Episode 98: BYU Education Week administrator Bruce Payne on celebrating a century of spiritual and academic learning
BYU Education Week administrator Bruce Payne gives a glimpse into the planning, facilitating and learning involved in producing the program every year
With more than 16,000 participants, 900 classes and hundreds of volunteers, BYU Education Week celebrated its 100th anniversary in Provo, Utah, from Aug. 15 to Aug. 19. Beginning as Leadership Week in 1922, BYU Education Week continues to offer presentations and classes that seek to teach, strengthen, lift, motivate and encourage.
This year’s classes focused on the 2022 theme: “100 Years of Instruction and Learning: ‘Of Things Both in Heaven and in the Earth.’” Bruce Payne has worked in support of Education Week for 29 years — 24 as the program administrator — and joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the history of Education Week. He offers his insight into planning, facilitating and learning from this century-old program. The podcast also highlights excerpts from the Education Week devotional address by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bruce Payne: What I’ve found running this program is that those who are coming, are coming with the Spirit, those who are teaching, are teaching with the Spirit, and when you get the two together, the dynamic is just amazing. They’re all interested. They’re all receptive to the Spirit. When that happens, it’s just — people come away refreshed and feel like they have got instruction that is going to help them and bless them in their life.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With thousands of participants, 220 presenters, 500 volunteers and hundreds of BYU employees, BYU Education Week celebrated its 100th anniversary in Provo, Utah last week. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from around the world converged on the BYU campus for the annual conference, celebrating this year’s theme, “100 Years of Instruction and Learning: ‘Of Things Both in Heaven and in the Earth.’” Pivotal to the program’s success for the past 29 years, 24 years as program administrator, is Bruce Payne. He joins this episode of the Church News podcast to offer his unique insight into the planning, facilitating and learning from this unique gathering of minds and souls. Welcome, Bruce, to the Church News podcast.
Bruce Payne: Thank you, I appreciate you having me join in.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, this is the 100th anniversary of Education Week. Can you share some of the highlights and the legacy of this annual conference?
Bruce Payne: Sure. The program started in January of 1922. It was initially scheduled in the wintertime because with people working on the farms, that’s when they had time to attend things like this, and so there was a capacity to enrich lives and to train leaders and so, they initiated the time — it was called Leadership Week. And over the years, some of the highlights, I know in 1926, there was a radio broadcast done by President Heber J. Grant — sort of fun to read about it in the newspapers back then when you go and you hear how people gathered at gas stations and at homes and different places to listen to the radio broadcasts. So, that was exciting.
In 1963, they changed the name to Education Week from Leadership Week, because it had begun to offer classes for just anyone, whether or not they were leaders or not, just because of the expanded nature of the type of courses that were being offered. In 1972, it was Elder Neal A. Maxwell, he was the one that made an announcement that just said we’re pleased to note that Education Week has become an annual tradition in many areas throughout the Church. They used to have a lot of Educational Week programs, at areas where there were large concentrations of members of the Church and so, that really helped interest grow by sending BYU faculty and others to these other areas, and they would have classes there and then also come and attend at BYU Education Week. And so, in 1973, then the program moved to August ,and finally in 1973, with the new semester calendar at BYU, it always falls the week after summer term ends and before fall semester starts, and so those are a little bit of the history, in a nutshell, of the history of Education Week program.
Sarah Jane Weaver: First, thank you so much for sharing that rich history of Education Week with us. Elder Quentin L. Cook [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles], who offered the campus devotional address at Education Week this year, also shared the history of Education Week and talked about just the legacy of this really, really important event. Was there something from his remarks that stood out to you?
Bruce Payne: He discussed a little bit of the history of continuing education. Now, we sort of had a dual reporting line for Education Week. We would report to the Church, but we would also report to BYU and, you know, we’ve been associated with continuing education from the beginning, but as of 2008, we report just directly through our lines here at BYU,
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you have been so critical to this program being affiliated with for almost three decades and then running it for almost a quarter of a century. Is there something that you think of when you think of Education Week?
