“Connecting through a Council,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 38
Joseph Du Wors had learned about the gospel as a teenager, but it wasn’t until he spotted the Church’s Seattle Institute of Religion one day while riding a bus that he felt the time was right for him to join the Church.
Little did Joseph know he was an answer to prayer the day he first walked into the institute building. “I later learned that one of the instructors had been praying for someone to fill a vacant seat in his investigators’ class,” Brother Du Wors recalls. “This same man went on to ordain me an elder before my mission to Montreal, Canada, and then he ordained me a high priest when I became a high councilor in the Seattle Washington North Stake.”
“Also, I saw my wife-to-be for the first time from the windows of this institute building as she was coming to attend church her first Sunday here,” he remembers. The couple recently had their first child, and Brother Du Wors continues attending institute classes as a married student. “I don’t know where my life would be if I hadn’t been a young single adult here,” he says.
Located near the University of Washington’s campus on the shores of Lake Washington, the Seattle institute building is a second home to hundreds of young single adults who meet there for classes during the week or as members of two singles wards on Sundays. In addition, the Seattle institute functions as a social and spiritual hub for other young single adult wards and branches that are in the area. Seattle leaders and members agree that young single adults benefit from the ecclesiastical consistency found in their wards and branches, the opportunity to learn about the gospel in institute classes, and the frequent social opportunities of metropolis-wide gatherings organized by the institute council.
“Since I first came here about two years ago,” recalls University of Washington student Bianca Ence, “the influence of the young single adult program has become much more powerful. Hundreds more people participate in classes and activities now, including more nonstudents.”
Bishop Steven M. Swanson, who leads the young single adult Sammamish Valley Ward in the Redmond Washington Stake, observes that “except for Primary and Young Men and Young Women, our ward has a full complement of callings and responsibilities. Our young people have a wide range of meaningful leadership and service opportunities. But we need to remember that these singles units are meant as a transition. I see young single adult units as bridges that help young adults move from their sheltered home lives to greater independence and spiritual maturity in preparation for missions or marriage.”
There are a number of young single adult wards or branches organized within the greater Seattle area that serve many young single adults. In addition, many other young single adults choose to attend conventional wards. Regardless of where they attend church, however, many young single adults also frequently participate in institute classes and area-wide activities.
“Our goal with these classes and activities is to create a critical mass of young adults,” says President Paul W. Tucker of the Seattle Washington North Stake, who was called by the North America Northwest Area Presidency to lead the Seattle Institute of Religion Council, a body of leaders and young single adults that plans activities and promotes attendance at institute classes. “The reality is that young singles are constantly seeking new social opportunities and new faces. Large-scale activities and a variety of institute class opportunities help fill the need for mixing and socializing beyond the ward or branch.”
Bishop Swanson observes that the opportunity to frequently intermingle with new people at activities and classes helps reduce a common problem known as ward-hopping. “Every member of the Church needs to have a relationship of accountability with one bishop and be consistently involved with home and visiting teaching and other callings,” he says.
“The Seattle Institute of Religion Council is the glue that holds this area’s young single adults together,” says Myndee Wheatley, an Edmonds Community College student who serves as a secretary in the council presidency. “We help wards and branches coordinate activities, and we’re the link between the institute and the wards and branches.”
Every month, male and female representatives from each Seattle-area young single adult ward or branch meet together with the council presidency and priesthood and institute advisers to plan activities ranging from weekly dances and firesides to more ambitious events like an annual young adult retreat at a nearby ranch or a New Year’s Eve dance at the University of Washington. Representatives come to the council meetings with ideas and questions and go back to their wards and branches armed with posters, flyers, instructions, and assignments. Representatives also publicize institute classes and social activities to young single adults who attend family wards in their stakes, and the council maintains a hot line that anyone can dial for current information on activities, including directions to locations. The wards and branches take turns sponsoring dances and firesides and handling tasks such as decorations, refreshments, and cleanup.
“Single life can offer a lot of crazy alternatives,” says council president Steve Morrison, a University of Washington Huskies football player. “We try to offer better choices. When you consider ward and branch family home evenings and other activities, evening institute classes, and the bigger area activities, there’s something for Latter-day Saint singles to do virtually every night, if they want to. There’s no need to be bored or lonely here.”
Bishop Alan J. Larson Sr. of the young single adult Everett Fifth Ward, Everett Washington Stake, affirms the value of larger-scale activities. “Without them,” he says, “our ward would see fewer temple marriages, we would have higher numbers of less-active young adults, the testimonies of the members would not be as strong, and I personally would not have my daughter-in-law, because my son met her at an institute council dance. Without a coordinated effort, wards and branches would be competing against each other with conflicting dances and activities. Many more singles would fall through the cracks. This age-group has a high risk for becoming less active, so I’m glad we’re doing all we can to help young adults stay involved.”
According to institute council secretary Bianca Ence, many less-active members call the council hot line for information. Even if less-active singles don’t start attending meetings immediately, Bianca says, “they often come to our dances, where they meet people and start feeling comfortable. Then maybe someone will invite them to a fireside or an institute class, and their involvement begins to snowball into full activity.”
In fact, Seattle North stake missionary Sarah Thomas says that she often makes it her weekly goal to invite an investigator or less-active member to an activity. “Activities provide a nonthreatening way to bring people in,” she says.
Susan Putnam, who works full-time in the Seattle institute office, says: “With appropriate permission, we’ve been able to create a database of singles in the area by having ward and stake membership clerks provide us with names and addresses on disk. We mail out bulletins to nearly 5,000 young people each fall, which has really increased awareness of institute classes and activities offered throughout the area.”
Institute director Richard Clark agrees that the database has been another key to keeping young single adults informed. “Now we know who they are, and we can print out lists of young single adults in specific areas when we want to invite them to a class or activity. With the database and the efforts of the institute council representatives, the channels of communication are very open now. We’ve seen dramatically increased attendance and participation, particularly in our enhanced institute classes.”
The classes are part of the enhanced institute program, which provides nonstudents ages 18 to 30 an opportunity to take institute of religion classes at Church buildings in nearby stakes and to participate in social and service activities.
In all the various efforts and activities of Seattle’s vast and thriving young single adult population, two goals remain foremost. “Our whole focus is on helping people prepare for missions and marriage,” says institute council president Steve Morrison. “We try to plan every dance, every fireside, and every activity with those two goals in mind.”
And the results are impressive: “We have about 12 weddings a year just in our branch,” says President Donald W. Bishop of the Halls Lake Branch, Lynwood Washington Stake. “We love to lose members that way. We’re trying to replace them with newly activated members and converts.” Bishop Larson of the Everett Fifth Ward says that his ward had 16 marriages between May and July of last year.
Bishop Thomas A. Furness II of the University Second Ward, Seattle North stake, reports: “Fourteen missionaries left from our ward last year, and six more are getting ready to go. I don’t think several of them would have gone without their association in Seattle’s young single adult program.”
Commenting on the opportunity for Seattle’s numerous young single adults to function together as a unified metropolitan area, Seattle North stake president Paul W. Tucker, priesthood leader of the institute council, says: “We had a thrilling experience in May last year when President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came here to broadcast a Church Educational System satellite fireside from the new Kirkland stake center. The institute council was instrumental in organizing and publicizing this event. Sure enough, the whole chapel, the whole cultural hall, and even the stage were packed with young single adults. It was wonderful for them to be able to look around and say, ‘Hey, we’re really not alone.’”