SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Bryan Whiting, a junior lacrosse and football player at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, hears the jangle of his alarm clock at 5:45 each weekday morning. The busy high school student begins his day with a 6:15 religion class taught at the neighborhood meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Whiting is one of 40 students who join him in the local early morning religious instruction (seminary), while other high school classmates gather an extra hour or more of sleep. The extra sleep is not the issue for Whiting; it’s the reassurance and direction that come in the doctrinal discussions that keep him on the early morning schedule.
“In class I’m always reminded of what’s really important,” the young student explains. “That’s why I’m grateful for my seminary class — it lets me know who I am and what I need to do to be happy.”
Whiting isn’t alone. More than 230,000 high school students enroll in early morning or home-study seminary classes worldwide.
At first glance, an organization that makes such demands on its members would appear doomed to failure.
But a significant characteristic of millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a willingness to devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy to their church.
“Church leaders have repeatedly stressed that the strength of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be traced to the personal conviction of each individual member,” says Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University (BYU).
Whiting’s older brother, David, also attended early morning seminary classes during high school but has now completed a year of his college education at BYU. Like many of his freshman classmates who interrupt their educational pursuits, David recently accepted a call to serve, at his own expense, on a two-year Church mission to Argentina.
“My missionary service has been a lifetime goal,” explains David. “I want to serve because it would be selfish not to share with others how they can have blessings. Two years is a minor blip of life; why not spend it doing the most important work I could be doing?”
As a full-time missionary, Whiting joins a force of more than 53,000 who currently serve in 344 missions all over the world.
For Craig and Kathy Moffat of Salt Lake City, joining the missionary ranks follows a somewhat different timetable but similar commitment. Craig, a busy allergist, plans to leave his medical practice, his home and his family behind and serve, with his wife, Kathy, for three years presiding over full-time missionaries in Seattle, Washington. The pair will be responsible for about 200 young people assigned to work in Washington, only one of the Church’s many missions worldwide.
In addition, each of these individuals and other members across the globe voluntarily give 10 percent of their income as a tithing donation to the Church, serve in various responsibilities in the lay ministry and administration of the Church and frequently contribute service to their communities as well.
Such commitment affects Latter-day Saints who work together on service projects, missionary companions who help each other to learn a language, or family history volunteers alone at a computer, entering century-old names in a database.
Church president Gordon B. Hinckley described individuals who join the Church:
They are put to work. They are given responsibility. They are made to feel a part of the great onward movement of this, the work of God. …
They soon discover that much is expected of them as Latter-day Saints. They do not resent it. They measure up and they like it. They expect their religion to be demanding, to require reformation in their lives. They meet the requirements. They bear testimony of the great good that has come to them. They are enthusiastic and faithful.
Such converts have helped the Church rank among the fastest-growing Christian religions in the world today — the Church now has nearly 13 million members in 176 countries and territories, has grown by as much as 50 percent per decade over the past 50 years and is enjoying a current average growth rate of more than two percent per year.
This article was written by the LDS newsroom at LDS.org