Last Friday, our family tucked in another year of early-morning seminary for the summer. It was the third year for my oldest daughter and, after nine months of rising at 5:15 each morning, she's earned the right to sleep a bit later this summer before her last journey begins anew in September.
What a journey it is!
For the Wrights, early-morning seminary has always been a family affair. Like my three older siblings, I attended seminary as a young man. As an adult, I’ve taught seminary in two different wards for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learned to deeply love both the program and the students. Recently my mother ended her own long tenure as an instructor in her cozy living room in Charlottesville, Va., and my mother-in-law just completed her second year of teaching in Woodstock, Va.
Let’s be clear: We absolutely love our youths wherever they live and however they attend seminary. We admire them whether they meet in a nice classroom in a building next to the high school during third period, or in a chapel, a basement or even at a kitchen table 30 minutes from home.
But consider for a few seconds — or in this case, paragraphs — the sacrifice made by LDS youths and teachers living away from traditional release-time programs.
Here in the Woodstock Branch of the Winchester Virginia Stake, some students drive nearly 30 minutes to attend a class that begins each day at 6:40 a.m. One drives over a dangerous mountain that separates his valley from ours. Because of the distance, students have no time to return home and must leave straight for school. In our branch, and in other wards across our large stake, some students must drive long distances past their own high school, only to return 50 minutes later to begin their school day.
In other parts of the church where release time from the school isn’t an option because the facilities or number of potential students doesn’t permit it, classes start even earlier. When I taught years ago in a northern Virginia ward, we began each day at 5:55 a.m. — and I am aware of classes starting as early as 5:30 a.m. This means that during much of the year, students walk into class in the cold, pitch-black morning air.
We can’t forget the enormous sacrifice of parents. In many cases, students are either still too young to drive as underclassmen or the family can’t spare a car. Mothers and fathers often drive children many miles only to sit inside on church couches, in parking lots or quietly walk neighborhood streets to pass the time. When class adjourns, they’ll deliver children to school — sometimes to more than one when carpooling is possible — and finally tackle their own responsibilities of the day.
How about the instructors? They are simple, humble volunteers who haven’t asked or applied for the calling. They are mothers, fathers, businessmen and women, doctors, nurses, retail clerks and emergency services workers. Rarely do they have teaching backgrounds or formal training, yet they immerse themselves with the Spirit and pour themselves into the material each and every day. They love the kids and they love the Lord. What more can we ask of them?
There are others, still, who sacrifice much to make seminary a positive experience. There are online seminary instructors, there are stake seminary supervisors, there are substitute teachers and many professionals who work for the LDS Church’s seminaries and institute programs with this singular objective: “Our (S&I) purpose is to help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.”
Is early-morning seminary always easy for students, teachers and parents? Certainly not.
Are the blessings of heaven poured out upon all those who participate with a willing heart and mind? Indeed.
So, if you see an early-morning seminary teacher this summer, tell them how grateful you are for their service. Know that while our minds are far from the program, theirs are already busy preparing for the year that comes.
If you see an early-morning seminary student this summer, ask them just how much they’re enjoying the chance to sleep in. Then look them in the eyes and express sincere gratitude for their participation. Know that the sacrifice might be theirs, but the blessings are universal.
But if you see one of those remarkable, inspiring, awesome and incredible students, don't wake them up. They've earned it.
Jason Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.