Seminary Santas


Those simple, secret gifts made a lifetime difference.

During my first two years of teaching seminary in Nevada, I assigned two students in each class to be what we called “seminary phantoms.” They were to do nice things throughout the year for their fellow students, without anyone knowing.

Most of the students in my early-morning class were from the same two wards, except for one freshman. His name was Clark, and every day he sat by himself near the front of the room. About three months into the year, I had the class grouped into teams. I asked one boy to let Clark be on his team, and he asked, “Who’s Clark?” It was then that I realized how few people knew Clark.

A few weeks later, as the Christmas season drew near, we geared up to do our annual seminary Christmas activity called “secret Santas.” Students who wanted to participate signed up to do nice things, anonymously, for another student during the week before Christmas break. As the sign-up list went around, nearly everyone signed up. Everyone except Clark.

After class, I pulled aside my two seminary phantoms and asked if they would do a favor for someone in the class. They both willingly agreed. I explained about Clark and asked if they would mind doing just one nice thing for him from his secret Santa.

The following Monday, Clark’s book slot was decorated with ribbons and candy. Tuesday, there were small gifts. As the class came in both days, they crowded around him to see what he had received. Again on Wednesday, there was a small surprise left for him on my desk. When Thursday came, he found a gingerbread house on his desk. He couldn’t believe his eyes.

The next morning was Friday, the last day before Christmas vacation. Clark came into class with a present of his own. It was a huge gingerbread house that must have taken him and his mother all evening to make. He asked if I would please give it to his secret Santa. When class was over, Clark was slow in leaving, hoping to find out who I would give his gift to. But I convinced him that his Santa wanted to remain a secret. As he walked down the street, a car which a few minutes earlier had appeared to drive off, turned into the parking lot again, and two girls got an early Christmas present.

Seminary became Clark’s favorite class. Throughout the remaining three years, he had some wonderful friends in seminary. I can’t help but think that it was partially the result of those two seminary phantoms. The year that he graduated from high school and seminary, I was transferred to another state.

The following summer, my family and I came back to visit. Late one evening, at the home where we were staying, we heard a car drive by. The horn honked and someone yelled, “We love you, Brother Fowler!” In the morning, I found my car “decorated” with toilet paper. Inside was a note with a copy of a mission call attached to it. It was from Clark. It read, “Seminary was the inspiration for the day and for my life. Thanks!”

[illustration] Illustrated by Bryan Lee Shaw