Out of the Ashes


Our seminary classroom had gone up in flames. And it took a while for me to realize just how much the fire had cost me.

Stepping out of the car into the raw January drizzle, I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. Ashes of the portable trailer classroom that had housed my high school’s seminary classes smoldered at my feet.

We had been studying the Doctrine and Covenants in our released-time seminary program, learning of the persecutions the early Latter-day Saints had endured. I never skipped seminary class, but I wasn’t always there in spirit. Occasionally I didn’t listen to the lessons and sometimes dreaded going to class. But I didn’t realize how attached I was to seminary until I saw our meeting place destroyed.

That frigid morning I trudged through the thick mud surrounding the trailer’s remains to where a dozen mourners stood silently. The stunned students carefully nudged the smoking desks as if they were dead animals. They spoke quietly, if they spoke at all. Most just stared intently at the damage as if it were one of those computer-generated, three-dimensional posters.

A rusty old pickup thundering down the road shattered the stillness. It slowed as it passed the rubble. “H-A-A-A-A-A-A-A!” screamed the stubbly-faced senior, craning his head out of the passenger-side window. “So much for your Mor-man temple!”

The seminary students shuddered as the words reached out and slapped them in the face with some invisible hand.

I wandered over to where our seminary teacher, Brother Shields, stood beside a fallen filing cabinet. He wore faded blue jeans, a paint-splotched sweatshirt, and an expression that couldn’t hide his pain. He hardly resembled the man who filled our little seminary with his wide grins and optimism.

“I’m … sorry,” I squeaked, not knowing what else to say, my thoughts still knots of confusion.

Brother Shields raised his eyes in my direction, then frowned. “This was the journal of my trip,” he sighed, flipping through the blackened pages. “To Jerusalem.”

At last I am alone. The crowd of students, their parents and Church leaders have finally filtered into the cool darkness after the dedication ceremony. It’s November 19, 1995, and we have a new seminary building. I am the senior seminary president.

I loosen my tie, slump into a desk in the corner of the classroom, and admire the strength and splendor of the new structure: the high-arching ceiling, the state-of-the-art audio/video system, the oak shelves for our scriptures, the red brick walls, and the double-paned windows.

My mind travels back to the seminary burning two years earlier and the transformation that followed. After the fire, my testimony of seminary’s importance blossomed. It wasn’t until I went without seminary for two months that I realized the powerful impact those daily lessons had on me. While the Church members spent several weeks cleaning up the old building and searching for a temporary replacement, I wasted my vacant seventh periods shooting pool at a friend’s house. That was fun at first, but over time, I felt that something was missing. That missing something was the spiritual nourishment of seminary. I missed that. The warm, comforting feeling that embraced my soul when I entered the seminary building—I missed that too.

When we finally received a temporary trailer and seminary classes resumed, the lessons had new meaning for me, and my appreciation for seminary continues to grow.

I rise from my desk and quietly slip out of the dim building. As I shuffle through the front door, I glance up at the New Era poster hanging overhead. With a simple picture of a baby chick cracking through its shell, the poster proclaims, “Adversity can make you strong.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Keith Larson

[illustration] Like one of those wild plants that only sprouts after a fire, my testimony of seminary’s importance bloomed in the months that followed.