didn’t get taught in seminary nearly as well as the children do now, and we never had the habit of reading the scriptures the way they do now. My mother had little books—Tales from the Scriptures—and she’d read those. But I don’t remember us reading the scriptures. Our children, and grandchildren, maybe have even a stronger testimony because they understand the gospel more, and they have— They start reading it when they are much younger, and they really read the scriptures. And I think it’s added such a strength to them.”2
Some of my grandchildren are now seminary-aged, and the oldest ones are institute-aged. They are seeing still other changes in S&I, such as aligning what is taught in seminary with what is being studied at home with Come, Follow Me. Because of the current pandemic, we have had to learn a lot about delivering classes remotely. I am cheering for all of you as we make changes that will be suited “to the conditions of the” rising generation.3 I cheer extra loudly because that rising generation includes our grandchildren.
Making important changes is typically difficult. Sometimes the direction is clear but the execution can be very challenging. Think of the sons of Mosiah. They had a clear purpose that “salvation should be declared to every creature”4 and “that perhaps [they] might save some few … souls.”5 It is easy to focus only on their miraculous success and forget how challenging things were. They tried everything. They were at it for 14 years, and their experiences included suffering every privation; teaching in streets, houses, temples, and synagogues; and being cast out, mocked, spit upon, smitten, stoned, bound, and cast into prison.6 But they persevered, kept their focus, and received the Lord’s power to accomplish their mission.
I recently read again about then-Elder Russell M. Nelson’s experiences in Europe—particularly in Eastern Europe—when he had responsibility for that portion of the world from 1985 to 1990. At that time he was serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 1985, when he was given responsibility for Europe and Africa, he was given a special assignment to open up the nations in Eastern Europe (which were then under the yoke of communism) for the preaching of the gospel.7 This assignment was given four years before the Berlin Wall fell and six years before the Soviet Union officially ended.
Elder Nelson’s objective was clear, but the task was very difficult. He was relentless in his focus on this special assignment. He visited “the former USSR twenty-seven times and … other eastern bloc countries several dozen times.”8 In her book Insights from a Prophet’s Life: Russell M. Nelson, Sheri Dew described his work in the following way:
“He was never wanted and rarely welcome. Many government leaders wouldn’t even give appointments to a man who professed faith in God. Over time, he was both thwarted in his efforts and helped along the way; treated poorly in some circumstances and graciously in others; spied on by secret police and later greeted as friends by officials who got to know him; and treated suspiciously in some corners while being sought for medical consultation by others. Some trips seemed utterly futile, while on others, doors opened he could never have predicted or planned for.”9
After Elder Nelson’s assignment changed from Europe, he and Elder Oaks—who succeeded him in the assignment—went to report to the President of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson, that the Church was now established in every country in Eastern Europe.10 Sister Dew further described President Nelson’s experience:
“When later asked what he learned from the assignment to open the countries in Eastern Europe for the preaching of the gospel, particularly in light of the many stops and starts, failed meetings, and ups and downs, Elder Nelson replied simply: ‘The Lord likes effort. He could have said to Moses, “I’ll meet you halfway.” But Moses had to go all the way to the top of Mount Sinai. He required effort from Moses and Joshua and Joseph Smith and from all of the subsequent Presidents of the Church. … Are you willing to do really hard things? Once you’ve shown you’re willing to do your part, He will help you.’”11
Elder Nelson’s righteous efforts were instrumental in the momentous change that resulted in making the gospel available to millions of God’s children.
Miracles take hard work. The miracles we long for will take tremendous effort on our part.
Sometimes it takes time to realize the full results of our hard-fought efforts to make necessary changes. In some cases, we may not even get to witness the complete harvest of the fruits of our efforts combined with the Lord’s power. But our progress is critical, and we can and will strive to make the changes that will bless the lives of those we serve. It also lays the foundation for the next generation—our great-grandchildren. Jill and I do not have any yet, but soon they will start to arrive here on earth, and before we know it, they will be in your classes.
Our objective in S&I is clear—it has not changed. We still strive to bless these young people and help them “understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.”12 It is because we are working to achieve that end that we are open to changes in our programs, to perfecting means of delivery, to innovating institute, and to other efforts to improve. Because we love young people, we are willing to work diligently, try new things, and ask for the Lord’s guidance and power in all our efforts.
In your efforts to bless the lives of the rising generation, may the Lord also bless you in the challenges you personally face. I love you and testify of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. They live.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.