The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A high school student, a member of the drumline, a Boy Scout, a son and a brother.
Zachary Corless, a Norman North junior, is all of these. But he’s also one of about 100 high schoolers from Ardmore to Norman who is a seminary student.
Seminary is a worldwide, four-year religious educational program for youth ages 14 through 18 that’s operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but is open to teenagers of all faiths.
Corless arrives at his local church building on the corner of Imhoff and State Highway 9 in time for his 6 a.m. class every weekday.
An adult volunteer from the local congregation teaches Corless and five to 10 others a 50-minute lesson based on teachings found in this year’s topic of study, the Book of Mormon.
“I like getting up in the mornings and hanging out with my friends, studying the gospel and learning about Christ,” Corless said.
According to the Church’s seminary website, the purpose of seminary is to “help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple and prepare themselves, their families and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.”
While a teacher is present, the young men and women are encouraged to lead discussions surrounding the day’s topic and to express how the teaching has helped in his or her everyday life. Topics can range from how to increase faith to the eternal nature of the family or the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Students also are encouraged to memorize 100 scripture references over the course of the four-year program. If participation is satisfactory following a student’s senior year, he or she participates in a seminary graduation.
Jenny Gowens converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she was 15 years old after attending seminary with a friend. Now the area seminary supervisor, Gowens expressed how seminary affects the young people who attend.
“Some of the hardest times kids go through are high school,” Gowens said. “Seminary is the way they can hold fast and learn about Christ and know about his part in your life, that he is your Savior and Redeemer always, but especially when you’re struggling the most.”
Hundreds of classes are taught by the Church of Jesus Christ all around the world, most of them in the early morning hours. In central and south Oklahoma, groups meet in churches or members’ homes in Ardmore, Ada, Blanchard, Noble, Seminole and three different locations in Norman.
In addition, a webcast also is used to reach those students in outlying areas.
Despite a busy schedule of school, band practice and performances, Scouting activities and a social life, Corless said the lost sleep is well worth the sacrifice.
“When I wake up and go to seminary, my day goes a lot better,” he said. “It’s the Lord’s blessings. When I don’t go, I feel groggy and I don’t perform as well in school.”
Shad Satterthwaite, a professor in the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Political Science, teaches the webcast to seven rural students from 6 to 7 a.m. He and each student can see each other, enabling all to learn as if they were in the same room.
“It’s a nice way to start the day on a spiritual note,” Satterthwaite said. “They’re a great bunch, too. I get a lot from them and the things they say. Last year was the New Testament, and diving into that, I really enjoyed reading about the Savior’s life and the Apostles. This year, with the Book of Mormon, I enjoy teaching it because I have read it a lot and am familiar with it.”
As Corless finishes another class and hitches a ride to Norman North with his brother, he feels as if he’s already ahead of the day.
After graduating from high school, Corless will use the things he learned in seminary to help him in his life. He’ll also take the lessons with him to teach others on an eventual two-year mission common to many young people in the church.
“I’m preparing to go on a mission, so I like focusing on different principles I can apply to come closer to Christ,” Corless said. “My favorite thing about the gospel is families can be together forever. I really love my family.”
Gowens has heard many others echo Corless’s statement.
“Seminary is the best place to learn to build the foundation that keeps you on track and safe in the storm,” Gowens said.