First LDS institute reaches 65th year

Sixty-five years ago, the first institute of religion in the Church was established adjacent to the University of Idaho campus here "to take care of the needs of the LDS students." Today, the goal hasn't changed.

"We're still doing the things they did then in establishing a curriculum geared to students' needs," said institute director Kip Jenkins. As a result the institute is experiencing a steadily rising enrollment.And there is a "home-away-from home" atmosphere at the institute.

"A lot of students say that as you enter the doors, you feel a comfort and acceptance," he explained. "This is one of the friendliest institutes of religion I've ever walked in. You can go out anytime to the foyer and listen to friendly conversations. People are eating and chatting. You sit around and feel total acceptance."

Projected enrollment for the 1991-92 school year at the institute, which was created in September 1926, is about 400 LDS students. This is compared to 262 students enrolled during the 1989-90 school year, and 353 students during the 1990-91 year.

He said the needs of a growing LDS student population are being met with a curriculum that allows "students to learn a whole bunch of things at a whole bunch of different times. If we're going to take care of the students, we're going to have to extend ourselves and be creative in what we offer and when we offer classes.

"We are into a systematic teaching of the scriptures. Our Book of Mormon and Bible classes focus on the scriptures and the meaning and applications of each verse. Classes typically take on less of a lecture, more of a discussion. We've really tried to focus on meeting students' needs."

Students can take a variety of classes, including the history of religion, family history research, Book of Mormon or Bible study, courtship and marriage, and many courses on doctrinal subjects.

Brother Jenkins described another change which took place at the institute long before his appointment as director in August 1990. The original institute building, he recalled, provided housing for students. "Since the institute doesn't house students anymore, a homey environment is important," he continued.

Non-LDS students are also drawn to this program by the friendly environment and feelings of acceptance, Brother Jenkins explained. About 20 institute students are not members of the Church, he said, and added that there are four to five convert baptisms a year.

LDS institutes of religion have come a long way since President Charles W. Nibley of the First Presidency, acting under the direction of President Heber J. Grant, called J. Wyley Sessions to establish the first institute program in Moscow, Idaho, in 1926. The first institute building was dedicated in September 1928 by President Nibley, and provided housing for 22 male students and included classroom space and a small chapel.

Brother Jenkins said this was the "first Church building in Moscow. The first ward in Moscow was established here at the institute building."

In 1967, the original institute building was torn down, and a new building was constructed to meet the needs of the growing program. The building, dedicated in September 1968 by Elder Boyd K. Packer, then an Assistant to the Twelve, is still in use today.

Brother Jenkins said the building includes three large classrooms, a large library, a kitchen, offices, a large foyer and a game room. He added that two student wards, one for married students and one for singles, attend Church services at the institute building.

Former and current students and faculty members gathered at the building last fall to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the institute, according to John L. Schwendiman, public affairs director for the Pullman Washington Stake. During the activities, Larele J. Stevens and his wife, Velma, who are former students, donated an original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon to the institute.

Brother Jenkins said that some of the former students reminisced "about the love they have for the institute because of this home-away-from-home thing. It's where they went to gain spiritual and emotional refreshment." - Julie A. Dockstader

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