Bruce Payne: The great thing about this program, and I think the reason it’s been so successful, as we have just a wide range of classes, amazing presenters and we have experts in their field who are really interested in teaching others about whatever their particular field is, and we also have the people who are coming to campus who are interested in these things and so, they self-select into classes. And so those who have made it their profession are teaching people who are wanting to learn, and you know, it’s not a requirement to go to a certain class, and that dynamic between the presenters who teach these subjects with the Spirit and the people who are attending, being interested in what is being taught, it just is fantastic dynamic that has really helped to be successful over the years.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I was so glad that you mentioned that Elder Cook, in his keynote devotional address, actually referenced this rich and broad history of Education Week. I think it’s so delightful that you had so many important sessions, including this devotional address from Elder Quentin L. Cook. In addition to Elder Cook, we also had sessions that included teaching from the Sunday School, Primary and Young Men general presidencies and from Elder Clark G. Gilbert, who’s the commissioner of Church education.
Bruce Payne: You know, people love going and listening to these leaders of the Church when they do take an opportunity to come down and teach and it’s just, really enriches the program for sure.
Sarah Jane Weaver: What is the current mission of Education Week?
Bruce Payne: I went back and looked even back at the program from 1922. Our mission pretty much seems the same. We’re extending the Spirit and the resources of the university to Church members and to others who want to come and attend the classes that provide the in-person learning and something that’s recently new is the online offerings, the pandemic sort of jumped started that, and we’re going to be continuing the recording of classes, not just during Education Week and in our studio, but in the near future, we’ll have presenters coming in continually, pretty much every week and record things that we will be putting on an online media library, and we’ll be sending an email out to participants. We have pretty big email lists. We’ll let people know, start advertising that media library where people will be able to watch a lot of these presentations just at their convenience in their home, on their television or their computer, and so we’re excited for that. So, as far as what our mission is, it’s pretty much extending the resources and the blessings that the university can provide to others, whether they’re going to be here or viewing from afar.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, we’ll make sure that we include some information in the podcast notes so that people can find all of those resources. I’m hoping that you’ll be willing to talk to us about this year’s theme that, of course, highlights 100 years of instruction and learning and the second half of that is “Of Things Both in Heaven and in the Earth.” What is so special, especially about that second phrase?
Bruce Payne: Well, when I look back at 1922 in January and read about why the program was established, it was established for the purpose of providing spiritual and academic training to leaders in various lines of community and Church leadership. So, when we’re talking about spiritual and academic training, I just thought of that scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants 88:79, “Of things both in heaven and in the earth,” and thought it would be appropriate to use for this 100th anniversary, because we still are trying to do that same thing, to accomplish people growing spiritually and academically and not necessarily just for leaders. I think it’s something that all of us can focus on and grow by focusing on that thing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I want to give our listeners sort of a backstage pass for what it takes to produce and make Education Week happen. How many hours of preparation and execution go into pulling off this conference?
Bruce Payne: You know, as far as hours, that’s a little hard to say. We actually start preparing for the next program in the next two weeks. People that are interested in being a presenter at Education Week, there is an application process, or they fill in an online application. They send in their proposed class titles and outlines, they send a resume, and then we have a team who reviews all the proposals, looks at people’s qualifications, tries to see what will be a good fit for Education Week, or if we already have certain subjects covered. We traditionally have around 150 to 200 new applicants every year. So, we jump on that right in September and then that takes a couple of months to review everything and try to decide which direction we’re going to go, get the necessary approvals for going down that road then, after the review, we have to prepare all the class outlines for Church Correlation review ,and you know, we’re very interested in making sure that the things taught at Education Week are doctrinally correct and are uplifting. And so, the Church Correlation, it’s great that they help us to review and make sure, hey, if there’s anything that we might need to talk to a presenter about or way of teaching a certain particular topic that we want people that come to Education Week to know that what’s being taught is, is carefully as we can, reviewed.
So, that takes several more months just to do the preparations for those Correlation reviews. In the meantime, while we’re doing that in the spring and into the early summer, we’re also coordinating with dozens of university departments, whether it be dining or campus housing or building care, or University Police, the Scheduling Office, you know, there are just so many people we have to coordinate with and make sure, “OK, everything’s lined up,” or “We’ll be ready to go” in addition to doing the registrations and the advertising and arranging for hotels for presenters or things like that. It’s a year-long process. So, as far as number of hours, it’s a little impossible to say. We have two of us who work specifically with it all year long, and then we have others in our department that jump in and help as things start getting busy. So, it’s a year-long process.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m interested in knowing, what are your most popular classes?
