The Mutual theme "arise and shine forth" has been a guide and encouragement for the Church's youth since its implementation in January. Young women from the Seneca (Maryland) Ward have interpreted this theme in their own way as they've enthusiastically focused on the temple and its ordinances in their lessons and activities.
On March 30, the ward's 10 young women and their five leaders — with much help and involvement from other ward members — participated in an activity they called the "Arise and Shine Forth Temple Walk." Beginning at the Washington Monument, prominently located at the core of the nation's capitol, the girls walked a strenuous 21.5 miles to the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Md. The 10-hour activity held a firm focus on the temple and the important ordinances it provides in rearing eternal families.
"We thought it would be kind of neat since we live in the nation's capitol to start [the walk] in a place where everyone knows," said Coree Ogden, ward Young Women president. However, she said, "We really wanted the focus to be the temple."
Inspired by an example given in the April 2001 general conference by Sister Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president, the activity encouraged the young women to make the temple a priority throughout their lives.
"I wished with all my heart that every young woman could … strive to always be worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple in preparation to enjoy the blessings of exaltation," Sister Dalton said in her address.
Though the group was not the first to complete the physically challenging task of walking many miles to a "nearby" temple, (young women in areas such as Dallas, Texas; Alpine, Utah; and Kansas City, Mo.; have done similar temple walks) they are now among those young women who better realize and appreciate its purpose.
"The temple is where we can get sealed [to and] for our family for all time and eternity," said Maegan Barnes, Laurel class president. "By doing family history and temple work we are helping those on the other side, people who probably haven't had the chance to learn about the gospel and giving them the chance to accept it. It's an important work."
In preparation for the arduous activity, Young Women and leaders made sure the girls fully understood the important connection between temples and family history work. Each temple walker dedicated her walk to a family member — whether it was a well-known grandparent or a distant ancestor — whose name was engraved on a dog tag that was worn around her neck as she walked.
While searching for a dedicatory ancestor, the young women made several trips to the Seneca Maryland Stake Family History Center, during which process some found relatives who had not yet had their temple work done. After the temple walk activity, the young women furthered the work they had started by later returning to the temple, as part of a youth group activity, to perform baptisms for the relatives they discovered at the family history center.
Melissa Palmer, a Laurel, was able to perform baptismal work for a relative and has been learning how to use FamilySearch to find more names of ancestors for whom she can perform work. "It was such a wonderful experience to be able to bring a family name to the temple," she said. "I want to continue finding them and bringing my own ancestors to the temple."
Jari Nelson, the ward's Young Women second counselor, said, "The first week we did it the girls weren't real excited until we took them to the family history center and showed them they could find names. I think that made it real for them."
Ever since then the young womens' attitudes have been changed toward temples and family history work and many have also continued these important practices on their own, outside of Young Women activities.
"I think I would like to continue learning more about my family because I'm pretty sure everybody in my family tree has a story," Maegan said.
In June, almost three months after they walked to the temple, the young women returned to the temple for an activity.
"We are always coming back to [the temple] … we center our lives around this because we need to return to our Father in Heaven," said first counselor, Janet Fayard. "We've centered so much effort and attention around it that it's just a constant thing."