Parking lot Seminary
Location: Glendora, CA, USA
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Story Date: May 28, 2021
I well remember how nervous I felt wheeling that chalkboard out from the church building and into the parking lot. I had planned in advance, wanting to create some type of “environment,” something that might feel familiar – like a classroom. I had a folding table and a table cloth. I had a picture of the Savior and a favorite Elder Holland quote on the bulletin-board side of that rolling blackboard. I wore a pink blouse and long black skirt, hoping to look cheerful and welcoming, but inside my head my heart and mind raced: Would they come? Would traffic noises and lawn mowers distract from the Spirit? Could we provide a safe and effective teaching environment for these youth? Could they feel of my love for them and my hopes for them – and more importantly, would they feel the love that their Heavenly Father had for them? Could we learn together from the words of God as found in scriptures that we would be opening outdoors, in a church parking lot?
Seminary during Covid had been an interesting experience. When life shut down in March of 2020, we all assumed zoom would be a temporary solution. We hoped and prayed for a return to “normal.” Summer passed and fall approached. Word from the school district was that studies would remain virtual for the foreseeable future. Lucky for us seminary teachers in the Glendora Stake, we had a pro-active Stake President. One who looked at what we “could” do rather than what we could not do. Working with guidelines from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, guidelines from the State of California, and guidelines from Los Angeles County, President Richard Lemmon and our area authorities agreed to let us meet once a week, in person, in the church parking lot. The rest of the days would be “zoominary” or home study – but oh how we looked forward to our one day a week in-person parking lot seminary.
My husband had gone with me the night before, a measuring tape and a piece of chalk in hand. We measured spaces 6 feet apart, marking the ground with a chalked “X.” Students were to come with their own “camping” style chairs so that we would not need to get folding chairs from under the stage. Chairs that might need to be disinfected after each use. We planned. We prepared. We had boxes of extra masks and bottles of hand sanitizer on hand – but now it was up to the youth and their families. Would they come?
I am happy to report that, to my great joy – the youth came – and they came, not only with chairs, but with open hearts and willing minds. As 8 am approached, cars began to pull up on the opposite side of the parking lot from where I had set up my class”room.” Youth got out of cars and trucks, opened their trunks, grabbed their chairs, found an “X” on the ground, and sporting hoodies and masks, we once again joined together for in-person seminary.
What a joy it was to gather! What a joy it was to see their faces! What a joy it was to be on sacred ground once again keeping sacred company with these wonderful youth. Times were hard, yes. We were all feeling it. But this is a gospel of hope, and hope is what we were able to share as we gathered in that church parking lot, and opened our meeting with prayer.
I remember wanting so badly to connect with them. To help them know there was someone who loved them. Someone who cared. But with social distancing rules, I needed to stand back 6 feet and not get too close. No hugs as they walked into class. No high fives and not even a pat on the back to say “glad you are here.” So, instead, I raised my voice so it could be heard over the sounds of neighboring dogs and chirping birds, and tried to convey those thoughts and feelings in words.
That first day, we talked about lights, and how the world needs lights. We looked at pictures of people – famous people wearing masks, and noticed that famous people’s famous faces could still be identified behind their masks. We talked about how our lights could still shine, even in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. We practiced smiling behind our masks, and realized that you could see a smile in a person’s eyes, even if the rest of one’s face was hidden and protected from this continued threat. Did the youth get it; did they care? I don’t know, and I don’t know if I will ever know. But I know I got it. I saw their light. It was a light that I needed. A light that inspired and encouraged me during some long and dark days and weeks and months of fear and anxiety. Months of wondering and worry. Months of waking up and realizing “yes, this is still the world we are facing. The pandemic has not yet ended.”
My daughter was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during this time period. One of her letters home reminded me that “this [the pandemic] is not God’s back up plan.” He knew it was coming, and He knew we could learn and grow and progress, if we chose to turn to Him.
And so that is what we tried to do.
Today was the final day of seminary for this year. In the last few weeks of this school year, Los Angeles experienced miracles. The numbers of COVID cases decreased to the point that our students were able to begin playing sports, classrooms began to open, and as a seminary we were able to progress from parking lot seminary once a week, to indoor seminary one day a week, to indoor seminary four days a week. What a wild ride it has been! But the constant for me was the opportunity to know that Heavenly Father’s love is real. As I prepared for seminary each week, I had the opportunity to personally draw closer to the Savior, to feel His love, and to rejoice in His plan. I am so grateful to have had the excuse of needing extra time in the scriptures. Delving deeper into God’s word helped me find hope, helped me feel peace, helped me share love, and gave me opportunity to testify of His goodness. I know He lives. I know He loves us.
And I will forever treasure my memories of opening scriptures with valiant youth in the parking lot at the Elwood Building one day a week during what was truly an unprecedented time in all of our lives. No matter what the future holds, I know that I am learning to Hear Him, and I couldn’t be more grateful.