Early-Morning Seminary Celebrates 60 Years

  • 27 September 2010

For 60 years, early-morning seminary has helped students make the scriptures a part of their lives.

Article Highlights

  • Throughout its 60 years, early-morning seminary has blessed hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint teenagers.
  • Early-morning seminary was first held in Granite, Utah, USA, but became more widespread after a successful early-morning seminary program was established in California, USA.
  • The Church Educational System meets the diverse needs of teenaged Latter-day Saints through released time, early-morning (also called “daily”), and home study seminary classes.
  • Today, seminary classes are held in every state in the United States and in 140 countries around the world.
  • Seminary students, their parents, and their teachers are blessed for the sacrifices they make to participate in the program.

“When a 15-year-old decides, ‘I’m going to get up at 5:00 for seminary,’ not only is that a sacrifice, but that use of agency is a statement to Heavenly Father that is returned with a blessing.”

Early-morning seminary can be difficult, but over the past 60 years, hundreds of thousands of teenage members of the Church have learned that rising before the sun and trying to focus not just their eyes but their minds on the scriptures is worth the effort.

“Spending a few minutes in the scriptures each day, bearing testimony, and feeling the Spirit has not only a strengthening effect as students go to school, but it has a healing effect as the Atonement of Jesus Christ acts in their lives,” said Kelly Haws, assistant administrator for seminaries and institutes of religion. “It’s a great opportunity for youth.”

The Birth of Early-Morning Seminary

The first seminary classes were held during regular school hours in 1912 in Granite, Utah, USA. However, in the late 1940s several states raised graduation requirements, leaving students little time in their schedules for daytime seminary and prompting the Church to seek solutions.

At the same time, Church membership was growing rapidly in Southern California, where graduation requirements did not accommodate released-time seminary. The need to educate young people in the gospel inspired a group of stake presidents to request permission to hold daily seminary classes outside of school time.

During the 1948–49 school year, Marion D. Hanks, who later served in the Presidency of the Seventy, had successfully taught an early-morning seminary class at West High School in Salt Lake City. Holding similar classes seemed a logical solution for the Saints in California, and the 11 stakes were approved to form 13 early-morning classes.

The program in California started slowly with fewer than 200 students enrolled for the first classes. But that number had doubled by the end of the year, and after six years, more than 9,000 students were enrolled.

“The kids were hungry for the blessings of the gospel in their lives,” Brother Haws said. “Certainly, that’s still the case today where we’re surrounded with so many things that aren’t good and that have the potential to wound our spirits.”

Meeting Diverse Needs

From its strong roots in California, early-morning seminary spread across the United States and throughout the world, helping youth everywhere to learn the scriptures and apply gospel principles. Its official name was changed to “daily seminary,” because not all such classes were held in the early morning.

Part of what makes daily seminary so successful is its flexibility in growing with the Church. Classes can be organized in a single ward or branch or with multiple wards/branches meeting together according to the needs and circumstances of youth, parents, and priesthood leaders. Meeting with other youth in the ward or branch for seminary means they can gather each day with others who share their beliefs, even if they attend different schools where they may be the only Church members.

While approximately 115,000 students still benefit each year from released-time seminary during school hours in areas with a large concentration of Church members, nearly 217,000 seminary students throughout the world participate in daily seminary.

However, there are still some youth in the Church who live too far from other Church members to attend either released-time or other daily seminary classes. To accommodate their needs, the home-study seminary program was established. Home-study students spend four days each week studying assigned material independently, then gather with other home-study students once a week to discuss what they’ve learned.

A Stone Cut Without Hands

Today, seminary classes are held in every state in the United States and in 140 countries around the world. Canada was the first country outside the United States to hold seminary in 1948, before early-morning seminary was widespread. Mexico followed in 1958, Finland and Germany in 1962, Japan in 1963, Panama in 1964, and more countries over the years. Most recently, seminary classes were established in 2008 in Benin, Georgia, and Morocco.

As seminary spreads around the world, a worldwide community of seminary students is developing. No matter where seminary students live, they will memorize the same scripture-mastery verses, study the same passages of scripture, feel the same Spirit as their testimonies grow, and work to build up the same kingdom.

“I was at a meeting of home-study seminary students in Romania,” Brother Haws said. “There were four students. It was a great experience to watch them quote scripture-mastery verses. It seems to be another evidence of the scripture-mastery verse that refers to the kingdom going forward as a stone cut without hands (see Daniel 2:44–45).”

Blessings from Sacrifice

As students’ circumstances continue to change, the seminary program will accommodate. But the purpose of seminary will always remain the same: “to help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and atonement of the Savior, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.”

Seminary students, whether they attend released-time, daily, or home-study seminary, make sacrifices that bring them closer to Him. Elder Richard G. Scott said that when students participate in gospel learning, “that use of moral agency will allow [the] Spirit to motivate them and give them more powerful guidance” (“To Learn and to Teach More Effectively,” BYU Speeches, 2007, http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=11954)

Brother Haws said that principle can be applied to daily seminary classes.

“When a 15-year-old decides, ‘I’m going to get up at 5:00 for seminary,’ not only is that a sacrifice, but that use of agency is a statement to Heavenly Father that is returned with a blessing,” Brother Haws said.

Those blessings are as real today as they were 60 years ago—and needed at least as much.