Mormonism grows; devotion begins in youth

By Colette M. Jenkins

Akron Beacon Journal

Published: Sunday, May 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Douglas L. Talley is the president of the Akron, Ohio Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He is shown in April 2012 in Tallmadge, Ohio.

Phil Masturzo, Mct

AKRON, Ohio — Trevar Dahl spends an hour before school each morning studying the Bible with seven other teens.

"It's the best way to start the day, and it helps us with a pretty good knowledge of scripture," said Trevar, a 16-year-old junior at Cloverleaf High School near Lodi. "We attend classes for four years. We call it seminary."

Seminary, or the study of religious history and scripture among high school students in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, includes courses on the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon and church doctrine, covenants and history. The seminary program has been part of the Mormon tradition for 100 years and has grown from 70 students to nearly 370,000 in more than 140 countries.

Trevar's group, taught by his mother, Cynthia, begins at 6 a.m. — like most seminary classes — at the Dahl's home in Lodi, Calif. Cynthia Dahl said the predawn religious classes are designed to give Mormon teens a chance to learn the gospel and to apply the teachings to their lives.

Dahl said she volunteered to teach the class because she loves youth and loves teaching the scriptures. She said she spends about an hour a day preparing for the classes and several hours on weekends.

"I do whatever I need to do to help them learn more about Christ and the scriptures," Cynthia Dahl said. "It's not required that they come to the classes. They come because they want to be there, and I want to help them work toward being more like Christ." The seminary group that meets at the Dahls' home is one of several in the Akron region, or what the Latter-day Saints call a "stake."

The Akron Ohio Stake has more than 3,800 members and 10 wards, or congregations (which are organized geographically), in Akron, Tallmadge, Canton, Massillon, Medina, Wadsworth, Wooster, Ashland and New Philadelphia. The 10th congregation is a group of single young adults who also meet in Tallmadge.

The Dahls, who attend services in Ashland, consider themselves a typical Mormon family — committed to their faith and dedicated to prayer and regular church attendance. In addition to Trevar, the family includes three other children: Blake, 22, who recently returned to his studies at Brigham Young University from missionary work in Phoenix; Lauren, 19, who just completed her second year at BYU; and Erica, 12, a sixth-grader at Cloverleaf Middle School.

"The church has given me and my wife a solid foundation, and we want that for our children," said Andrew Dahl, Trevar's father. "We believe it is important to have a testimony of Jesus Christ and to be educated about the gospel. The church teaches principles that have always given me great direction."

> In the spotlight

Mormonism has been in the national spotlight, in large part, because of Mitt Romney, a Republican poised to become the first Mormon presidential candidate from a major political party. Other flashpoints of Mormon interest in recent years include the hit Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," and the popular "Twilight" series of vampire stories by Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon housewife-turned-novelist who says her faith influences her writing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, was organized in 1830 by Joseph Smith in upstate New York. He said he had a revelation that God wanted him to restore the true Christian church with additional scriptures written by ancient prophets in America.

According to Mormon history, an angel named Moroni gave Joseph a set of gold plates. Through the power of God, Joseph translated those gold plates, which contained the history of an ancient American civilization.

That translation, called the "Book of Mormon," is a sacred text of the denomination and is considered a companion to the Bible.

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