“Institutes of Religion,” New Era, Oct. 1973, 8
Chris Kingsley dashes across Nutwood Avenue away from the modern campus of the University of California at Fullerton. He is attending the university and is involved in the humdrum pressures of being a student on today’s campus. But Chris is crossing Nutwood on his way to the LDS institute of religion where he can escape some of the everyday hassle of being a student of the world and, for a short time, become a student of things eternal. The institute program offers for Chris, and for all students who attend colleges and universities, an opportunity to study the gospel in an aggressive and interesting learning atmosphere.
Many thousands of young Latter-day Saints like Chris will not be attending our church university or colleges this year, but they will still go to college campuses and will still be able to meet with their peers in the Church to learn and study the gospel in a classroom atmosphere. How does this happen? The Church institutes of religion are now spread all over the country and are expanding to cover the globe. Associate Commissioner for Seminaries and Institutes, Joe J. Christensen, says that seminaries and institutes of religion are now operating in 32 countries. Plans are now being made to be in 47 countries by the end of 1973. This growth is in keeping with the spirit and intent of this letter from the First Presidency dated January 1970:
There is also another new concept in institute opportunities that can, and will, bring institute programs and gospel study opportunities to any person who is seeking to learn. Instead of bringing students to the school, religious educational opportunities are being taken to the students at a very nominal cost with the new Individual Instruction Program. This program was field tested last year in the eastern United States. In these areas there may be only one or two Latter-day Saints at a college or university. This new program allows the student to enroll in an institute class through the new program. The student may meet weekly or monthly with other students in his area also taking the institute course. After studying individually, the students have an opportunity to meet with their leader and fellow students to discuss what they have learned. This program will be available to all English speaking youth this fall, and efforts are now being made to translate these programs into other languages to make them available worldwide.
Other exciting things are happening in the institute program of the Church to make gospel study more meaningful to you, the student. Currently, thought is being given to a “pod” or clustering concept that will allow LDS youth to live together—close to the institute of religion and their gospel study. Not only can this help you as a student in finding dormitories near the university, but it also could help put you close to others who share your feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This concept is in its infancy and in a period of testing at this time, but it may become a very meaningful addition to the institute programs of the future.
The programs of the institutes are there and available to you as a young Latter-day Saint student. But what is the real reason you will take institute classes near your campus this year?
In complying with the spirit and specific counsel given by the First Presidency, many students are remaining at home, attending local colleges or universities. Decisions to stay home and go to school are personal and must take into account many things such as finances, physical needs, and educational opportunities in your area. If your decision is to stay at home, you have the opportunity of studying the gospel in an institute class, and the reasons for doing so are abundant. In the search for identity it is comforting to know that you can meet with your peers in a learning situation where you are interested in those around you and where those around you show concern and interest for you. Institute faculty can look at their students from a more eternal perspective, and they are willing to give more of themselves to their students.
Diane Astin of Downey, California, said, “I could go to BYU if I really wanted to, but I am able to get a good education at the University of California at Long Beach, and coupling this education with the experience of taking institute classes has helped me balance my spiritual learning with my academic learning.”
Diane echoes the thoughts of most of the LDS students who are taking institute classes. They seem to have a great desire to find a leveler, a common ground for gospel study that can keep things in perspective, eternal perspective.
For many students, the institute program is a very real and necessary learning experience. Outside Utah and Idaho a higher percentage of the students at the institutes are converts, but all are truly seeking to know more about the gospel.
Denise Reynolds a student at Fullerton (California), has been a member of the Church for a little over two years. Denise said, “Institute helps serve two purposes in my life. First, it helps put the doctrines and philosophies of men in their proper place and gives me the right mixture of learning experiences. But most important, institute classes help me, as a new member, find out more about the gospel.”
Toni Adams, a high school student in Fullerton, is taking institute classes because she is also a recent convert. Toni has a great desire to know more about the Church. Toni said, “Just little things about Church government and programs are easier to understand and talk about in an institute class.”
