Young single adults now invited to enroll in institute classes

Meredith Cowper, 22, attends the LDS institute of religion adjacent to Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. But she isn't a college student. She is working at a fast-food restaurant to save money for a mission.

Meredith is just one of thousands of non-student, young single adults throughout the United States and Canada who are now encouraged to enroll in an institute of religion program - a program previously designed mainly for LDS college students.The First Presidency, in a July 1, 1993, letter to area presidencies; regional representatives; stake, mission and district presidents; bishops and branch presidents in the United States and Canada, announced:

"All non-student young single adults eighteen through thirty who live in the immediate area of an institute of religion are invited to enroll in the institute and to participate with other students in the religious education classes and the social and service activities of this important Church program."

The First Presidency explained: "The membership of the Church, including college students and non-student young single adults, continues to increase. Institutes of religion will serve more Latter-day Saint students because of enrollment limits at the Church university and colleges.

"Careful study has shown that the opportunities for young people enrolled at institutes of religion are enhanced greatly when larger numbers participate and when they associate together in their social and service activities and religious education."

In addition, the First Presidency announced that the Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA), while previously under the direction of the Church's Priesthood Department, will now be administered by the Church Educational System.

LDSSA is a Church-sponsored student organization located on campuses throughout the United States and Canada. This organization, which is closely correlated with the institute program, includes the LDS men's fraternity, Sigma Gamma Chi, and the LDS women's sorority, Lambda Delta Sigma.

Stanley A. Peterson, CES administrator for religious education, said the changes in the institute program "will make it possible for a greater number of young people to gather together in one place for spiritual, educational and social activities. "We are pleased to be able to lay out the welcome mat for the young adults to come to the institutes of religion. These facilities have been built for the purpose of blessing the lives of young people of college age, and we feel that the added emphasis to welcome young adults into not only the religious education classes but also the social activities that are provided at the institutes will be a blessing to our young people.

"We have been serving approximately one half of all of our LDS college students who are going to school in institutions where there are institutes of religion. A very, very small percentage of young adults have ever participated in the institute programs provided at these locations. We think that with the new emphasis being placed on young adults being invited into the program, we will see many thousands of young people between the ages of 18 and 30, who have not previously been involved, participate with us in these excellent programs."

In speaking further of the benefits of inviting non-students into the institute program, Don C. Hunsaker, the Church's director of institute of religion activities and the Latter-day Saint Student Association, told the Church News: "The purpose is to provide a larger community of young single adults so they'll have more opportunity to meet together and be involved in service and social activities. You can have more activities and a more diversified program."

In the past, LDSSA has been mainly responsible for directing institute activities. Under the new policy, activities will now be correlated through an institute of religion council composed of college students, non-students and representatives from LDSSA.

The institute council, under the direction of an institute of religion council adviser, is responsible to an institute of religion advisory committee. This committee includes a local priesthood leader, the institute council presidency and the institute director. The priesthood leader, called by and answering to the area presidency, is usually a stake president, but can be a bishop or branch president of a student unit.

"It's extremely important for the priesthood leader to give counsel and direction to the institute program," explained Bruce Lake, a CES zone administrator. "He's there to perform the ecclesiastical duties of this program, such as calling and setting apart the student leaders."

Because both students and non-students now take part in institute, Brother Hunsaker said, a stake young adult activity program can now be correlated with the institute activity program.

However, emphasized Brother Lake, "Institute is not taking over the stake young adult program. It simply will be an agency to correlate activities for this age group."

He also emphasized that LDSSA will continue to hold activities for and look after the needs of LDS students, as it is an official campus club. "LDSSA continues to perform its viable function as it addresses the concerns of the Latter-day Saint student," he added.

Lauding the benefits of students and non-students alike enjoying the benefits of institute is Steven E. Henrie, a CES coordinator and institute director for the Lansing Michigan Region. "In my region, there is only one student ward, so all of these other young single adults must go to family wards," he said. "Therefore, the only real stronghold of young single adults in my region, which includes four stakes, is here in East Lansing, where we have an institute.

"I have seen that the institute seems to be the hub, or the gathering place of young people. Joining the institute gives contact with other young LDS adults. They have the opportunity for religion classes, service projects, social activities, and of meeting and marrying another from our faith."

Meredith Cowper agrees with Brother Henrie about the many benefits - spiritual and otherwise - of attending institute. She said she enjoys the friendships she's made with many of the 75 enrolled in the institute program in East Lansing - 51 of whom are students and 24 of whom are non-students.

"The combination of institute and my student ward helps me interact with those who are students and gives me something in common with them," she added.

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