Once the Church becomes established in a country, the seminary program is almost always sure to follow.
Seminary not only offers religious education to youth, but also helps them build a spiritual foundation that is passed from generation to generation, said Stanley A. Peterson, administrator of the Church Educational System.Now established in 90 countries throughout the world, seminary aids priesthood leaders and families in helping young people gain testimonies, serve missions, achieve temple marriages, and become well-adjusted Latter-day Saints who make significant contributions to their communities.
"We are a part of the Church organization that has been given the specific assignment and responsibility to focus in on these young people from high school to college age, to help them with those goals. That's a very formative period, as we well know," said Brother Peterson.
Clarence F. Schramm, Brother Peterson's administrative assistant and a CES zone administrator, said, "Our commission from the Church Board of Education is to follow the Church wherever it goes. As soon as the Church goes into a country and has a sufficient LDS population and the priesthood requests it, we respond with the most appropriate type of seminary program for the country."
Brother Peterson explained, "We come in when the local priesthood leaders and the General Authorities decide it would be appropriate to open the seminary program."
Normally, seminary first begins with a home study program, explained Brother Schramm. He said this is usually the case in remote locations where from one or two to six or seven students meet once a week with a volunteer teacher. The students then study on their own during the week.
He noted that once the LDS population grows or conditions allow, the home study program is replaced by the daily or early morning system. Under this program, students meet for nearly one hour each day before or after school.
The third program in the seminary system is release time, which is when the school system officially releases students for one hour during the school day for religious studies. Release time is normally only found in the United States.
Throughout the world, 274,184 students are enrolled in the seminary program. There are about 4,000 full-time CES teachers and administrators, Brother Schramm said.
Brother Peterson told the Church News that a major challenge in administering the seminary and other CES programs is training the approximately 17,289 volunteer teachers, who teach and serve in the Church Educational System in various parts of the world.
Full-time CES coordinators in a particular country will instruct teachers on how to effectively reach and teach young people through a variety of training materials, including videos where possible, he explained.
Brother Peterson said when he traveled recently to areas where the seminary program was established, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the "caliber of teaching in these remote areas of the world is remarkable."
He noted that these teachers don't have to be seminary graduates and there is no age requirement. CES coordinators and priesthood leaders, he said, look for "someone who is worthy and willing to pay the price to effectively reach young people."
Another challenge Brother Peterson noted is in countries where more than one dialect is spoken. Seminary materials are printed in the predominant language. As a result, those speaking another local dialect may not be able to read seminary materials.
Situations like these are not unusual in the Philippines, and Central and South America, said Brother Peterson. For example, in Venezuela, Bolivia, and the San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama, many residents only speak a local Indian dialect and not the predominant language.
Brother Peterson explained that often there will be a bilingual teacher. "Several years ago, I went into Paraguay and went to the most unique seminary graduation among the Chulupi Indians that I've ever seen. Seeing the primitive conditions under which they lived and met as seminary students was a truly humbling experience for me. At the same time these students were so dedicated and positive about the gospel. They spoke a local Indian dialect and the missionaries taught seminary," he recalled. "The missionaries would read the materials in Spanish and then translate them."
During his many travels throughout the world as CES administrator, Brother Peterson has come across many stories of faith and determination. One such story he learned about at a fireside in Manila, Philippines, stands out to him.
"On the stand, prepared to give the opening prayer, was a young man in a wheelchair. He had no arms, no legs. He was dressed in a white shirt and tie. He gave a beautiful prayer." Brother Peterson discovered after the fireside the young man had been born with this disability.
"Because of his disability, he was not allowed in public schools. His great dream was, `I'll prepare myself so that when I'm 14, I can go to seminary.' He learned to write by holding a pencil in his teeth. His mother taught him how to read.
"When he was old enough to go to seminary, his sister, also a seminary student, wheeled him in that wheelchair to seminary and back home again every day for four years. Then she had to go to school," Brother Peterson continued. "At the end of the four years, this brother and sister received special certificates because they had gone to four years of seminary without one absence or one tardy.
"That young man went on a mission," Brother Peterson said.
Those attending seminary gain a spiritual foundation, regardless of the country in which they reside, he explained. "What happens is they build a foundation, so that the next generation comes out of homes where mothers and fathers know and study the scriptures. It strengthens the members from generation to generation."
He added that the seminary program also can positively affect the temporal welfare of a country. When students begin seminary, they nurture a love for learning.
Seminary programs throughout the world
Release time – 38 percent.
Early morning or daily – 45.5 percent.
Home study – 16.5 percent.