Friday, January 11, 2013

A Tale Of Two Seminaries (Part One)

          I lost my faith when I was sixteen, when I was still living at home. For this reason, I tried to keep my apostasy quiet. However, my increasing doubts and disillusionment did not go unnoticed. I lived in an area where Mormons were in the minority; there was one other Mormon in my grade in high school, a girl by the name of Beth*. Beth and I grew up together, bound by geography and the isolation of upstate New York Mormons. 
          Beth was my oldest acquaintance and, bound together by our shared classes and early-morning seminary, she was the person that saw me the most, even more than my parents. Therefore, when my faith began to splinter, she was the first person to pick up on the fact. I tried to be discreet about my beliefs but every once in a while, a negative comment would slip out. I told her I felt uncomfortable with the idea of actively trying to convert others – her response was a fixed smile and the statement “So you’re telling me you don’t believe in the premise of the Church’s mission?” We stopped talking about the matter after that. A few months later, when I became upset in seminary about a General Conference talk – I said that the speaker’s promises were not grounded in reality – she lashed out at me, asking me what my problem was.
          Once again, we let the matter drop, at least until a few weeks later. At the time, Beth’s uncle was the bishop; the other students in the seminary class were comprised of the bishop’s family, the seminary teacher’s family, and me. A few weeks after our disagreement in seminary, the bishop’s family came in, announcing they had formed their own seminary class, with the bishop’s wife as teacher. There was no announcement, no warning; they simply gathered their scriptures at the end of class and said good-bye.
          Later that night, I went to the seminary teacher’s house to talk. She was visibly upset; she started crying while I was there, asking me what she had done wrong. There was a very painful feeling in my chest as I comforted her; I felt torn between privacy and honesty. She had been our teacher for two years, prodding us to complete scripture mastery and showing sympathy when we fell asleep in class.
          I wanted – so much – to confess to her of my disbelief, to let her know the fault was not hers, but I still could not utter the taboo words, especially not in light of Beth’s reaction to my unorthodox views. I was still confused, still uncertain; I knew I didn’t believe in God but I still hadn’t figured out that my disbelief didn’t make me a bad person. Part of me still believed that my apostasy was due to a defect in character. I had moved on from the belief but the guilt and shame still lingered. And so I couldn’t bring myself to voice the words “I do not believe”, not even to let a woman I cared about know that the blame was not hers. I still regret my cowardice; she was a good woman who did not deserve to get caught in the cross-fire.
          And so our seminary class was fragmented; I spent the next year attending seminary class in the next town, until the stake president intervened, sending me back to the seminary class taught by the bishop’s wife.

*Name has been changed


  1. My seminary experience was very different, even though I wasn't in Utah, the high school I attended in Oregon was about 20% LDS and we had early morning, early bird, and release time seminary classes. A lot of people attended seminary, and there were home school kids in various classes, usually one of the release time ones. Most classes were taught by a paid CES employee, but the early morning and early bird time slots often had another section as well, taught by a teacher the stake called.

    It is a fascinating glimpse into what LDS life was like for you, and I am glad you were willing to share it.

  2. Years ago when we were living in Dallas, I was called to teach early morning seminary. I didn't want to do it, but didn't know how to say no--you know. I had 2 preschoolers at the time. I had a big class full of kids, most of whom only came because their parents made them. A couple of months into the school year, we began having financial difficulties and my husband took an early morning paper route to make ends meet. Mark and I went to the bishop and told him I had to be released. He was furious with us. He told us that Mark's early morning route was no excuse.--If the children were asleep we could just leave them at home. Or, Mark could take them with him if we were "all that worried about it."

    You know, I think I'm going to have to blog about this because I'm getting angry all over again. We were trying to be so righteous at the time--I was dutifully trying to be a SAHM, Mark was trying to be the sole breadwinner. Later, when I went back to work full time my boss and coworkers were completely understanding when I had to take off work to tend to the kids. But at church callings always came first.

    I ended up quitting the seminary job anyway. Right after that my mother died. Right after that the bishop called me to be the Compassionate Service Leader so I could "understand how much the other sisters sacrifice."


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