Over 100 years ago the first seminary program was launched at Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Begun largely as an experiment by a single stake, the program has since grown into a worldwide system of religious education, bringing gospel instruction to young members of the Church throughout the entire world. From small beginnings, the seminary program and its collegiate counterpart—institute of religion—grew to become the primary educational entities in the Church, with a larger enrolment than any other LDS educational venture and a wider reach than almost any educational organization worldwide. Today the seminary and institute programs teach over 700,000 students in 143 different countries through the efforts of nearly 50,000 full-time, part-time, and volunteer teachers and administrators.
Joseph F. Merrill, a newly called member of the Granite Utah Stake presidency, sat listening to his wife, Annie, tell stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon to their children before they went to bed. Her list of these stories was so long that her husband often marvelled at their number, and frequently sat as spellbound as were the children as she skillfully related them. When Brother Merrill later asked his wife where she had learned all of the stories, she replied that she had learned most of them in a theology class conducted by Brother James E. Talmage at the Salt Lake Academy, a Church-owned school she had attended as a young girl.
Deeply moved by his wife’s effectiveness as a teacher, Brother Merrill immediately began contemplating how other children attending public schools could receive the same kind of spiritual training as his wife. He became obsessed with the idea of providing students with a religious experience as part of the school day, regardless of what kind of school they attended. A few weeks later he presented the rough idea for a new religious education program to the stake presidency.
The seminary and institute programs were introduced to South Africa by Dale le Baron (photo to the left) in the early 1970s. Today the program is available to all willing students who wish to participate in it.
Here are some testimonies of the program from seminary students in the Africa Southeast Area:
Dillon: “I definitely know a lot more about the scriptures - the study guide helps to make the scriptures easier to understand and it's also easier to recall the scriptures and stories. I feel more of the Spirit whenever I do my seminary.”
Bessley: “The lessons from seminary help me in many areas of my life, not only spiritually - from school to sports and also socially. They have helped me learn how to multi-task and also how to treat people and how to develop my talents.”
Thando: “Seminary helps me a lot because l learn a lot of things which help me know right from wrong. When l am doing my seminary l feel more close to my Heavenly Father because it is a more spiritual and moment just between me and Heavenly Father.”
Robyn: “Seminary can be time-consuming, but it's worth it when you do it wholeheartedly. You only learn and grow spiritually when you put in the effort, like anything in life really. Blessings come. Your testimony grows, you do better at school, you are more productive, you're happier, and able to withstand temptation better. What's magical about the scriptures, and something I've come to realize after studying doctrine and scripture written many years ago, is that no matter our age or circumstance there is always something that we can relate to in the scriptures. Something that WE need to read, feel or hear at that specific moment. Seminary is never not productive. It has not only enabled me with knowledge but has allowed me to reflect on experiences and situations in my life that seem unimportant when in actual fact they were extraordinary! Every day is extraordinary! His helping/protecting/merciful/loving/kind/guiding hand is in everything we do. The scriptures are a gift from God, a map to returning to back to Him. 'Thy word is a lamp unto my feet , and a light to my path' (Psalm 119:105).”
Read a more detailed account of the founding of seminary here.