For seminary students in Northeast Ohio, their study of the Doctrine and Covenants has been a “life experience.” From 1831 to 1838, Ohio was the center of LDS Church activity, including the organization and meetings of the School of the Prophets, the building of the Kirtland Temple, and the completion of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. While townships like Kirtland, Hiram, and Mantua are seemingly small and inconspicuous to most Ohioans, for seminary students these places represent the history of early Saints whose faith and perseverance contributed significantly to the growth of the LDS Church.
Students from the Akron Ohio Stake have made church history field trips a part of their seminary curriculum.
“We have such a unique opportunity as teachers and students studying the Doctrine and Covenants. Together we read about the organization of the early church, the building of the Kirtland Temple, and the vision of the degrees of glory. But then we visit the towns and homes and rooms where these significant events occurred, and that is when it becomes real and very meaningful to the kids,” said Angie Kearns, Canton Ward South seminary teacher.
Katelyn Foster, a third-year seminary student from Canton, said that living near and visiting church historical sites helps her to picture the events that occurred in the Doctrine and Covenants. “Whenever I read about the events that happened at one of the church history sites, I feel as if I am part of the event. I remember the stories from the scriptures as I visit these sites, and I feel the Spirit even stronger.”
“Living near church history sites makes the scriptures ‘come to life’ for me. My favorite spots are the Whitney Store and the School of the Prophets. I can picture the Prophet and Emma arriving in Kirtland, settling down and going about their daily activities. I have been in the room where the revelation of the Word of Wisdom was received; it helps me to know that these things actually happened, and my testimony has grown because of it,” added Carly Hunter, 15, Canton.
Emily Horning, 17, stated that the quarry in Kirtland is the most memorable to her. “I was able to see where the Saints began to dig stone for the temple. I imagine what it must have been like to cut and transport the stone. Suddenly the sacrifices the Saints must have made helped to make the stories much more significant and meaningful to me.”
As part of their curriculum, Kearns and Cheryl Bills of Canton’s North Seminary Program have taken their students on field trips to several places, including Historic Kirtland; the Kirtland Temple; and the LDS Visitors Center, which includes the schoolhouse, ashery, sawmill, and the John Johnson Inn. Additionally, the students have visited the renovated Whitney Store and Whitney Home; the Kirtland Cemetery; the Joseph Smith Jr. home; the Morley Farm; the John Johnson Farm; the grave of Symons Ryder; and the Ohio and Erie Canals, where early church members traveled to Missouri or Nauvoo.
Bills and Kearns accompanied their students on one special trip earlier in the school year to Fairport Harbor. At the harbor stands a 60-foot restored lighthouse. Fairport Harbor is where many early Saints immigrated, including Lucy Mack Smith and other relatives of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Fairport Harbor was also the port where many significant missionary journeys began, including the first mission to England in 1837 of Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde.
During the 1830s, this lighthouse served as a welcome beacon to members who were traveling to meet other Saints in Ohio.
“Normally, the lighthouse tour involves a cost. However, this afternoon as we were touring the lighthouse and grounds, park volunteers were setting up chairs for an event. Our seminary students started helping them put up chairs. No one asked them to help; they just rolled up their sleeves and got to work. These volunteers were so impressed that our youth would help without being asked, they invited them to tour the lighthouse, free of charge. The students were then able to explain who they were and how they were studying LDS Church history in Ohio,” said Bills. “It was a memorable experience for us, and I hope it was a memorable experience for them.”
Seminary begins early each day for these students. Most seminaries begin around 5:45 a.m., and some students travel 20 or more minutes to their classroom.
“Getting up early is hard to do, but I know the blessings of seminary are worth it. This year I am determined to be there every day. Like so many have said, studying the scriptures and attending seminary is like putting on the armor of God that protects you from the cares of the world,” said Adam Lenemier, 17, of Canton.
“I think that it is great to get up and start your morning learning the gospel. It has blessed my life because it starts my day feeling happy. You can then use what you learn to teach kids at school about the church,” added Tony Hill, 16 of Louisville.
There are more than 400 seminary students in Northeast Ohio. The seminary program began in 1912 in Salt Lake City with 70 high school students. In 2009, total enrollment was listed at more than 360,000 seminary students with programs found in 139 countries and territories throughout the world.
Susan Hunter is the Akron Ohio Stake public affairs director.