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2022 EuroSeminar in Prague

In July 2022, the Wheatley Institute was again a co-sponsor of a EuroSeminar, this time in the Czech countryside near Prague. The official theme of the 2022 Euro Seminar program was “Family in the Wilderness: Covid Aftermath, Family Dynamics, Individual Belonging.” Discussions focused on healing and understanding in the circumstances and contexts that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe face. More than forty young professionals, university students, and presenters gathered from over a dozen countries around Europe to learn from one another about these issues.

The basic question guiding this year’s conference was how to faithfully confront the challenges participants face as individuals, families, and the Church community in their home countries, with an emphasis on including others and fostering feelings of belonging. The seminar sessions and related discussion groups ranged from global to personal issues and often the relationship between them.

One of the noted successes of the conference was the widespread acknowledgment among participants that, despite any differences, they had felt heard and had learned. Participants felt more equipped to be a resource for helping and to be an active agent for healing in their families and Church communities. The restored gospel was woven throughout the conference as participants relied on both faith and reason to come to a greater understanding and capacity to help.

The conference was led by young adults and faculty supported, so a young professional or university student conducted each session. Spencer James, a faculty member of BYU’s School of Family Life and a Wheatley Fellow, gave introductory remarks on the need to study families in the developing world, where most of the world’s population growth will occur in the next 30 years.

He was followed by a panel on “Family Dynamics: Expectations and Reality,” discussing relational trauma, divorce, and suicide. The second panel focused on “Covid Aftermath: Pandemic and the European Family,” emphasizing committed relationships, resilience for the storms ahead, and other individual and global gains, losses, and struggles in the pandemic.

Small-group discussions that included presenters followed. In one of these, one of the participants asked if they could role-play a friend facing depression after a series of traumatic experiences and deep disappointments. The healing power of the gospel message and pattern—and the Church’s mental health resources—were highlighted in a discussion that also included the different cultural meanings attached to “therapists” and the good the right therapist can do.

The last panel of the conference was entitled “Family & the Individual: Gender, Sexuality, & Race.” Panelists presented on LGBTQ+ individuals and seeking or being aware of the diversity within our sphere of influence, ensuring or considering the diversity of thinking in decision-making groups that seek unity, and becoming an agent for change in our efforts to defend the family (while not being against others).

A notable breakout session centered around LGBTQ+ issues for individuals and communities. The discussion was impressive in the scope and depth of the views and issues expressed, as well as for the level of respect shown by participants when there were disagreements. In an atmosphere of faith, faithfulness, reason, and compassion participants seemed intent on becoming more aware of others, their views, their experiences, and the categories of awareness that could help to heal and prevent hurt or harm. This tone seemed to flow naturally from earlier sessions.

The final session was a powerful closing address given by Elder Oleksly Hakalenko of the Europe East Area Presidency (via Zoom from Kiev, Ukraine). In describing difficulties there, he focused on “Three F’s”: Faith, Family, and Friends,” also inviting participants to pray for the reuniting of families separated by the Ukraine conflict. Participants then assembled care packages for Ukrainian refugees, complete with copies of The Book of Mormon with testimonies and pictures of themselves and/or their families.

For the participants, the seminar provided a place to build together a constructive awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing members of the Church—and to see ways to approach difficult discourse through the restored gospel and the hope it brings. They carried away renewed awareness of the strength that comes from listening to others, learning from them, and loving them as children of God.