Institute: 'Education for eternity'

Created to be a “safe haven from the pressures, trials and challenges of the world,” Institute of Religion classes are dotting the earth in more than 2,500 locations for approximately 350,000 students.

President Thomas S. Monson has encouraged college students to make participation in institute a priority. He has said, “If you are a single college student, I ask you to make participation in institute a priority. Married students and other young adults are also welcome and encouraged to attend. Think of it. Friends will be made, the Spirit will be felt, and faith will be strengthened. I promise you that as you participate in the scriptures and study the scriptures diligently, your power to avoid temptation and to receive direction of the Holy Ghost in all you do will be increased. Divine favor will attend those who humbly seek it. That is a promise which I leave with you” (April 21, 2009).

A place for learning and gaining an “education for eternity,” institute is more than a classroom for college students. Although originally established as a spiritual place of learning for students enrolled in secular courses, the institute program of the Church has become a place of learning for “other young adults.”

“While the institute program was initially started to help university students, a letter from the First Presidency dated April 21, 2011, encouraged all young single adults to attend institute classes, whether they were students or not,” said Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy and commissioner of education for the Church. “This letter also authorized stake-based institute classes so institute could be made available to all young single adults.”

Among those young adults are faithful, working professionals who have already graduated from college or others who aren’t or have never enrolled in college but still enjoy the spiritual lessons they get as they attend institute.

For many, attending institute is a break from the busy workplace and a chance to socialize with others who are in their same stage of life.

“I think, more than anything, we want to take a break and have the Spirit in our week,” said Domineau Wiley, who serves as the Arlington Virginia Institute council president. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 2010 and moved to the Washington D.C. area for a job.

“I work full time, so it is kind of nice that I can have that gospel discussion, whether it is about the Doctrine and Covenants or, like our current class, principles of leadership. We have people make comments about jobs and about leadership roles and what kind of a boss they want to be.”

Because postgraduate institute students are often older they have more life experience than a new freshman, bringing a different element and perspective to the class discussion.

“I come away edified as the teacher,” said Brian Brandenburg, Seminaries and Institutes Coordinator for the Northern Virginia East Area. “When they share their experiences and their insights to the scriptures, it elevates the whole class. There is a lot of participation that happens in an institute that is predominantly made up of career professionals [who are often] a little bit more advanced in the gospel and in their learning.”

Drawing from the words of President Boyd K. Packer referencing seminary students who are going to school in “enemy territory,” Brother Brandenburg spoke of how “enemy territory” still exists outside high school and college campuses and, sometimes even stronger, in the workplace.

“When you go to work, profanity is prominent, the ideas of the world are prominent, and our young adults get beaten up at work as well,” he said. “They don’t always have families to come home to … so when they get beaten up at work and are then able to come to institute and hear a lesson and feel the Spirit and participate and then associate with those in the same situations, it is just a great experience for them.”

For many young adults, institute is just what they need to feel uplifted and strengthened amid a busy work schedule.

“People that are choosing to come to the classes are getting a lot out of the classes,” said Sister Wiley. “We are reading out of the scriptures and are in an environment where we have so many people — so many returned missionaries and converts — here providing additional insight.”

Not only is institute a way to keep gospel study a part of a member’s life post college, it is also a great social outlet with opportunities to serve others and take part in missionary work.

“We do service activities — a food drive, a blood drive and a few little things outside of our [regular classes],” said Sister Wiley, adding that, oftentimes, institute students have brought co-workers and friends who are of other faiths. But it is the weekly class that young adults are making a priority, she said.

“When I got an invitation to someone’s birthday party, it was planned for after institute,” she said. “People plan accordingly. It is their ‘Tuesday-night thing.’ ”

As another tool to help members stay strong and committed to their covenants, institute has become a great place for young adults, in and out of school, to strengthen their faith.

“I hope all young single adults will participate in institute classes and receive the blessings that come from studying the gospel of Jesus Christ and applying the principles of the gospel in our lives,” Elder Johnson told the Church News. “The added advantage of studying the gospel with other young single adults is powerful and strengthening. It gives them a chance to share testimony and experiences with others facing similar challenges, and is a great opportunity to reach out and help others.”

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