[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap] he clock reads 6:40 a.m. The city is still asleep, but on Stanford Avenue the Latter Day Saints Institute is wide awake. Inside, eager teens gather at their daily seminary. Seated at low tables, they flip through thick leather-bound Bibles. But as they discuss their faith, they compare Spirit Week costumes and talk about who’s dating who. The hour-long class passes quickly, full of jokes and laughter, and as the young Mormons pile into their cars and drive to school, the bright spirit travels with them.
“My friends always ask me why I’m so happy,” Palo Alto High School junior Isabel Black says. “I credit my religion.”
In Palo Alto, this kind of religious dedication is rare — the San Francisco area has 12 percent fewer religious residents than the nation as a whole, according to Pew Research Center.
Yet, Palo Alto’s Mormons, who attend three hours of church on Sundays, hour-long seminary classes five days a week, nightly scripture study and frequent prayer, enjoy a pleasant coexistence with the greater Palo Alto community.
Mormonism requires firm devotion from its members. The religion is a serious time commitment, although much of this has a social focus, according to Black.
“Being Mormon to me means being a part of a community that together share the same values and bear each other up,” Black says. “As a Mormon, I feel that I am a part of a large family that loves each other and helps one another in the process of improving ourselves.”
[su_pullquote align=”left”]“You’re either all in or you’re all out,” Black says. “If you take a break [from the religion] for too long, you can really forget about what your values are or what your purpose is in this life.”[/su_pullquote]
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, involves a detailed set of values and beliefs. The church teaches health guidelines called the Word of Wisdom, which encourage abstinence from alcohol, drugs, excess meat and caffeinated beverages and distributes pamphlets to youth in which sexual purity is encouraged and dating is prohibited before age 16.
“You’re either all in or you’re all out,” Black says. “If you take a break [from the religion] for too long, you can really forget about what your values are or what your purpose is in this life.”
While the religion requires being “all in,” the LDS church also encourages its members to be involved in the broader society. As Palo Alto’s Mormon teens immerse themselves in all aspects of adolescent life, they are exposed to a lot of temptation, according to Black.
“It is hard to stand alone but can also be very empowering at the same time,” Black says regarding her abstinence from premarital sex, drugs, alcohol and caffeine.
According to Black, this challenge to maintain her values has strengthened her faith. To stick with her beliefs, Black draws an inverted pyramid on her wrist. The metaphor for her life inspires her decision-making — now she is at the tip of the pyramid with limited options, but her future holds wider horizons.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]“When I think about the happiness I want to have in my future, and the type of man I want to marry, it is not hard to say no to the things that will only give me a temporary satisfaction. As difficult as it is, I wouldn’t never ever give up my values for anything in the world.” [/su_pullquote]
According to the official church website, lds.org, Mormons believe that life is eternal. How one lives in this life now determines how one will live in one’s eternal afterlife. Black’s faith influences how she envisions her future. She plans to attend the Mormon Brigham Young University and go on a mission to spread the LDS gospel.
Family is central to the religion. Mormons believe that one may bwe “sealed” to one’s family to ensure that one will be with one’s loved ones in the eternal afterlife, according to Black.
Sealings are considered an ordinance from God and take place in Mormon temples, according to lds.org. LDS churches are for daily worship whereas temples are places to make covenants with God. Right now, Black is sealed to her parents, but she looks forward to being sealed to her future husband and children. This future inspires Black to maintain her values.
“When I am at a party and I am the only sober one, I may feel slightly out of place and have a desire to conform to society, but then I think about my future and what I want out of my future and none of those pressures matter anymore,” Black says. “When I think about the happiness I want to have in my future, and the type of man I want to marry, it is not hard to say no to the things that will only give me a temporary satisfaction. As difficult as it is, I wouldn’t never ever give up my values for anything in the world.”
Love, Kindness and Forgiveness
Despite having values that often contrast with those of the general Palo Alto community, according to senior Michael Rowe, the LDS church preaches acceptance above all.
“Even though there’s a lot of different opinions between Paly and the church, both communities are very accepting,” Rowe says. “I always respect the values my friends really believe in or were taught; I expect the same respect from them.”
[su_pullquote]“The Mormon church and community taught me to love everyone, not just the people who are the same as you are,” Rowe says.[/su_pullquote]
Senior Zach Kirk has felt this acceptance. Despite his decision to leave the religion two years ago, he maintains close ties to the church, as his family and friends still practice the religion.
“It’s the doctrine that I disagree with, not the people,” Kirk says. “Some of my best friends are Mormon.”
Should Kirk ever decide to return to the church, he knows he would be welcomed back with open arms. Such welcoming principles of love, kindness and forgiveness define what it means to be Mormon for Rowe.
“I hate when people say the church is judgemental,” Rowe says. “When you talk to authority in the church, it’s nothing but love and forgiveness.”
This emphasis on kindness and understanding facilitates an overall mutual respect between Palo Alto’s Mormon youth and the members of the greater Palo Alto community.
“The Mormon church and community taught me to love everyone, not just the people who are the same as you are,” Rowe says.