Thanks to a years-long shift toward home-based gospel study driven by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, students at the Driggs seminary found the forced transitions caused by COVID to be less jarring than they might have been otherwise.
“It was really great having a program already set up to learn at home,” said Hyrum Heuseveldt, a Teton High senior and member of the seminary student council. “All of a sudden our world got rocked by this pandemic but it was a lot easier to adjust that one thing in our life, learning about our religion and learning about the Church at home with our family.”
Brother Ben Millard presides over the local seminary, just across Ross Avenue from the high school. Millard, originally of Pocatello, was called to serve in Driggs after Zane Calderwood, the principal for nearly three decades, retired in 2019. Before that, Millard taught at Bonneville and Rigby High, but his wife Julie grew up in Driggs and Millard was a student teacher here. They’re happy to have settled in a community where they have roots.
Millard said the seminary has around 150 students enrolled each year; the seminary periods mesh with the high school’s so students can take classes in the middle of their school day, or if they don’t have time they can participate in zero hour classes before school, taught by a rotating staff of five couples chosen by local Church leaders.
“To me it’s a really nice place to come during the day, to be around people who have the same beliefs,” Heuseveldt said. “School is such a big part of our lives so it’s kind of nice throughout the day to have a little bit of religion in there too. That influences my life just as much as anything.”
In recent years, Millard explained, the LDS Church has aligned seminary curriculum with Church and home study under the “Come, Follow Me” study outline, and put more emphasis on family-led exploration of the scripture.
“In the past seminary was almost like a separate entity because it was lined up with the school year. Now the whole Church all across the world is studying the same thing in the same week. The emphasis is on studying this at home, studying it as a family, and the seminary complements that study,” he said.
That alignment gives seminary study a bit more flexibility to explore related and supplementary topics during class, Millard added. “It’s nice because it allows a student to bring up new ideas or questions to work through and understand.”
When the pandemic hit and people weren’t permitted to gather at their ward, they were still equipped to study their faith and even perform ordinances and sacraments at home. They were also encouraged to check in on other families more frequently than the customary once a month visit.
Millard added that the Church sent out safety guidelines for all seminaries to follow once school was back in session, including sanitization, masks, and spread-out classrooms, and provided centrally-created online courses to adopt and adapt locally.
“Something that helped me and I think helped a lot of other students is that this is something literally everyone is going through,” Heuseveldt said about the pandemic. “That really brought us together as a student body, kids I usually wouldn’t have talked to or asked for help, I was okay with asking or texting them. It brought us together, facing this adversity together.”
He and many of his classmates will be going on their mission after they graduate from high school.
“Since we send them out so young to other countries as ministers for our church, one way we can show they’ve been trained is to show they’ve gone through four years of seminary, read each of our books, and we’re comfortable certifying them as representatives for our Church and for Jesus Christ,” Millard said. Missionaries also need ecclesiastical endorsements in order to represent the Church, he added.
“That’s how I look at future plans,” Heuseveldt said. “I go to high school because I’m preparing for college and I come to seminary because I’m preparing to serve a two-year LDS mission. For me, learning everything that we’ll be teaching people on our missions, if someone is interested in joining the Church and has questions then we’ll be able to answer those questions.”