Bruce Payne: The most popular classes, I think, are some of the presenters that have been teaching for us for years. People, they sort of find the instructors that they like and appreciate and are anxious to go to their classes year after year. Quite often, it isn’t one particular topic. For example, it might be teachings on the Second Coming that are, people are interested in, or we have a lot of classes that are helping people to be better parents or a better spouse. We have a lot of people who are close to retirement or in retirement, and some of the financial classes on retirement are very popular and we have such a wide variety of classes that these people will go to. They sort of pick what’s of interest to them and so, as far as which ones are most popular, and often doctrinal topics are of great interest to people who are at Education Week. They love deep insights and something that can give them just an added measure of knowledge about a particular subject and grow in their spirit and testimony in that way.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think it’s interesting that the presenter is just half the equation. You know, for me, I have spent so many years writing about Education Week. So, this week in August every year is something that just draws me to the BYU campus, like so many other people. One of the things that I personally love about it, is it also draws my family from across the country. So, I am never at BYU Education Week when I don’t run into a cousin or a friend.
Several years ago, I had a most special experience, where I ran into a former BYU roommate whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and we were able to reconnect, and it was such a divine signature for me to find someone that had meant something to me and then be able to share an educational experience with her 20 years after we had been studying on the BYU campus together as undergraduate students. BYU Education Week has to draw people from all over the world who are eager to learn who prepare to learn. What is it that makes the audience at Education Week so special?
Bruce Payne: I think what makes them special is their desire to learn. When they’re here, and in between classes, you see them scurrying from one class to another to another to another. They’re just excited. We have people explain it to us quite frequently. They just say, you know, “It’s like coming and drinking from a firehose,” and not just on one particular topic, but it is variety, and so it makes the day go quicker, you know. It’s not like you’re learning one particular thing, and so we generally have people from a dozen or more countries outside the United States, all 50 states of the United States are generally covered, as far as the number who’s in attendance, and you get all of these people who are wanting to learn and whether they’re in class learning from the instructor or talking to someone in line. They make friendships. It’s great to get back on campus, whether it’s nostalgic to be here again, after so many years of being away or whatever it is. They love the fact that they can come to BYU and learn and create friendships and just experience all BYU has to offer. That’s what people seem to really enjoy about Education Week.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, I do want to talk more about the preparation of both the presenter and the participants. What is so important about coming prepared to learn?
Bruce Payne: What I’ve found, running this program, is that those who are coming, are coming with the Spirit. Those who are teaching, are teaching with the Spirit and when you get the two together, the dynamic is just amazing. The experts are teaching what they know. They all love that subject that they’re discussing in that class. They’re all interested. They’re all receptive to the Spirit and when that happens, it’s just an amazing combination. People come away refreshed and feel like they have got instruction that is going to help them and bless them in their life and the presenters, I’m sure, can sense the interest of the audience and just love to share with both of them being guided by the Spirit.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is something that we highly value, something that we seek. In fact, the Lord has actually commanded it. He’s asked us to seek learning. Do you think many people come to Education Week with a desire to fulfill that sort of spiritual mandate, as well?
Bruce Payne: Oh, certainly. I think it’s ingrained in us to continually seek learning, whether it be in Relief Society, or Priesthood, or Sunday School, or in families, in our personal studies. I think that that is the foundation that, sort of, helps people be interested in learning and they see Education Week as a avenue to expand their knowledge and their understanding and find different subjects that they’re even interested in learning and, you know, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the focus on education is certainly a driving factor in the success of Education Week.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, I loved Elder Gilbert’s presentation at Education Week. He starts with this “Candid Camera” clip where it shows people facing different directions in an elevator and sort of copying one another ,and then he makes this statement that tells us a lot about BYU and the continuing education programs that they sponsor. And he just says, “We ask our universities to be different from the world,” and that is something that you’re facilitating and helping people be different from the world. Is that correct?
Bruce Payne: Oh, I think so. I think the difference is, it’s not just academic learning, it’s learning through the Spirit and listening for guidance, which is very unique and something that is certainly a blessing to those who are attending.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Bruce, it is amazing that every year everyone seems to be able to find the very thing that they need at Education Week. Can you share some personal experiences that you’ve had with Education Week?
