Obtaining a religious education

While attending Florida State University in Tallahassee, Douglas Lewis found out there was an adjacent LDS institute of religion. But he didn't find this out through a Church leader or member. He made his discovery through a flier distributed by a campus Christian organization.

Having been active in the Church only a short time, he thought it would be beneficial to take some classes in religious studies so he enrolled in institute that year, in the fall of 1991.Today, he is Elder Douglas Lewis, 24, serving in the California Riverside Mission. He credits institute as one impetus to his decision to serve a mission.

"Institute was important because I had a testimony, but I didn't have a sound scriptural understanding," he related. "Institute strengthened my testimony and helped me with the scriptures. From there, I was able to apply gospel principles in my life."

To help other college-age Latter-day Saints like Elder Lewis easily locate and benefit from institutes of religion, the Church Educational System is making available a list of all such programs in the United States and Canada, said Stanley A. Peterson, CES administrator of religious education. The list, accompanied by a letter from the First Presidency, is now being sent to all priesthood leaders - from area presidencies to bishops and branch presidents. Full-time local CES employees will also receive the listing.

The list includes 407 institutes of religion that are adjacent to non-LDS colleges, universities and technical schools. Seventeen pieces of information about each institute of religion and the adjacent secular school are provided.

For example, if Elder Lewis had been able to see this list, he would have read the following information concerning Florida State University: total enrollment is 28,000; annual tuition is $1,600; there are 100 LDS students at the university, with 55 enrolled in institute. There are 380 other LDS young adults in the stake encompassing the university; institute classes are held in an institute building. The institute's address is listed with a telephone number. There is one student branch, and the LDS students' bishop and his telephone number are listed.

Brother Peterson told the Church News this is the most comprehensive list of institutes provided, with the broadest circulation.

"What we're hoping is this provides parents and priesthood leaders with all the critical information they need to help students with the transition from high school to college - with their spiritual as well as secular needs being met," he said. "Parents can get the information they need from their priesthood leaders."

Brother Peterson explained that the list is beneficial to parents, students and priesthood leaders in two main ways:

It helps parents and students decide what school to attend.

It provides an avenue to let priesthood leaders and institute personnel know a new student is coming.

Brother Peterson related: "There's a limited number of LDS students who can attend Church schools. Any young person who is seeking a post-secondary education will have a way of knowing where religious education classes are available through an LDS institute of religion. We want to make sure that young people have a religious education, with their secular education.

"We know from studies that young people who are involved in an institute of religion are going on missions and marrying in temples at as high a rate as students going to Church schools. There's a feeling by some that, `If I don't get my child into a Church school, he or she is lost.' That isn't so."

The letter from the First Presidency included with the list reads: "Institute classes provide an excellent opportunity for spiritual balance in the secular environment of a college campus. Youth who avail themselves of institute classes and activities are more apt to include missionary service and temple marriage in their life's accomplishments.

"We encourage all post-high school students to enroll and participate in the institute of religion program of the Church Educational System."

Brother Peterson explained that the long-range benefits of the new list are that more young people will enroll in an institute of religion. "There are a lot of parents and students who have no idea there are as many institute programs as there are. When they see how many locations there are, more young people will get involved, and more parents will be concerned enough to make sure the student is known to institute personnel."

He surmised that students and their parents will also be surprised at the number of other LDS young adults in the area encompassing an institute of religion. "There is a critical mass of young people in the Church with whom LDS students can associate," he added.

Bishop Lyndon C. MacKay of the Mueller Park 8th Ward, Bountiful Utah Mueller Park Stake, said a list of institutes of religion helps him "give direction and wise counsel to every high school senior who is looking toward higher education after graduation. By knowing the locations and addresses of institutes of religion, a student can enroll in these classes at the same time as enrolling in college classes.

"It is frightening for an 18-year-old young adult to go to school - even if he or she is living at home," Bishop MacKay continued. "Leaving the known for the unknown, leaving security for insecurity, and leaving friends and family for unknown friends is greatly tempered by knowing that the institute program offers opportunities of friendship and security with people who have common goals and aspirations.

"The institute directory will aid in the educational process in fulfilling the needs of the whole person - both spiritually and temporally."

Brother Peterson noted that the list of institutes of religion will be updated approximately every spring.

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