In Mission Viejo, Greiner initiated a quarterly multi-institute fireside, inviting well-known speakers like Deseret Book CEO Sheri L. Dew, BYU associate professor Brad Wilcox and Elder Gene R. Cook, an emeritus general authority.
“What I try to do is create a BYU-type experience for the young single adults that live here and don’t go to a church school — that they can get together in mass and hear the greatest speakers of the church address them,” he said.
Hall explained that local speakers simply need to be approved by area institute directors. If they bring in a speaker from outside their area, approval must come from Hall’s office.
Larger Utah institutes, even with their easier access to "big names" in church speaking, like to invite local speakers too.
The Logan Institute often brings in faithful members who simply have a good story to tell, Dymock said.
“They (the students) love the stories. They can relate well with them. And these are real people and real stories, and real experiences of how the gospel’s been important in their lives. Our kids enjoy it.”
Some institutes even bring in speakers who are not members. Gardner related bringing the then-president of the University of Arizona, Robert Shelton, to speak to his students a few years ago — a neat experience for the speaker and listeners, he said.
Greiner detailed a Vocational Mentor Series they do as part of the devotionals at Mission Viejo, where they bring in a speaker — member or non-member — who has had success in their field.
“You know, these are college students, and they’re preparing for their life’s work and their career,” he said. “It’s very motivating to see the experts in their field and it’s really been a blessing to our young people. They really like it.”
No matter the speaker or particular focus of the activity, both Naylor and Chavarria feel that devotionals enhance their overall experience as students.
“It helps you think about education in a greater sense, in a more expanded perspective. It helps you remember kind of a little of what your purpose is here, it also reminds you of what your responsibilities are at present or in the future,” Naylor said.
It enhances the institute experience and all religious learning for Chavarria. They get to discuss things and apply in ways they just don’t get if they do church services only, she said.
“I mean going to church is awesome, that’s like the main point, but especially when I go to school and work, it’s that extra lift and strength I need throughout the week. I feel such a peace. I feel better when I go — like my week is different when I don’t go.”
Chavarria, Naylor and the institute directors all agree that the main purpose of devotionals, be they speeches or fun activities, should be to increase gospel understanding and testimony.
Naylor, in comparing his Mission Viejo and BYU experiences, said that aside from basic differences in turnout, schedule, tradition and speakers, the experience is ultimately similar.
“I don’t think really there’s a difference in feeling the spirit. It’s always the same spirit.”
And that’s really the whole point of devotionals, Gardner said.
“It’s helping to create a routine that provides students an opportunity to connect during the weekday with things that matter most: things of the Spirit.”
To learn more about area institutes and devotionals they provide, visit institute.lds.org. At Brigham Young University schools in Provo, Idaho and Hawaii, required religion classes take the place of an institute program. They do, however, have weekly devotionals. To search past BYU devotionals and firesides, visit speeches.byu.edu.
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