Center Spread: ‘A refuge’ — Church provides social, spiritual security for young single adults

As the institute director in Austin, Texas, Randal A. Wright will never forget receiving a telephone call from a mother, checking up on a young man he had never met.

The boy, who had been raised in a very active LDS family, had been attending the University of Texas Austin for more than eight months, yet the institute director didn't know he existed. The young man's Church records had never been transferred from his home ward in another city, and he had never enrolled in the Austin institute.

Regretfully, Brother Wright said, this young man had been "lost in the shuffle."

Bruce Lake, executive assistant to the Church Educational System's administrator Stanley A. Peterson, noted that Church leaders are concerned about the Church's young single adults, ages 18 to 30 — many of whom float after high school, missions and even college, "from this farewell to that homecoming" never really attending one ward on a regular basis.

Sometimes their Church records never catch up with them. Other times, local Church leaders, institute directors and home or visiting teachers who would normally offer them a support system, don't know they live nearby.

Unfortunately, noted Brother Lake, this is a time in their lives when many young adults are making major decisions — such as what they will study at school, whom they will marry, and what job they will take — and need the gospel of Jesus Christ more than ever.

Most important, it is through the Church that they can find friends who share their same standards and help them make good decisions. (Please see attached article on this place detailing blessings of Church activity for a single member.)

Using a phrase coined by President Gordon B. Hinckley, Brother Lake said the Church Educational System is engaging in a "rescue mission," locating the Church's young single adults and encouraging them to be active in student, single or residential wards and in institute — even if they have already graduated.

The First Presidency issued a statement in July 1993 and again in October 1994 inviting all young single adults ages 18 to 30 to participate in religious education classes — which today, through an extended institute program, are offered in 147 countries around the world. Before the First Presidency statements, institute was primarily a program for students. Today, all single young adults can and should participate.

Brother Lake also noted how important it is for the young adults to have Church callings.

Kristen Huber of the Kansas City North 2nd Branch, Liberty Missouri Stake, graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 1996 and has found a supportive social circle in her branch for single members.

She explained that branch members spend a huge amount of time together — on Friday and Saturday nights, once a week at institute, for Monday night family home evening activities, during Sunday Church meetings and for Sunday night firesides or CES broadcasts.

She has also experienced spiritual growth from her activity in the branch, where she has found a positive environment to grow and learn. "I find that because we are all within approximately the same stage in life, the information we receive on Sunday can be more specifically geared to what we need to know and what we need to concentrate on," she said.

Another great blessing to being part of a singles branch, she said, is the opportunity for Church service and leadership.

Andrea Earl of the Holladay 30th Ward, Salt Lake City Holladay South Stake, has also formed her closest friendships through her activity in the Church. As a family home evening co-chairwoman in her ward, she organizes and participates in service projects and social activities. She has also seen strong correlation between ward members who attend all of their Sunday meetings and who socialize together.

"It is hard at this age," said Sister Earl, who has been a member of the ward for more than eight years. "It is hard to get to know people at Church. After ward activities I find myself looking forward to going to Church and seeing the friends I made during the week."

During brief remarks during the Church Educational System fireside broadcast Jan. 3, Brother Peterson, CES administrator, challenged the single young adults in the Church to do two things: Take an institute class and involve their less-active friends in Church and institute activities.

"I would like to challenge you during 1999 to select one individual who is a member of the Church, but who for whatever reason, is not participating fully. . . . I would like to ask you to invite them to participate with you in [an institute] class, in a CES fireside, in a sacrament meeting or Sunday school, or even to read the Book of Mormon together.

"If you will do that I can promise you that great rewards will come," he continued. "You cannot imagine the impact you can have on your peers by asking them to participate in some activity in the Church. You will never stand taller than when you reach out to someone else who has been lost."

Brother Wright said an effective way to encourage young adults to participate in Church and institute programs is to have other young adults welcome them to a new area. However, he emphasized, that for this to happen Church and institute leaders need to know the young adults are there.

"The families and the bishops just assume these young people are going to walk [into Church and institute]," he said. "If we get the information that they are here, then we can contact them."

There are few areas of the Church today where young adults cannot participate in institute, he continued. "And every young adult in the Church has a bishop [or branch president]."

Max R. Leavitt, director of the Twin Fall, Idaho, institute, serves as bishop of the Twin Falls 2nd Ward, Twin Falls Idaho West Stake. He believes that when a young adult leaves his ward that communication with a new ward is essential. "As a bishop I follow up, monitor how they are doing," he said.

Edward G. Thompson, director of the Fullerton, Calif., institute, noted many young adults feel when they leave Young Men or Young Women, that they no longer have a place in the Church. He encouraged bishops to give them a calling in their family wards or encourage them to regularly attend a student or singles ward.

Logan R. Zemp, director of the Calgary institute noted that when young people move they can get lost in a new city as they get involved in a new school or a new job.

He is working with local leaders to keep the young adults active in institute even after they have graduated from college. Currently, 40 percent of those participating in the Calgary institute classes are not part of the area's student population, but are employed in the city.

And more important than what the Church has to offer young single adults, he said, is what they have to offer the Church through excitement, energy and enthusiasm.

Sister Huber and her friends say they are enjoying the current stage of their life, using the time as single members to begin higher education and careers and enjoying the company of others who share their same beliefs.

Through her participation in the Church — especially in her singles branch — Sister Huber said she has found a "refuge for young adults from the temporal world both spiritually and socially."