A Chance to Say Yes Significantly Increases Seminary Enrollment
By Suzanne Young, Seminaries and Institutes staff writer
- Alan Mueller was presented with the challenge of very low seminary enrollment when he became a seminary principal in 2008.
- Brother Mueller met with stake presidents and bishops to discuss each seminary-age student in the area and why they were or were not attending seminary.
- In the five years that Brother Mueller has been principal, the school’s seminary enrollment has increased from 74 to 222.
“If anything, seminary gives these kids hope. I believe there are kids who should be in seminary in every area. They just need the invitation. Give them a chance to say yes.” —Allan Mueller, Ben Lomond High School seminary principal
When Alan Mueller received the assignment to be the principal of the seminary at Ben Lomond High School five years ago, he admitted that he was a little anxious: “It’s different than anywhere else I’ve ever been,” he said. However, he didn’t let the differences of Ben Lomond stop him from increasing the seminary enrollment by more than 150 percent.
Brother Mueller visited Ben Lomond upon receiving his assignment in May of 2008 and saw that only 74 students were enrolled in seminary—a notably low number for a released-time seminary program in Utah.
The first thing Brother Mueller decided to do was to go to the priesthood leaders. “We met with all of the stake presidents and bishops and went over every single student of seminary age and why they were or were not attending seminary.” From there they hit the pavement. “We just started knocking on doors,” said Brother Mueller. Bishops, priesthood leaders, and faculty members joined him in the effort to meet with the students and invite them to seminary. By the time school started in the fall of 2008, enrollment had increased from 74 students to 138. “The primary reason kids came was because the people we took with us knew the kids.”
Brother Mueller recalled knocking on the very first door, “A Spanish lady came out first and called a few others out, and pretty soon I was surrounded by a gang. She asked me, ‘What you want with Juan?’ I was thinking that I was going to get beat up on my first door. I said I wanted Juan in seminary. Then she got up in my face and winked at me and said, ‘I want Juan in seminary too. Come on in.’”
Although they had a taste of success right off the bat, things did not change overnight, and the faculty continued to face unique challenges. Cay Blackburn, support specialist at the seminary since 2004, explained, “A lot of the kids have family issues and struggles. Sometimes they come in and just need a hug or need to talk.”
Aside from family struggles, the faculty also fought against the already negative stereotype that seminary had at the high school. “Seminary is just not the thing to do here. It’s not cool for whatever reason,” said Brother Mueller. In fact, seminary was so “not cool” that some kids would transfer in on a Monday and transfer out the next Wednesday because they were made fun of or beat up for attending.
Despite these difficulties, the faculty was determined to give each student the chance to say yes to seminary.
During Brother Mueller’s five years as principal of Ben Lomond High School, the seminary enrollment has increased from 74 students to 222 currently enrolled students, with an average of five convert baptisms each year. “Being a seminary teacher isn’t just an eight-hour job,” explained Brother Mueller. “There are certain things that are in your job description as a seminary teacher and it’s got nothing to do with knocking on doors for a couple hours a night, but that’s the extra mile.”
Brother Mueller acknowledges that finding time to knock doors can be difficult along with the duties of being a teacher, father, husband, and bishop but said, “I can’t think of anything more important than rescuing somebody.” He continued, “If anything, seminary gives these kids hope. I believe there are kids who should be in seminary in every area. They just need the invitation. Give them a chance to say yes.”