BUENA VISTA, Va.
To house the largest daytime institute of religion in the eastern United States and five university wards, a new 18,000 square-foot Church building was dedicated on the campus of Southern Virginia University on Sunday, March 28. It was dedicated by Buena Vista Virginia Stake President Walter E. Ralls Jr.
"We have a great institute program in place already, but this is a way the Church is helping our students have a place to meet, worship together and develop their testimonies," said Richard P. Stuart, director of the Buena Vista Virginia Institute of Religion. "It's a great thing for our faithful students."
For more than 12 years, student wards met primarily in space rented from the university, including a ballroom constructed in 1890, a gym and two classroom buildings. The institute, which offers 30 classes every semester, also held its classes in a building rented from the university.
"I love the new building," said Becky Messmann, a senior from San Jose, Calif. "I like having our own space, and I especially like having Church and institute in the same place."
The new facility serves students at Southern Virginia University — a private liberal-arts college that strives to provide an atmosphere conducive to Church standards. It also serves students from nearby Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute as well as other young single adults in the area.
In preparation for the dedication, the institute and Buena Vista stake sponsored a community open house. Members of the Church, including students, handed out personal invitations to their neighbors and friends in this town of 7,000, nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, inviting them to have a guided tour of the building, hear hymns performed by the institute choir and enjoy refreshments.
Students helped clean the building and grounds, set up displays about basic Church beliefs and led visitors on tours of several stations throughout the Church building. Other students, including Relief Society, elders quorum and Sunday school presidencies, testified of the Savior and of Church programs that help them draw closer to Him.
Kara Page, a senior at Southern Virginia and a recent convert to the Church, said that taking classes at the institute has helped her develop a testimony and keep the Spirit in her life.
"The classes I took last semester helped significantly in my conversion to the Church," said Kara, who grew up in Orlando, Fla. "I learned so much, so quickly, and had the Spirit in my life each day. Now it serves as a chance to learn more of what I can do to build the kingdom and how to build a strong foundation on the rock of Christ."
Darrell Manning, second counselor in the Buena Vista Virginia Stake presidency, graduated from Southern Virginia University in 2000. In his remarks at the dedicatory service he marveled at the growth of the Church and the institute in this area.
"When I first came to school here, there was only one student ward. By the time I graduated there were two, and now there are five and you have this beautiful building," he said. "It's a great blessing to see this kind of growth in our stake."
Local leaders of the Church broke ground for the building on Oct. 19, 2007. Construction was completed in January 2009. Located on the Southern Virginia University campus, it lies at the foot of a new 51,000-square-foot residence hall for women. The institute began using the new building in early January; university wards held their first meetings there on Sunday, Feb. 1. In addition to the rooms and features of a standard meetinghouse, it includes institute offices, a game room and a quiet study area.
Buena Vista resident and lifelong Church member Christina Himes felt the Spirit strongly at the dedication. She and her husband both work at Southern Virginia and have three children who attend the university and participate in institute.
"I had a sense during the dedication of the love the Lord feels for the students whose lives this building will bless," she said. "When the congregation sang 'The Spirit of God' I had a hard time singing."