03427_000_011Young LDS Bostonians find answers to hard questions.
Walking along a sidewalk in downtown Boston, occasionally you’ll see a red stripe painted on the pavement. It isn’t there by accident. Follow the stripe, and you’ll be on the Freedom Trail, a three-mile walk that connects many of the major points of interest from Revolutionary War days.
Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that you can take a bus to Bunker Hill, or hop on the subway to the Boston Tea Party ship. Places that loom that large in United States history should also be massive in scale. But the Freedom Trail is only three miles long through downtown Boston. You can stroll from the Old North Church, where lanterns were hung to signal the movement of British troops, to Faneuil Hall, where buying and selling were conducted on the bottom floor and public meetings with patriots calling for support were held on the upper floor.
Faneuil Hall is an historic spot, and the rich atmosphere of exotic foods and unique merchandise is still very much a part of this area of Boston’s waterfront. The market has been renovated to accommodate modern shops and food stalls where everything from Greek baklava to Mexican tacos to Boston scrod can be purchased. It is a favorite spot for young people from the Boston Massachusetts Stake to gather if they have a chance to go into town. Christine Cutler of the Lynnfield Ward likes to come to Faneuil Hall on Saturdays and especially likes to show the historical sites to friends who are visiting.
To a visitor like me, there are a couple of obvious differences about young people in Boston. They seem to worry about school and grades much more than teens in other areas. When asked about the most difficult thing in their lives at the moment, school was always at the head of the list. They live in an area known for distinguished universities and high academic achievement. That influence seems to have filtered down through the high schools.
And the youth as well as adults who have grown up in Boston seem to have misplaced their r’s. It takes a little getting used to when the words father and farther are pronounced the same without an r in the middle or at the end. Then suddenly an r will appear on the end of a word that normally ends with an a. It is a delightful accent and gives their speech a flowing quality that sounds like a first cousin to British.
“What do I like about Boston?” said Rob Halloran of the Cambridge Second Ward, looking at me in amazement as we stood on a dock near Faneuil Hall. “Just look around you. Look at the bay; look at the buildings. Isn’t it awesome?”
The word awesome could apply to the buildings and the bay, but I found it applied to the young people as well. The youth of the Boston Massachusetts Stake face a range of challenges with firmness and conviction that seem beyond their years.
The Worcester Ward youth got together for a trip to Old Sturbridge, a village that recreates the homes, farms, crafts, and lifestyle of the 1820s. It’s a little like stepping back in time to walk the streets of a village where few hints of modern civilization exist except for the modern dress of the visitors.
For this group, the village took on added meaning. Sturbridge today looks like the villages of New York might have looked in the early 1800s when a 14-year-old boy named Joseph walked into a grove of trees to ask a difficult question. And because of the answer he received, young Bostonians today can know the course to follow in their lives and find answers to their questions.
Nearly without exception, each young man and woman is an example to friends and teachers of what being a member of the Church represents. By their everyday actions, they answer many questions about the Church. Linda Lawrence of the Weston Ward said about acquaintances from school, “When people hear about Latter-day Saints, they have lots of whys. Why can’t you smoke? Why can’t you drink? Why don’t you drink coffee? Why do you go to church every Sunday? They understand better after they get to know me and what I stand for.”
Steve Clark, also of the Weston Ward, agreed. “You don’t have to tell very many people that you’re LDS. After a few people know, it goes all over the school. One kid stopped me. I’d never told him I was Mormon.
“He said, ‘You’re a Mormon, right?’
“‘That means you don’t drink?’
“‘Oh, okay.’ Then he went to class.”
These types of conversations are not too unusual for young people in Boston. Rose Marie Knighton, Weston Ward, said her friends at school noticed that she didn’t use bad language. “One of my friends came up to me and said, ‘I’ve never heard you swear.’
“I said, ‘That’s because I don’t.’
“‘You mean you’ve never sworn once in your whole life?’
“‘Well, swear now.’
“The fact that she reacted like that made me feel pretty good. Not using bad language is hard, especially on the playing field. I play soccer. Sometimes the refs will make a bad call or a player will just make me mad and everyone around me is swearing, and I just have to concentrate on not doing it too.”
The three Ence teens, Mike, Heidi, and Eric, from the Worcester Ward, have an additional incentive to keep their language appropriate. Their family has made a pact to avoid bad language. Mike said, “My friends always know I never swear. They asked me about it, and I told them that I’ve never sworn in my life and I’m never going to. They watch their language around me.”
