OREM Students have been streaming in and out of Karen Hepworth's office at the Orem Institute of Religion steadily since she got to work Monday. Just when the flood of in-person visits lets up, the phone starts ringing.
Hepworth teaches a course at the institute based upon President Gordon B. Hinckley's life, writings and speeches. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' leader died Sunday, and, now that the news is sinking in, Hepworth's pupils want to thank her for passing on President Hinckley's words.
"I am grateful for the class, too," Hepworth said. "Because I love the man, I feel it is an honor and a privilege to teach about him. His life is so exemplary."
Hepworth spoke to her students Wednesday as if President Hinckley were still alive. After class, she was surprised and pleased to hear that she had talked about the prophet in the present tense.
"I hope I accidentally keep doing that," she said. "He's still alive to me he's alive in the spirit world and his teachings are still applicable."
The institute teacher designed the curriculum for the "Teachings of President Hinckley" class by extensively studying books and talks written by and about the church leader. She picked out what she believed were the main themes of President Hinckley's ministry and created lesson plans around them.
On Wednesday, Hepworth's lesson focused on the importance of education something about which the church president spoke passionately.
"We must continuously learn," President Hinckley said during a 1996 fireside in Salt Lake City. "It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge."
President Hinckley called television "mindless drivel" and a "terrible waste of intellectual resources," Hepworth said. He asked students to invest more time in reading material that is not included in their college curriculums.
The lesson hit Phil Greenan, a 22-year-old Utah Valley State College student, particularly hard.
"I admire his work ethic more than anything," he said of President Hinckley, who kept working hard for the church almost until the day he died. "As I've studied his life I've learned to be more motivated. He taught education, and he lived education."
Hepworth doesn't intend to change too much about the class now that President Hinckley is gone. She still plans to teach a large segment on temples, morality, forgiveness, families and the importance of staying out of debt.
It's not business as usual, though. The whole premise of the class the teachings of the living prophet has changed.
"Now I'm teaching from a legacy point of view," she said. -->
The feeling in Hepworth's classroom has been reverent and subdued since President Hinckley's death. Even though the institute teacher did not personally know the church leader, she feels as if something is missing in her life.
"Sure we'll carry on," she said. "But we'll miss that humor, vigor and the love he had for everyone."
Plans are in the works for a new class, focused on the teachings of the church's new president.
Douglas Bassett, another institute instructor who developed the "Teachings of President Hinckley" class four years ago, said the goal has always been to center on the living prophet.
"When I get up to teach this class, there's a feeling of the spirit stronger than any class I've ever taught," he said. "I believe that is because the Lord would have us quote his living prophets. If we continue to teach as if nothing has happened, the spirit will diminish."
Both teachers will slowly add the words of the new church president to the curriculum. By next semester, the class will have a new name. In the meantime, Hepworth said she plans to teach the course with renewed "passion." It's her way of honoring President Hinckley. Her students had similar thoughts."It's such a privilege to be in this class right now to pay tribute to the work that President Hinckley's done," said Mark Millet, 25, a UVSC student from Las Vegas. "I feel like it's a way to pay tribute to the man. He's one of my mortal heroes."
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