On a spring morning in Goldsboro, North Carolina, so early that the frogs are still croaking out the last ribbets of their night-long symphony, you have to listen carefully to hear the silence. The birds call long and sweet across the morning that’s so still it’s like a smooth pond waiting for a rock to plop in it. The giant pines try to catch the wind in their long, fingerlike needles, but all they do is tickle it a little. As the sun starts to play on the tree tops you might hear the breeze whoosh through the acres and acres of forest with a light little laugh that could be mistaken for a rustle, if you weren’t listening closely.
You can’t hear the collard greens growing in the red Carolina soil, of course, but then again they’re kind of a quiet plant, just like the sweet potatoes, row after row of them, growing in backyard and open fields, lush tidy rows of green.
If you walk out in the forest early in the morning, your feet will feel the springy bounce of pine-needle padding on the forest floor, and you might hear underfoot the crackle of last fall’s oak leaves, pale crunchy ghosts of summer’s soft leaves turned crisp.
You’ll find shiny green wax myrtle, and the black skeletons of azalea and dogwood trees waiting to sprout into bloom. You’ll find the deep musty smell of the forest drenching the air in the musky perfume of early morning, and slivered light sliding through the tree branches beaded with dew.
But what you won’t find is kids getting up at 5 A.M. and rushing out into the morning air to get to seminary. They’re sleeping in till it’s time for school.
It’s not that they don’t like seminary. They just don’t get up in the morning for it. Their seminary is once a week in the evening, after school, since they go to three different high schools and couldn’t get from seminary to school on time. They do their lessons at home. And they find their seminary as full of blessings as a morning filled with sweet Carolina charms.
“I’ve learned more about the gospel in seminary than I’ve learned the rest of my life in anything else,” said Melissa Aycock, 18. “At first I went to seminary because all my friends from church went, and I figured, well, you’re supposed to go. But now I go because I learn a lot from it.
“In seminary we relate the scriptures to our lives, and we learn how to share the gospel with others. A lot of people in high school ask questions about the Church, and it’s good to know how to react to them and what to say.”
Amanda Couston, 16, agrees. “Seminary helps you understand the scriptures more. I hadn’t really appreciated the Old Testament until we studied it. Before I started seminary, I thought the scriptures were boring. I knew I was supposed to read them, but I didn’t really have the desire to.
“But the characters in the scriptures go through the same things that we do. I didn’t realize that they’re people just like we are. Like Joseph, who went through a lot of temptations. He had the faith to run away from temptation, which helps me know that when I run away from it, I’m not a coward.”
Mark Corbett, 17, has attended home-study seminary for four years in Goldsboro and has learned a lot. “It teaches you to study the scriptures on your own, because it’s home study. It’s a lot of work, but I know it’s preparing me for what the Lord wants me to do. It’s worth it. I’d encourage other young people to take seminary because you need it—it prepares you for other things to come in your life.”
Hard work does go along with home-study seminary, as Kathy Collins, teacher of the Goldsboro seminary, is quick to point out.
“The students do four lessons a week, four weeks per month,” said Sister Collins. “They put in at least 30 minutes a day studying and completing lessons in their workbooks.
“Some of the students have sacrificed sports or cheerleading to attend seminary, because they can’t be on the team if they miss practices. Some have had to sacrifice after-school jobs. They sacrifice going out with friends and watching television. But they grow when they attend—and they want to attend. They find the sacrifices are worth what they gain.”
Steven Shaffer, 15, finds great rewards in his seminary work. “Seminary gives me something worth doing,” said Steven. “It makes me feel good when I do something like that. I study about four or five hours a week for seminary, and sometimes I have to get up early in the morning to do the lessons because I’m taking hard courses at school and study them a lot.
“But seminary gets me to read the scriptures, and in class we discuss what we’ve read at home. Seminary’s also had an influence on my wanting to go on a mission, and I know that reading the scriptures helps me prepare for that. I study them every day to keep my memory fresh. Last year the first counselor in the seminary presidency and I had a competition to memorize 40 scriptures. It was fun, and we both did it.”
Amy Rouse, 16, has also found that seminary helps her. “I get little stories that stick in my mind from things we’ve studied in seminary, and when something happens in my life, I relate back to the stories and think about what the Lord would want me to do. It helps a lot.
I’d tell anyone thinking about going to seminary that it’s a lot of hard work, but if you want to do it, the Lord will help you find a way that you can study the scriptures and also have time for a social life, too.”
Their seminary teacher is another reason the kids enjoy seminary. “Sister Collins has helped me realize how important the Church is,” said Kelly Gray, 17. “I’ve always known that it’s important, but she’s really helped me discover it more. She’s a terrific teacher and has given me inspiration when I’ve been down.
“Another good thing about seminary is the closeness you develop with the other kids, and your testimony grows a lot. The lessons really take you to the scriptures, and you have to read the scriptures to be able to answer the questions. I’ve learned that Christ really lives and that he loved me enough to die for me. We’ve seen slides of where Christ walked, and if you’re really in tune, you can feel like you’re there. You feel closer to him.
“At times it’s hard to work all the study in. I’m from a family with eight children and I’m the oldest, so I have a lot of responsibilities with my family. But if you have a desire to do it, you can always find the time,” added Kelly.
That’s one thing you’ll hear these students say over and over—the time put in to seminary is really worth what they get out of it.
“You’ve got to learn the gospel and understand it before you can have your own testimony,” said Amy Couston, 16. “My parents have taught me a lot, but I wanted to get a testimony on my own. Seminary has helped me.
“My friends don’t have the understanding I do about life. They wonder about religion, but I feel blessed that I know for sure why I’m here and where I came from. It makes me want to share the gospel with others, even though it can be hard. I sometimes invite friends to church activities.”
“Seminary helps the students deal with peer pressures at school,” said Sister Collins. And she can see a big change in the lives of those who have attended all four years.
“When they enroll in seminary, they’re young in the gospel. When they leave as seniors they’ve progressed so much spiritually that they’re different people. They have more compassion, and they’re more humble. Their testimonies have grown.
“It reinforces their lives. The ones who are reading their scriptures on a daily basis have the courage to stand up for their convictions. Because they study and pray, they’re strengthened.
“They’re not ashamed of the gospel. They’ve had to really stand up for their beliefs.”
They bear their testimonies a lot in seminary, and that helps them strengthen each other and share the warmth that comes from knowing and loving the gospel.
“It makes me personally glad to know that I have the gospel in my life, and to know that I’m a daughter of God and that he knows me as an individual,” said Melissa Aycock. “I’m not just a number walking around in this world. I know that I’m loved.”