“First Thing in the Morning,” Liahona, June 2001, 11
The seminary students in the Phoenix Park Ward of the Dublin Ireland Stake were a little worried. Their stake president and their bishop had approached them about something new. Would they be the first seminary class in all of Ireland to try meeting every day—early every day?
Elaine O’Farrell, age 15, remembers her first reaction: “I thought, if we see each other every day, we’ll get on each other’s nerves.” And there was that other obvious worry. Pamela Fagan, age 15, explains, “No way would they get me out of bed that early.” Farris Bukhatwa, age 17, and Louise Byrne, age 17, lived the farthest distance away. It was not going to be easy.
But not everyone was worried. Jenna Gallagher, age 15, was a little bit excited about the idea. “I had heard about early-morning seminary in other countries,” she says. “I always dreamed of going to seminary that way. I was really pleased that we were going to do it. I knew if I made a sacrifice, the Lord would bless me.”
Then things started to work out. Farris was able to use the family car in the mornings and could pick up Louise. Pamela agreed to get up extra early so she could leave on time with her brother Derek. Elaine changed her mind and said she liked seeing these people every morning. Jenna was happy just to be in seminary. Brett Crowther, age 18, and his brother Brandt, age 16, the mission president’s sons, were thrilled to be with other Church youth every day. And best of all, their teacher, Rosemary Richmond, was terrific.
All students in Ireland are required to take religion class. Even though they go to early-morning seminary, these Latter-day Saint students are not excused from their school religion requirement. But their study of the scriptures has paid off. Louise explains, “Franciscan friars visited our school. When they were asking questions, they would point to me and put their fingers to their lips as if to say, ‘Shhh, don’t answer the questions.’ They knew I could answer them.”
Elaine tells a similar story about religion class. “If my teacher asked what a word means, like covenant, I would answer,” she says. “He knew I would know the answer no matter what he asked.”
Derek Fagan, age 17, has excelled in both school and seminary, and he credits an experience he had just before he received his patriarchal blessing: “We had been talking about patriarchal blessings in seminary. I prayed and asked if I should get mine. Our stake did not have a patriarch at that time, but three days later, our new patriarch was called. I felt it was my answer. That’s when I decided for myself that the Church is true and that I would try harder to do well and choose the right. My patriarchal blessing was amazing. I carry it with me everywhere. Since early-morning seminary started, everything has been clearer. Even in school, I learn very quickly now.”
Derek became the first seminary student in Ireland to memorize all the scripture mastery scriptures. As an extra challenge, he memorized the account of the First Vision as found in Joseph Smith—History.
Brandt Crowther remembers an experience he had a few months after he and his family arrived in Ireland: “I had prayed almost every night of my life, but one night, I prayed with sincerity and asked the Lord what He wanted me to do here in Ireland. I needed to know in my heart that the Church is true. I found out that God does live and He loves me. I gained an understanding of what He wanted me to do. Since then, I’ve been happy being here. I’ve loved it. I’m closer to the Savior now.”
Brandt explains some of the things the Lord told him he needed to do: “I needed to read the scriptures every day and pray every night and keep the commandments. That night the Spirit was with me. I didn’t want to go to bed.”
Seminary class often helped Farris find answers: “I received a testimony of prayer and of tithing. I would pray about things I really needed to find out about—and then it would click in seminary. I would understand things better. What is it like when the Spirit gives you an answer? You’re calm, and you understand things. You’re not nervous. You know it’s true. You feel it in your heart.”
The students in this seminary class enjoy being together. And now every weekday morning isn’t enough. They get together every Saturday night, too.
It all started when Louise’s mother told Brett that Louise’s friends always ask her to go to the pub with them on Saturdays, but she never goes. “We decided to get the whole class together and go out and have some fun,” says Brett. “We’ve been getting together every Saturday night. It’s good fun.”
What do they do? The first week they went to the cinema, but that quickly became too expensive. So they started going to each other’s houses to play games or watch videos or just talk and talk and talk. Elaine explains, “We used to have nothing to talk about; now we don’t have enough time to talk.”
For Louise, having something else to do on Saturdays has strengthened her resolve to stay strong in the Church. “It’s a reason for me not to go with my friends from work every weekend,” she explains. “Sometimes I used to go along. I didn’t do anything I shouldn’t, but just being there didn’t feel good. It eventually wears out your spirit. I got so tired of trying to speak up for myself. But when I go with the seminary class, I can just be me. I feel accepted.”
And most of all, “Saturday nights are fun,” says Pamela. “My other friends’ standards are completely different from mine. I feel much better going to the seminary activity. We have great fun.”
Derek adds, “Early-morning seminary and our activities on Saturday evenings have brought us closer, and we’re better friends. I’ve gotten a lot closer to everyone in the class, even Pamela, my sister. I wouldn’t even consider going out and getting drunk and breaking the Word of Wisdom.”
Most of all, this year of seminary has taught these students the meaning of faith. Their teacher, Rosemary Richmond, helps them learn from Church history about the faith of the early prophets and members. Her husband, Brendan, suffers from an extremely rare and damaging lung disorder and is confined to a wheelchair. Although she has the constant worry of her husband’s care and health, she is eager to prepare lessons and have the seminary class come each morning.
“Members here are very faithful, especially Rosemary, with all the trials she’s been through,” Louise says. “It makes you realize how lucky you are. In seminary we read about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the pioneers. Joseph Smith is a great man. I love him. The testimony he had never faltered. Can you imagine living back in those days? The pioneers had to walk halfway across North America just to practice what they believed. I want that sort of faith because I love the Church.”
Louise is developing that kind of faith. Every day she stands up for her beliefs. And with her small group of valiant seminary friends, she doesn’t have to stand alone. None of them do. They have found a way to strengthen each other. And that has made all the difference.