Entering the teen years, Mutual, and middle school all happens at the same time. Many find that this is the time when you have to let others know what your standards are and that you mean to stick by them. Valerie Guidry of the Cambridge Second Ward explained, “There seems to be a lot more pressure in middle school than in high school. By high school, people have made a stand.”
Rose Marie Knighton also had a comment about the pressures of middle school. “I think the hardest time is when you’re going into seventh grade. That’s when you meet a whole bunch of new people, and that’s when you have to set your standards. Now that I’m in high school it doesn’t seem to be a problem. I can remember seventh and eighth grades being hard years.”
Susan Rawlins, 13, from the Weston Ward, is just now experiencing that time when she has to let her school friends know her beliefs. “If I say I can’t do something because of my religion, they seem to understand and respect me. The really hard thing is not being able to do the things my friends want to do on Sundays, like go to movies or go swimming.”
It seems that once young people reach high school, they have already made their decision to follow the gospel teachings. Barry Goldberg of the Weston Ward is heading for college. He found that friends no longer question him about his stand against smoking and drinking. His testimony is firm. He said, “I made a decision a long time ago, and it’s not something I struggle with anymore.”
In many cases the example set by these Boston Stake young people has rubbed off on their associates. When Rich Hutchins started playing football for his school, he was able to set a good example. His mother accompanied him to the annual football banquet. The tradition was that after dinner the boys went out drinking. Rich declined their invitation and was taunted with “the good little Mormon boy has to go home with his mommy.” However, the next year after the banquet, he was not teased. And the following year, some friends chose to go home with him instead.
Lorraine and Janet Fisher of the Worcester Ward explained how they handle going to parties. “We go to our friends’ parties, but it’s never been a problem. One friend brings his instant chocolate and another brings the milk. Never once have I ever been pressured into doing anything I didn’t believe I should. And they admire us. Our friends used to drink at parties, but now they don’t. They stopped drinking because they saw we had a better time. They found out you don’t need to drink to have a good time.”
The wards in the Boston Stake hold early-morning seminary every morning. In fact, they have such a successful early-morning seminary program that the students are asked to talk about the program in sacrament meetings. Rich Hutchins explained that the extra time spent in seminary doesn’t adversely affect grades. “People didn’t think we would be able to handle both early morning seminary and academics. But it worked out. A lot of the kids who went to seminary were the ones with good grades and who were involved in extracurricular activities and sports. We showed it could be done.”
“Everyone in our school knows we go to seminary,” Janet Fisher added. “When they ask about it, we use that opportunity to talk about the Church.”
Kim Nebeker, 15, of the Weston Ward, talked about seminary. “I’ve learned more in early-morning seminary than in all my years in Primary and Sunday School. It puts it all in order.”
The youth of the Boston Stake have to answer some hard questions posed by their peers. But they have been able to handle difficult situations with grace and style. Rose Marie Knighton says the hardest thing she has to deal with is inappropriate movies. “People can understand that I don’t drink or smoke, if only for health reasons. But they don’t understand why I can’t go to some kinds of movies. I say it’s because my parents don’t want me to. I put the blame on them, but I agree with them.”
Another difficult situation is dating. Joyce Tiebault, 18, said, “You have to set your standards when you are asked out by boys from school. It’s hard to turn some down without offending them because they think you are trying to act like you are better than they are.”
The Boston youth love to get together for activities. Even going to church is a special occasion because they get to see friends they’ve missed all week. Getting together takes effort because the stake is spread out. And the distances and time involved often make it difficult to invite nonmember friends. Karin Zollo of the Worcester Ward said, “It’s hard to travel to some activities. It seems to take hours to go everywhere, and it’s hard to invite a friend with you because it is so far and takes so long.” But the effort required is worth it. Church friends are the ones they can talk to about the important things of life and find instant understanding and similar points of view.
Church friends together at Faneuil Hall or at Old Sturbridge Village enjoy being together because their goals are similar. Another famous goal is marked by white paint on the street. The finish line of the Boston Marathon, one of the most famous footraces, is visible year-round, a reminder of the effort some people make to go the distance. The youth of the Boston Stake are learning to go the distance and run a good race in their everyday lives through living the gospel.