Courtesy LDS Church
SALT LAKE CITY — Enrollment in seminary, the LDS Church’s 101-year-old religious education program for teenagers, is at an all-time high, with more than 391,000 young people participating in one of three different versions of the program in 150 nations around the world.
Statistical information from the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Report for 2013, released recently by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reveals the growing internationalism of the seminary program, with nearly half — or 186,996 — of LDS seminary’s 391,680 students living outside the United States.
While there are more seminary students in the United States — 204,684 — than in any other single nation, countries like Mexico (28,299), Brazil (22,655), Peru (17,969) and the Philippines (16,791) boast rapidly growing LDS populations — and, not coincidentally, growing numbers of seminary students. And seminary is taking hold in nations like Nigeria (3,115), Ghana (2,511) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,943), where LDS influence is relatively new.
“Seminary continues to grow internationally,” said Randall Hall, associate administrator for the seminaries and institutes of religion of the church. “The youth of the church are phenomenal. They have a desire to learn and live the gospel and are willing to sacrifice.”
That willingness to sacrifice is evident in the fact that the vast majority of LDS seminary students — 240,227 — participate in early morning religious education programs held before school in local church buildings and, sometimes, in the homes of church members. The next biggest number of students — 126,176 — participate in released-time programs, during which they are allowed to take an hour during their regular school day and go to nearby seminary buildings for religious instruction. Released-time programs exist primarily in Utah and surrounding states, where high numbers of LDS students make such programs feasible.
The remaining 25,277 seminary students participate in home study programs in areas of the world in which daily meetings with other LDS students are not possible.
Jared Jepson, a seminary and institute coordinator in Arlington, Texas, said the global growth of seminary is a natural consequence of church efforts to bring seminaries and institutes into new missionary fields as a way to strengthen new converts.
“Thus, there is a positive correlation between the overall population increase of church membership and the total enrollment of seminary students worldwide,” Jepson said.
In areas where the church is not new, there may be other factors that come into play. Mark Beecher, a 27-year veteran seminary teacher and administrator, said three come quickly to mind. First, he said, is the word “polarization.”
“Elder Neal A. Maxwell (a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prior to his death in 2004) used to talk about the polarization of modern times,” said Beecher, who is currently principal of the seminary that serves students at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, Utah. “We’re seeing that today among our students. The middle ground is shrinking. More and more, these kids have to choose sides between what’s good and what’s bad in the world. Seminary becomes a refuge for them. They are flocking to a place where they see a lot of good, and they feel safe.”
“I go to seminary because it’s kind of like a little paradise that you can get out of school and enjoy the environment and the atmosphere,” said Chris Chen, a high school senior whose family immigrated to Utah from Taiwan four years ago. “I go to seminary so I can escape from all the stress and problems for a little bit.”
Josh Padilla, a high school junior in Manassas, Va., agrees.
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