Some 16 years ago, leaders of the Church began emphasizing “raising the bar” for missionaries. Now the focus of general authorities, local leaders and teachers is to accelerate the raising of the spiritual bar even earlier for young men and young women. One of the primary vehicles to elevate gospel instruction for youth will occur in seminary programs throughout Canada and the rest of the Church.
In May of this year, the commissioner of the Church Educational System, Elder Paul V. Johnson, announced, “Beginning with the upcoming school year, students who wish to graduate from seminary or receive an institute diploma will now be asked to meet two additional qualifications: (1) complete the designated readings for each course, and (2) pass a course learning assessment.”
The new, higher standards for seminary students in the 2014-15 school year are intended to strengthen the spiritual preparation of tomorrow’s missionaries, mothers, fathers and leaders of the Church.
Canadian seminary instructors, too, are eager to hold to the more robust standards of spiritual growth. Dana Puddington is a teacher of a smaller seminary program in Kanata, Ontario where she and her three students meet in the Puddington home.
To prepare her students to pass the seminary learning assessment, she also focuses on those who are less inclined to participate. “The boys are more shy. So I make sure that they feel safe in our seminary environment. Now they open up to things they experience, express their spiritual feelings and write in a journal what the spirit's telling them in their own heart and mind.”
Sister Puddington uses student interests to evoke spiritual truths. “We play games involving scriptures which better enabled the students to learn and recite verses. More importantly, we talk about the context of the story. They are learning to relate all scriptures to the context of what was happening in the scriptures and to their own lives.”
“Now, when they are in Sunday school class or become a missionary, they know exactly where to go. They know the scriptures, not just the verses.”
Michael Pilling, Canada Seminary and Institute Area Director, says that the higher seminary standards also correlates with an increase in the number of students. “Most of Canada’s seminary student population is stable, and there is growth in southern Alberta,” he says. During the 2013-14 school year, 4,491 students enrolled in seminary. Of those, 513 attended in British Columbia, 992 in eastern Canada and 2,986 in the central portion of the country.
Canada has the added dimension of a dual-language population in the Church that requires the skill and adaptability of seminary teachers. “We have a challenge because my students are multilingual,” says Lisa Crutcher Desjourdy, who conducts seminary courses in Sherbrooke, Quebec. “Though we live in a French speaking ward, we also have a number of English-only families. Here I teach the students in French and in English, and students study in English.”
“It requires a lot for them; they have to be ready to do it on a daily basis,” says Sister Desjourdy. “We have kids in our ward who come to church every week, and their parents are not participating. Without parents’ support, why would a 14 to 16 year-old get up and do that if he wasn’t benefiting?”
“Years ago when teaching early morning seminary, I was pregnant and sick and had a 45-minute drive to the church. The students would come to class and pull their caps down and seem to say ‘I dare you to teach me.’ Now I look years after and each one went on a mission and to the temple. I really believe seminary was the reason. It’s years down the line when you see the benefits. The kids will have caught that vision, too.”