NEW HAVEN, Conn. — When Stephen Weber walked into the Yale chaplain's office and introduced himself as the New Haven Institute of Religion director, she had a few questions.
"She said, 'Where have you been? We have been waiting for you,'" said Weber of the meeting held in June 2010. She also added that she had known several Mormon students. "It's rather interesting to have that kind of greeting."
Since then, the school has officially recognized the institute. After a review by the Yale Religious Ministries group, Weber is the LDS chaplain to the Ivy League campus and meets regularly with other campus chaplains.
"It's been exciting to see those doors open for us," he said. Now, the institute is labeled on school maps, events can be advertised on campus and opportunities to share more about the LDS Church in a spirit of understanding have increased.
Weber oversees the New Haven institute in Connecticut with 102 students, who vary from graduate students and Ph.D. candidates to those who aren't attending Yale.
The Yale undergraduate students live on campus, so the vast majority of institute students don't have transportation beyond a bicycle.
"I've found that I need to create windows where the students have opportunities (for classes)," said Weber, who has been with CES for 32 years and has served as a bishop in a BYU student ward.
For the 14 law students, which includes four women, he heads to the law school on Fridays and provides lunch for them during class.
Last semester, classes were at noon on Monday, in the evening on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as mid-morning on Wednesday.
"They are very brilliant young people," Weber said. "They are very aware of the need to retain the proper perspective and humility that's necessary."
The institute meets on the top floor of the Wilford Woodruff Center, which was dedicated in 1997 by Yale alumnus Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. The building also houses meeting rooms for three congregations, including a young single adult branch — the New Haven 2nd Branch.
This past semester, there were four convert baptisms.
The 30 members of the young single branch who aren't Yale students "are very much leading the discussions," said Weber, who is the stake high councilor assigned to the branch. "You don't see only the Yalies leading the discussions."
From the Book of Mormon classes to the Teachings of the Living Prophets class that law students attend, he does what he can so that both the new member and the life-long member can learn.
Laura Hess, a graduate student studying nursing, finds her days of working as a nurse and going to school full time are a bit easier with a weekly institute class.
"It's a stress reliever, and I love going," said Hess, of Salt Lake City, who received her undergraduate degree from BYU. She applied to the University of Utah and then Yale on a whim and was accepted at Yale. "I'm just blessed with the peace of mind to focus on the things I need to focus on."
That, and the gospel insights the life-long Mormon receives.
"I keep coming back for more," added Hess, who plans to graduate in May.
Jeremy Jacox, who studied at MIT in Boston before heading to New Haven, is a Ph.D./M.D. candidate studying in a dual degree program in an effort to be a medical oncologist.
"Institute is a mid-week lifeboat or buoy," said Jacox, who also serves as the elders quorum president in the YSA branch. "There's a spirit that I feel every week. Brother Weber clearly brings that. He's fluid enough that he shares according to the needs of the students."
Jacox also enjoys seeing friends from the branch outside of the Sabbath day worship services at the institute.
"It's a joy to be a member on the East Coast," he added.
It's not just all studying and classes for the LDS students, however. They have activities at the institute building, which included a recent Christmas party, and they've taken trips to see the Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace in Sharon, Vt., which is about three hours away.
Then there was the campus Chili Throwdown in November, where Weber took third out of 22 competitors.
"Everyone was in chef smocks, and I was in a white shirt and tie," he said. "It was exciting because nobody knew who I was, but the exposure for the church was wonderful."
As the winter break wraps up and a new semester begins Monday, there aren't plans to slow down.
"We are having a great time," Weber said. "We're anxious for more student to come join us."
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