By Linda McMillian
Alpharetta-Roswell, Ga. — Most parents will tell you, in general, it's difficult to get teens up and on time for school. What would compel students to go to school in darkness (two hours early) four days a week?
An elite sports event? State-of-the-art video gaming? Free movie openings?
Any of these might be a possibility, however, none are the reason for the 15 students who regularly meet in Alpharetta at Chattahoochee High School at 6:30 AM.
Their reason is Faith. For members of this Christian group, it is faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to learn more about His teachings and to “walk in His light”. (John 8:12)
According to The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Seminary” is a worldwide, four-year religious educational program for youth ages 14 through 18. It is operated by the Church and is open to teens of all faiths. Currently, there are almost half a million students enrolled in Seminary in 140 different countries. Courses are taught by full-time instructors in the heavily populated areas of the Church and by volunteers in other locations.
At Chattahoochee, Audra Coleman is one of those local teachers. She is not compensated for her effort and was asked to take the very early morning job by her local Church leaders. She spends hours preparing the appropriate lessons and activities.
“We are studying the four gospels in the New Testament during the first semester and the first half of the Book of Mormon during the second semester. We look for gospel doctrine and principles that Jesus Christ and his apostles taught,” Coleman stated.
Explaining her role, the instructor said, “Our ultimate goal as seminary teachers is to help the kids come unto Jesus Christ. By reading about Christ's life, His teachings and His atonement, we hope they develop a personal relationship with their Savior. We hope they apply the gospel principles in their lives and see the happiness, peace, and joy it brings them.”
Attending student Brandon Lovell remarked, “Waking up at 5:30 is the hardest part,” but he concluded, “Attending seminary helps me become more familiar with the scriptures which not only helps me with choices I make, but will help me teach others about Christ’s gospel.”
17 year old seminarian, Jullie Kandundu, who is planning on serving a full-time mission for her Church, said “...the more you go the more you get accustomed to waking up and being ready to feel the Spirit, to feel comforted, and be able to go through the school day knowing you are not alone and you are loved.”
And what do their peers think about the involvement in religion so often and so early in the morning? Tanner Coleman noted, “…my classmates and teachers are really surprised that I wake up so early to study the teachings of Jesus, but they respect what I do.”
Local Church leader and Seminary alumnus, Bishop Brom Stevens, spoke highly of the practice, “The Seminary program is a great blessing for the youth, their families, and the teachers. I am continually impressed by their dedication and commitment. Early mornings can be tough for high school students, yet our youth willingly attend before school to learn of Jesus Christ. Looking back at my own years in Seminary, I not only gained a testimony of the Savior, but I built quality friendships that have lasted into adulthood and I am grateful the Church continues to offer this inspired program.
“I love Seminary! I love it because I love the gospel of Jesus Christ”, new Seminary teacher Coleman went on to confess, “I can't think of a better way to start the day other than reading the teachings of Christ and inviting the Holy Ghost into our lives. I attended 6 am Seminary when I was in high school.... Seminary is where my deep love of scripture began.”
She concluded by saying, “I have taught Seminary for three weeks now so I'm still new, but I love to see the happiness in the kids faces as they feel and know that what they are reading is true. It's exhilarating to feel the love of God in the classroom!”
The class is free for everyone and students of all faiths are invited to attend. Anyone interested in learning more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Seminary program locally can contact Audra Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about the history of the 100 year old program: