Ok it's been twelve weeks of emails asking me questions about the Mormon religion, I am trying to quickly answer them--I had no idea so many people were interested in what the LDS church teachings are.
This past week was interesting, 2 of the questions I got were almost the same, but asked in a different way, so here we go.
WHY ARE LDS TEENS ALLOWED TO LEAVE CAMPUS AND GO TO SEMINARY, WHAT IS SEMINARY?
Normally most people including myself, when they hear the word Seminary automatically think of a place to train priests, monks, or pastors. However, the LDS seminary is not designed to prepare for a professional clergy or to ordain people to a religious ministry. It is a 4 year religious education program designed for all LDS youth ages fourteen to eighteen and is intended to teach them the basic doctrines of the LDS religion, teach them about the scriptures, it helps them to understand and rely on the Lord and the teachings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For most of the youth, it deepens their faith, testimony and conversion. I believe these numbers may be off just a little but as of 2 years ago there were approximately 350,000 LDS youth enrolled in seminary in 140 countries worldwide.
I also believe that Seminary is not restricted to LDS teens, it is open to non-LDS teens who would like to attend and learn more--however, it is not a credit, so mostly LDS teens attend.
The two most common types of LDS Seminary are early morning seminary and released-time seminary. Early morning seminary classes meet for about an hour before public school starts each day--I know for some it is hard to believe that teens voluntarily go to a religious meeting at about 6:00 am every weekday for four years to learn the gospel. I'm pretty sure they are normal teens who murmur and complain as their parents are getting them out of bed....well at least all 4 of my children did when we got them up for family scripture study. Early morning seminary students are taught by a volunteer teacher called from their local congregation, and they usually meet in a local Church-owned meetinghouse or in a member's home.
In areas where there is a high concentration of LDS youth (Utah, Idaho, Arizona) released time seminary classes are held during school hours each day while the local school is in session. To preserve the separation of Church and state, students are released from the public school campus during one of their regular class periods and are allowed to attend their LDS seminary class in a Church owned building often located adjacent to the public school. Released time classes are taught by professionally trained LDS religious educators employed by the church. The entire four year seminary system does not cost LDS youth or their families a penny, it is simply paid for by the voluntary tithe offerings made by Latter day Saints across the world.
On a personal note, I was always relieved to know my children could leave the public campus where let's face it, is not the enviorment we necessarily want our children to be in. I loved knowing they could get away from the "world" for one hour of the day and reflect on religious things instead of the influence of the negative people and things that are surely going to tempt them.
When I went to seminary a million years ago--ha ha- we left the school went across the street to an LDS church building and met. I can firmly and without hesitation tell you I LOVED SEMINARY-this was my refuge, I was blessed to be taught all four years by the same teacher Brother Stanley--I will never forget him, he was the one and only link I had to learn about the power of prayer, about having faith, and he taught me to find out on my own if the words that he taught were true. I took on his challenges and poured my heart and soul into seminary, I was asked to speak at seminary graduation, it was an honor for me and helped ground and anchor my testimony in Jesus Christ at a time in my life when I needed it most.
And to answer the question about why we are allowed to leave campus..... any church can have the same system set up, the church tries to buy land as soon as possible when the know a knew High School is being built--the teens have a choice-if they choose to take seminary it is not a credit so most will give up their lunch in order to be able to attend and still receive all the credits they need to graduate. Some, including 2 of my daughters graduated a year early and were able to start college ahead of time, came back and walked with their class for graduation. IT CAN BE DONE with dedication and hard work.