I started college less than six months after joining the church. Because I graduated a year early, I started a local school, but knew no one. Soon after starting, I met an LDS student in the LDS section of the college library, and she introduced me to the Institute of Religion. The Institute program is designed for young adults, generally ages 18-30. Many colleges have a building near the campus, where students can take classes and socialize in a safe environment. In places where there aren’t enough students for that, classes are held in the evenings.
For me, the Institute building became my home and security blanket as I navigated college as a somewhat younger than average student. For the first time, I encountered professors who were happy to attack the church in class, and, being new to the church, I had no answers for their attacks. When these things happened, I was able to drop by the Institute after classes and find someone to explain to me what I had heard. This helped to keep my new faith strong and to stand up to negative pressure.
The classes were high level gospel study, with a satisfying dose of scholarly background information added in for good measure, since credits earned there generally transferred to church schools. I soon learned all the things my long-term LDS friends knew already—how the leadership of the church operated, what the history of the church was, and how LDS family life was supposed to work.
The adults who worked in the building were a source of wise counsel when I faced the challenges of learning to be an LDS adult. The friends I made there shared my own values, and balanced the pressure to adopt new values that were more common among my non-LDS friends. It was easier to hold out when there were other church members in my everyday life.
Since the credits earned in seminary do transfer to church schools, there was homework and there were tests. It was sometimes hard to juggle those extra classes, since, as a new convert hungry for the gospel, I took every class I could, but it was well worth the extra work. I don’t remember many of the things I learned in my academic classes, but the lessons learned in that seminary building on the hill are used every day of my adult life.
“We hope that all for whom these programs are available will take advantage of them. Knowledge of the gospel will be increased, faith will be strengthened, and you will enjoy wonderful associations and friendships with those of your own kind”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of Missions, Temples and Stewardship“, Ensign, November 1995, 51
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.