Besides the rather obvious things that the institute program can provide, like good solid gospel study, there are some very special fringe benefits that come with the program.
Eric Williams, an institute student in California, said, “There is a special feeling I get when I am walking to my institute class. It’s not that I am getting away from the world but just finding a good place to view it from.”
Colleen Quinlan from Long Beach, California, said that it was most valuable to be around other LDS youth. This is possible only in the institute setting at many of our universities and colleges. Game rooms are often provided and, perhaps most important, you have the place and the opportunity just to talk with other LDS people. When your beliefs are challenged on campus, you have a forum for discussion at the institute.
Most institutes have library facilities where students can study and quietly discuss the matters of the day. Students can come to the library before and after classes and always feel the quiet spirit that can help prepare them to meet the challenges of college life.
Institute directors and teachers can be valuable advisers and counselors to the young people who attend their classes. They can be a tremendous help to you. For serious counseling problems they would direct you to your bishop or branch president, but in matters of scriptural knowledge, classroom conflicts, dating situations, and other everyday problems, you will find the institute personnel to be well-trained and concerned members of the Church who will listen, then help and advise where they can.
There is a friendly social atmosphere surrounding the institute that can be relaxing and enjoyable when compared to the everyday hustle and racing of student life. Because of the new Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program the institutes will no longer be providing structured social activities for students, but they are still a center for casual socializing with other members and nonmembers interested in the gospel.
Many of the larger institutes have weekly devotionals where students can gather to hear General Authorities or outstanding Church members speak on interesting subjects related to the principles of the gospel. Some of these talks are currently being videotaped so they can also be made available to students who are attending smaller institutes that do not have the opportunity to present devotionals.
David Madsen, a student at Long Beach who has just recently been accepted into the first class of law students at Brigham Young University, said that the institute at the University of California at Long Beach helps fill a very real need in the lives of the students it serves. They need to have a well-balanced life, a life where the spiritual side gets a fair treatment of time and education.
The institute can give you a feeling of belonging when you are away from home and can be a great leveling source for your life when you are exposed to influences, good and bad, that come from many directions.
Institutes are exciting places for young Latter-day Saints. Studying the gospel can be a most meaningful experience, and the institute is a place where the people and facilities are geared to help you do just that—study the gospel. Associate Commissioner Christensen said, “The institute programs are college-level opportunities for learning more about the gospel, and good learning is motivated by good association.” Institutes are truly a place for good learning.
So, even though you are not attending a Church-operated college or university, you can still have the opportunity of searching and studying the gospel. Join Chris Kingsley across the avenue from your campus and find the institute nearest you.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Office of the First Presidency
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111
January 30, 1970
To Presidents of Stakes, Presidents of Missions, Bishops of Wards and Presidents of Independent Branches
We have repeatedly urged that our young people seek further education after completing high school, and we now reaffirm this counsel. In so doing, we suggest that wherever possible they attend school in their own communities, particularly during their freshman and sophomore years.
To meet the need for religious instruction for our youth, we have established Institutes of Religion convenient to more than 200 junior colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. In these Institutes our young people may receive religious training comparable with that received in Church schools and at the same time enjoy the benefits of living at home, at less expense, with the added advantages of the protection, guidance, and companionship of their families. We are confident that both children and parents will derive blessings from such family association during this critical period in the lives of our youth.
Furthermore, in so doing they will lighten the load at Brigham Young University. Enrollment at this institution has now reached approximately 25,000 and it is felt that we should not exceed this figure. While some additional students may yet be accommodated at Ricks College, enlarging enrollments cannot continue there without limitation.
With the rapid growth of the Church throughout the world we cannot expect to provide secular education for all of our youth, but we shall do all feasible to provide facilities for spiritual training.
We ask, therefore, that you immediately make announcement of these observations and suggestions and read this letter in Church meetings, so that those completing their high school work this spring may make plans for the fall term, and that, wherever possible, they be encouraged to attend an institution in their own areas where we have established an institute of religion.
The First Presidency