Bruce Payne: The thing that is most interesting to me, in addition to watching the people here at Education Week, during the program, I’m a little busy trying to manage things and so, after the program, that was where I get a chance to sit down and read the evaluations and see what people have to say or how they’ve grown, and quite often they come for a specific purpose in addition to being able to be taught in a wide range of subjects, but you’ll hear them, a comment will come in and they’ll say, “This one phrase, from this particular instructor, has changed my life.” And it’s not dependent on any particular topic, but people, even though they have a wide variety of classes that they come to and they learn and they grow, it seems so many of them end up with that one phrase that someone taught, the Spirit whispered to them and they say it just has changed their life whether it be relationships, or dealing with personal anxiety and depression or raising a child or relationship with the spouse or you name it, and it just seems like there’s always something that people come away with for Education Week that makes it all worth it and most of the time, they say “It’s changed my life.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I thought one of the highlights of Education Week for me, this year, was the camaraderie and the friendship and the unity that you saw between the general presidencies that had come down. I thought that they were so cordial and kind to one another and sort of played off of one another. Certainly there is a sense of unity, both in the presenters and those who participate in Education Week that as they participate in this event, they become part of one big Education Week family.
Bruce Payne: I think so. I’ve had presenters tell me in the past that, “Oh, a colleague of mine, sort of, coerced me into teaching, and after teaching I had the best experience I’ve ever had teaching, having everybody in the classroom, being interested in what was going on. They weren’t there because they had to be there for a requirement or anything. They were all there because they’re interested in the topic.” And so, I know one BYU professor, in particular, a few years ago, just wrote me a letter and just said, “Thank you, thank you,” you know, “It was just the best experience teaching I’ve ever had to participate, even though I did it initially begrudgingly.” So, the same thing with those who have participated from the general presidencies or just anybody that teaches in this program. They sense the connection with the audience and how special it is to them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, the weekend before BYU Education Week, Elder Quentin L. Cook was in Washington, D.C. for the rededication of the temple. It was such a special weekend to see President Russell M. Nelson rededicate that temple and to see Elder Cook participate in that historic event for that iconic edifice. We have done a Church News podcast on the Washington D.C. Temple and rededication and we’ll put a link to it in the podcast transcript, but it’s interesting that the senior leaders of the Church just seem to go and go and go. So, Elder Cook goes almost straight from Washington, D.C. to BYU to give this talk and he didn’t skip a beat. And part of his talk was beautiful, because he talked about giving heed to the words of prophets. So, here he has just spent three days with our beloved prophet, President Nelson, and then he could stand at Education Week and can testify of him. We’ll actually play some of his excerpts here so that we can talk about them.
Elder Quentin L. Cook: I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some remarks at this 100th anniversary of Brigham Young University’s Education Week. The stated purpose then, was to provide spiritual as well as academic stimulation and training to leaders, particularly in Church leadership lines. Over the years, the trend moved towards classes to enhance knowledge and continue education. These special classes relate to the regular classes taught at BYU. This event has continued to progress, evolve and improve over the years. It blesses the lives of many people. Since 2008, Education Week has been the responsibility of the Brigham Young University Division of Continuing Education. I appreciate the fact that from the beginning, the purpose was to provide spiritual, as well as academic information. To us a little different phraseology, the effort has always been to increase knowledge and build faith in Jesus Christ.
In the doctrines of the Church, faith and the quest for knowledge are not inconsistent. They are compatible and complementary. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members have a doctrinal commitment to education. President Russell M. Nelson recently said, “I consider it education a religious responsibility,” end quote. Some pursue education formally, and studies indicate that a high percentage of active Latter-day Saints have completed four or more years of college. It is among the highest of all religions. In addition, members of the Church with college experience have Church attendance rates notably higher than any other group. Others pursue informal continuing education, such as that you will experience this week. I commend each of you for attending today, to learn and to strengthen your faith. An omniscient God honored your efforts. Latter-day Saint doctrine is unique and unequivocal about the role of intelligence and the importance of education and knowledge.
In section 93 of our Doctrine and Covenants, we are taught that truth is independent. It is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were and as they are to come. The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and true. Exercising our agency to receive truth and light is essential. My purpose today is to examine certain knowledge through the lens of revealed doctrine. My emphasis will be on doctrine and initiatives that have been provided by some of the presidents of the Church over the last 100-year period. The doctrine I have chosen is significant in that it provides an immunity to protect against specific challenges and evils not only for the times revelations were received, but also to protect future generations. Interestingly, the Book of Mormon also fits this description; written anciently, it provides immunity for our day.
