Ensign: Do you think that the purpose of Primary has changed since its early day? Is it a different organization with the same name?
Sister Shumway: It’s essentially the same. The needs of children are still the same as they were a hundred years ago, even though they might be met in different ways now. Primary is just in more places with more children. And Primary is growing stronger all the time. There are now approximately one-half million children enrolled in Primary, with an average stake attendance of 68 percent.
Ensign: Is Primary as vigorous in other parts of the world as it is in the United States?
Sister Shumway: Yes! That’s the inspiring part—to see how Aurelia Spencer Rogers’ aspiration for Primary has spread all around the world, affecting the lives of thousands of children.
Ensign: What does the Primary perceive as the needs of children, and what is it currently doing to meet those needs?
Sister Shumway: Above all, children need to be taught the gospel, so that when temptations come to them they already have a foundation of true principles. All of our lessons and activities are planned with the goal in mind of teaching them the gospel. The children are helped to prepare for baptism. The boys are prepared to receive and to honor the priesthood, and all of the children, of course, are prepared for their responsibilities in life.
Primary is also a very steadying influence on the child—it creates a spiritual anchor for him for times when his spiritual needs might not otherwise be met.
Ensign: How closely are the Sunday School and Primary correlated?
Sister Shumway: Their lessons are closely correlated by subject matter since the manuals for both auxiliaries were written by the same committee, and they tried to arrange them so that a given concept would be taught at the same time in both classes. But they’re designed to reinforce each other, not duplicate each other.
Ensign: How well do you think the Primary is meeting its goal of being an auxiliary to the home?
Sister Shumway: We pray that Primary is effective in this way. We certainly get some wonderful letters from parents. One mother told of putting her son to bed, and after prayer he was expressing some fears about robbers. She explained that there really wasn’t much to worry about since Heavenly Father, and Daddy and the police were all concerned about his safety, and added, “Besides, we don’t have very much that valuable in the house.”
“But what about Christine’s CTR ring?” he asked. “Christine says that’s the most valuable thing she has because it helps her choose the right.”
Ensign: Let us ask a question about the non-member children who attend Primary. What process puts them in contact with the missionaries?
Sister Shumway: The Primary teacher refers the name of the non-member child to the Primary president, who takes it to the correlation council meeting in the ward. It’s a priesthood decision whether the stake or full-time missionaries get involved at that point.
Ensign: Are Primary referrals a very fertile source of baptisms?
Sister Shumway: Oh, yes, and some very touching stories come out of these children-missionary experiences. I received a letter a few weeks ago from a mother who let her daughter go to the “Mormon church for the kids” with the neighbors. Here’s what she says: “Every Thursday all the mothers would gather every child for miles around, Mormon or not. They called and showed concern, love, loyalty, and most of all they cared enough about my child to make the effort. Every week my daughter came in with all kinds of things to tell me about Heavenly Father. After a very short while, we were impressed, so we asked for the missionaries … A whole new world walked into our home … Nothing has ever changed us or our lives so much since our daughter ran in and asked, ‘Can I go to Primary, please Mom, please? ’”
Ensign: Tell us a little about your reverence program.
Sister Shumway: I believe we’re the only auxiliary that has a fully developed program to teach reverence. It involves so much more than just being quiet. The children and leaders are taught that reverence is demonstrated through obedience, humility, respectfulness, gratitude and other Christlike qualities. We are hopeful that the reverence program will motivate each child, teacher and leader to develop and show a true spirit of reverence. We want to make Primary a spiritual experience for each child—and that means making it spiritual for the teachers as well.
Ensign: How does Primary prepare boys to receive the priesthood?
Sister Shumway: That’s the main purpose of the program for ten- and eleven-year-old boys. They are given outstanding lessons on the priesthood, such as restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and the duties of a deacon. The deacons quorum presidency visits the Blazer Scout class to talk to the boys about the importance of their preparation for the priesthood. It is a spiritual experience—not only for the boys, but also for the deacons themselves.
The boys are helped with their priesthood preparation in all their Primary classes. If we look at the graduation requirements from Primary, we see that a boy learns to pay tithing, pray, keep the Word of Wisdom, attend sacrament meeting, memorize scriptures and the Articles of Faith, and do genealogy. They gain an understanding of what the priesthood is, how it was restored, why and how a boy should honor it. They also learn about the different offices in the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods and what their responsibilities will be when they become deacons.
There’s also the special evening called “Priesthood Preview” in November for each eleven-year-old boy and his father or substitute father. The purpose of this program is to help the boys understand and appreciate the power of the priesthood. We’ve received numerous reports that inactive fathers who have participated in these meetings have been reminded of their priesthood responsibilities and have been motivated to honor their priesthood.
Ensign: How can Primary help parents with emotionally disturbed or physically handicapped children?
Sister Shumway: If there are only a few such children in an area, we really encourage parents and Primary leaders to include them in the regular Primary. It’s a very sweet experience for other children in the class to learn to share and help them. Children with physical handicaps can be integrated into Primary in most areas. In some areas, there is a large enough Church population to combine children with mental or emotional problems from two or three stakes into a small Primary of ten or fifteen children.
Ensign: Are there guidelines available if someone wanted to start a special Primary?
Sister Shumway: Yes, the instructions are contained in the Primary Handbook and also in a pamphlet prepared by the general board that we send out on request. And there’s a great deal of interest in it. We have a request almost every day for more information.
Ensign: Can you explain your home Primary program?
Sister Shumway: Home Primaries are for children in areas where they can’t meet with others, either because of distance or illness or other factors. The mother is usually the Primary leader, called to that position by the bishop or branch president, and works under the direction of the Primary president. We heard of one case in Waldorf and Accoceek, Maryland, where there was a nucleus of members, but the distance to the chapel was so great that attendance at regular ward Primary was a real problem.
The ward Primary president made that home Primary feel important. She and the counselor in the bishopric supervising the Primary visited often. This little Primary was included in the sacrament meeting presentation in the spring and other special programs. Since about half of the children who attended were non-members, these special programs were a wonderful opportunity to invite parents. No doubt this is why the small group became a branch and eventually a ward.
Ensign: If there was a message that you could give teachers and parents, what would it be?
Sister Shumway: That we hope they, as teachers, will sense the importance of their sacred calling—to teach the children the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Children need to have a spiritual experience every time they go to Primary—and they need to have fun, too. Children should look forward to Primary, and teachers and leaders can give them that feeling.
Ensign: And do you have a message for parents.
Sister Shumway: We certainly love you. And we love your children. Please keep sending them to us. Our greatest concern is your child’s spiritual growth, and we need you. We need you to listen to your children when they come home from Primary. We need you to work with us as partners in teaching your children the gospel. There’s no way of overestimating how important your example is to your children.
The future rests upon these children.