“No Place I Would Rather Be”

Jason H. Hay


Institute students in Toronto find their classes and activities a haven of learning and friendship.

The Toronto, Ontario, stake center might look like just another church to commuters caught in the traffic flow on Eglinton Avenue, but for the young adults who attend once-a-week institute activities in the building, it is a haven from the world.

It is not uncommon to find students from China, Japan, the Philippines, Albania, Ukraine, Britain, and Scotland in one class. Most of the young single adults involved are full- or part-time university students.

“I love the direction we receive, the diversity of the group, and the spirit we feel when we’re here,” explains Desmond Lynch, a native of Scotland who is now a member of the Bowmanville Ward, Oshawa Ontario Stake. Desmond lives some 40 minutes east of Toronto, but he doesn’t count it a sacrifice to travel to activities. “There’s no place I would rather be than at institute class on a Friday night.”

Brian Turner, their institute teacher and Church Educational System coordinator in Toronto, says, “These young people hunger for the things of the Spirit.” As they are given responsibility, “they thrive on leading one another.”

Appointed to his position in 1998, Brother Turner found a program already functioning well under the direction of the stake president. In place was a strong Institute of Religion Council of young adult leaders trying to live and lead as the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (as quoted by John Taylor, Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, 339).

Priesthood leaders, with Brother Turner, implemented a Friday night super-institute, which has been embraced by more than 200 students each semester since its inception. Late last year, the number of participants topped 350. Institute students from a wide area of southern Ontario converge at the Toronto stake center each Friday night to be nourished by the things of the Spirit in class and then take part in enjoyable activities.

“As we continue to increase their spiritual and social opportunities locally through the institute program, more of the young people will remain here, they will raise their families here, and they will help build the kingdom in this part of the world,” Brother Turner says.

Some drive more than two hours each way to attend institute activities. Because of the tremendous growth of the program, the third floor of the stake center has been remodeled into a joint-use facility for the institute and the Canada Toronto East Mission. This is the first institute facility built in eastern Canada.

The composition of the institute student body changes constantly as the young people move on to other areas or get married. (There have been several marriages this year of couples who met while attending the institute.) But those who attend regularly find they need what institute offers. One student in fine arts says she changed her circle of friends after coming into the institute program because she found so many people here to help support her as she faces new spiritual challenges in her life. These challenges may include morally inappropriate material that confronts students in their classes. A returned missionary walked out of a college class, under the eyes of the teacher, when a discussion dwelt on pornographic illustrations. He took a zero on that assignment. He says the strength found through institute helps those who attend stand up to the daily pressures of the world.

Many of the students, when they describe something they like, use a common one-word description: “Sweet!” It is appropriate for what they enjoy on Friday nights.

Jo Lum of the Broadview Branch, Toronto Ontario Stake, quotes Alma 32:28 to describe her feelings about participating in institute classes and activities: “It must needs be that this is a good seed, … for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”Jason H. Hay, Don Mills Ward, Toronto Ontario Stake

[photos] Photography by Ryan Michelsen, Emily Lim, and Don Searle

[photos] Toronto (top) is the home of an institute program that draws university students and other young adults from a wide area of southern Ontario to weekly classes at the stake center (left). Activities, like a trip south to the Hill Cumorah (above), center on spiritual and social development and service. Leah Agnew (right) of Burlington, Ontario, shows her Canadian colors at an activity during the height of the 2002 winter Olympics.

[photos] Slices of institute life: traveling to class (above left); at the temple; roommates studying the scriptures; sampling the crop and painting at the welfare farm; an institute council meeting.

[photos] The subway (above) is one place to study the scriptures for institute students Caroline Freeze and Dave Thompson. Kim Fuller (inset) enjoys a light moment during a meeting of the institute council.

[photos] Cassidy Chin (far left, inset) considers an idea during a meeting of the institute council. Brian Turner (left), institute director and Church Educational System coordinator in Toronto, makes a point in a Friday night institute class.

[photo] Debbie Olsen was one of several dozen institute students who helped harvest peaches at the stake welfare farm during a service activity in 2001.

[photos] Dancing, visiting with friends, and eating are all part of the regular social activities for students attending the institute in Toronto.

[photos] Kerri O’Brien (above) and Paul Mondragon prepare decorations for an upcoming dance. Kristina Mitchell (inset) came from Arizona to study ballet in Toronto.

[photo] Singer Sonia Ndongmo finds the support of friends, including her roommates, one blessing of the institute.

[photo] Mike Ryan grills burgers and frankfurters for a summer activity at the stake center.