Now that school is in full swing and seminary and stake dances have started gearing up, it has caused me to reflect on the summer, and many of the activities that youth participate in. One of those is EFY, Especially for Youth, a weeklong excursion at a local university where the youth stay in separate gendered dorms and experience many of the same things at a youth conference (classes, firesides, dances, games) but on a much grander scale. CES has been in charge of EFY since the 1980’s, and though I was a 3-year participant and at one time contemplated spending an entire summer being an EFY counselor around the entire Midwest area, I’ve developed a very passionate love/hate relationship with EFY.
However, it wasn’t always like this.
Both of my parents are converts, joining the church before they were married (being baptized in their early adult years), and being the only members out of their respective families, experienced many of the youth programs vicariously through me. All the scouting activities, and youth activities were experiments for all of us, and by the time my youngest brother got through the programs my parents were pro’s at the in’s and out’s of it all.
We heard about EFY from one of my friends, telling me he was going in July. In April, we signed up, and were lucky to grab a spot at the same university (Purdue University) at the same week as he did, and I was able to tag along with him and learn the ropes about what EFY was all about.
I loved it. For my 16-year old mind, this was perfect. Mormon girls were everywhere. Dances were every other night. And I made some friendships that lasted for years (a few still to this day).
When I got home from my mission, I had a friend who was going to be a counselor for the summer, and thought that I would be a good fit. They suggested that I try to sign up, and the only thing that held me back was the money I would lose from my current job I had at the time. Looking back now, I’m still not sure if I would have clicked the “submit” button.
While I don’t think EFY has the same effect for people in the Mormon belt area (Utah/Idaho/Parts of Arizona), it’s something that I think every youth should experience if the opportunity affords it, especially from an area that’s sparse with youth like the Midwest is.
Where’s my disconnect? If I had such a positive experience with EFY, why do I have a love/hate relationship with it? It boils down to 2 things: theotainment and the propagation of urban legends/stereotypes/misnomers (and the lack of checks-and-balances)
- Theotainment (or Religiotainment), for a price – The mixture of theology/religion and entertainment. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the mere fact that you’re reading a blog about youth and religion and all the things that go with it could be considered entertainment, and could fall into the category of theotainment. J. Stapley from By Common Consent sums up my thoughts and feelings much better than I can:
I think it started with the saccharin EFY-type religio-entertainment that I never had a taste for. Why did they spend money to have someone come and try to get me to feel the spirit through buffoonery?
Such words could only come from J. But is there truth to it? Is there a theotainment that is taking the place of the spiritual progress young people are supposed to have?
- Propagation of urban legends/stereotypes/misnomers – I know that this isn’t isolated just to the EFY group, and that you can find them anywhere. But how many times have we heard the “Generals in Heaven” quote? And how many times do we hear President Packer’s response to that quote?
We continue to receive reports of the distribution of a quote attributed to me which begins, ‘The youth of the Church today were generals in the war in heaven,’ and ends with the statement that when they return to heaven ‘all in attendance will bow in your presence.’
I did not make that statement. I do not believe that statement.
The statement, on occasion, has been attributed to others of the First Presidency and the Twelve. None of the Brethren made that statement.
Like I said, I’m well aware that it’s not only EFY counselors that do this (then again, I won’t go into a diatribe about how many CES employees have the propensity to propagate quotes like this), but needless to say, in their zeal to get youth interested in the gospel and in spiritual things, they sometimes lean to the extreme.
I could list more and more subjects that really irritate me about EFY, but the truth is….
Is it all bad?
Without EFY, I probably would have not served a mission. Without EFY, I wouldn’t have made some wonderful friendships that have lasted over 10 years. So I have a lot to owe to my experience at EFY for just a small part of who I am today. The best thing about EFY is it sets the stage for youth to be around mostly similar like-minded teenagers, and it prepares them for feeling the Spirit.
I think it especially is helpful for youth outside of the Mormon Belt. For me, growing up with 10 members in my high school, the concept of EFY, with guys and girls my age with my same outlook and standards was intoxicating. No more having to explain the “Mormon rules,” no more feeling left out of the broad circle of high school friends because I wasn’t out drinking, no more trying to explain cultural things to people who stared at me blankly. It was wonderful and liberating. And like I said, I still keep in contact with everyone from every year I attended EFY, going all the way back to 2000.
While it is corny theotainment, EFY does help set the stage for youth to feel the Spirit, and at a volatile stage in their life. Dare I say they manipulate the environment, or do they prepare the youth for the spirit, I’m not sure. But all I know is that those Thursday night testimony meetings did set the beginning stages of spiritual feelings. I felt something replicated only by spiritual experiences, and whether that be hocus pocus on the EFY counselors part or something deeply religious, I don’t know. What I do know is EFY is effective, no matter how much it bothers me.