Convincing people to adhere to the commandments is an age-old challenge. The natural man is an enemy to God. There has always been opposition in all things. The major difference for our day is that the great and spacious building skeptics are louder, more contentious and less tolerant than at any time during my life. The skeptics have abandoned the doctrinal foundations of apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone, described by Paul in Ephesians. There have been times in the past when the vast majority of people understood and acknowledged that they would be judged by obedience to God’s commandments, not to the prevailing views of or dominant philosophies of the day. In this intense social media-fueled world, many seem more concerned about being mocked than about being judged by God. Many people mistakenly conclude that there is not a moral righteous standard to which all people should adhere.
My counsel today is to give heed to the words of the prophets. I believe the immunity and protection that will come from making our home sanctuaries of faith and fully implementing home-centered, Church-supported religious observance may be among the most important of the last 100 years. I believe future generations will be blessed by this revelation and that it will be a seminal instrument in helping to build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. My purpose has been to examine worldly knowledge through the lens of revealed doctrine. These doctrines have and will continue to provide an immunity to protect against specific challenges and evils, not only for the times the revelations were received but also to protect us in our day and for future generations. We would be wise to always measure the knowledge we see through a doctrinal lens. President Nelson has taught us that doctrine and true knowledge will ultimately support each other. That is why faith and the quest for knowledge are not inconsistent but are completely compatible and complementary. Let me close by sharing what President Nelson has magnificently taught on giving heed to the words of the prophet, “You may not always understand every declaration of a living prophet, but when you know a prophet is a prophet, you can approach the Lord in humility and faith and ask for your witness about whatever His prophet has proclaimed.” My concluding council this morning is give heed to the words of the prophets.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Bruce, what was it like for you to listen to Elder Cook give his address?
Bruce Payne: You know, it was sort of fun. I was front row. I was able to listen to him and just watching him talk about, you know, all the prophets in the last 100 years is specifically focused on some of them a little bit more than others, but, of course, he said he could have talked that much on all of them, but he focused on just a few to hear, you know. The way he pulled out the teachings of those prophets, but it really gave me a testimony-strengthening experience when, you know, these are prophets of God and if we follow them and hear their teachings, we’re going to be blessed. And case after case, when he was teaching it, he would say, “Here’s what this prophet taught, and now you can see why he taught it and it was before, suppose for seeing some of the events that would later take place or some of the societal trends” and it was testimony building for me.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I loved that Elder Cook’s talk represented some of the shifts that we’ve seen in Education Week over the past 100 years, because he didn’t give a traditional talk. He, of course, utilized technology. He brought the voices of those prophets right to the listener, and I thought it was beautiful.
We do have a tradition at the Church News podcast. We always end with the same question, and we always give our guests the last word. And so, the question that we always ask is, “What do you know now?” And so Bruce, after working with Education Week for nearly three decades and leading the work of that program for almost a quarter of a century, what do you know now?
Bruce Payne: Well, I’ll tell you, the one thing that comes to mind is that people love to learn and they want to grow and they want to be the best that they can be, and they do that in many different ways, but coming to Education Week, you know, they’re interested in strengthening their testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and of His restored gospel. They’re interested and learning and understanding and being able to be more confident in their life, and (being) happy and learning does that. I think learning helps people grow and develop, and that’s the thing I’ve learned is there’s just a thirst for learning and the people that come to this program, and they have thirst to hear and feel the Spirit and, hopefully, the classes that we provide, the instruction that goes on here will continue to bless thousands of people for many years to come.
And you know, I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I am, to be able to work with such fantastic instructors who have testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ in a very strong gospel. The opportunity that I have to be sort of a middleman between those who are wanting to learn and those who have all this expertise and knowledge that can help people grow and develop. I just bear my testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by prophets and apostles and inspired Church leaders and auxiliaries and that when we heed the prophets and we heed the words that are taught to us by our leaders, we are guided and inspired, we will not go wrong. I just bear my testimony that God lives. He loves us and as we do the best, we will be extended mercy and I just love the gospel and love doing this and I say that in the name Jesus Christ in it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.