Matt McCombie has held the position of director of the Cheney Institute of Religion for the past five months. The institute, established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in 1977, is designed to help college students, aged 18 to 30 years, strengthen their beliefs. “The purpose of this is to help these kids that are that age to remain strong and active and faithful in the church, help them have a good wholesome environment so they can meet other kids their age and hopefully maintain their values,” said McCombie.
The institute is located just off campus, northeast of Hargreaves Hall. It is part of the larger LDS education system, which also includes a high school program for kids ages 14 to 18. The high school program focuses mainly on religious instruction, whereas the institute has a broader intent. “This institute is focused on helping them have a social environment, as well as a spiritual environment where they can learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said McCombie.
For a long a time, the Cheney Institute of Religion was the only local branch with a full-time director. However, Spokane has recently created its own institute and is in the process of finding a permanent location. One option the group is considering is in the Riverside area, though no location has been confirmed yet. The group, consisting of approximately 300 students, is currently meeting in a rented building off of Trent and Hamilton Avenues.
Besides offering theology classes throughout the week, the institute also offers college students a free lunch on Fridays at noon. Each week there is a different speaker and students of all backgrounds are invited to attend. In fact, McCombie said that non-LDS students are welcome to visit the institute at any time and are even free to join classes. The institute also supports an LDS club on campus. “It’s called the LDSSA (Latter-day Saints Student Association). There hasn’t been one functioning for almost a decade. So they’re still getting their feet wet and figuring stuff out,” said McCombie.
Of the students who attend and graduate from the institute, 98 percent go on to marry in the temple, go on missions and raise families. Each of these is considered a watermark by institute directors, a sign that the program is effective according to church doctrines. “The church believes very strongly that people are free to choose for themselves; we don’t try to control anyone. Some kids just choose another way and that’s their choice,” said McCombie. Still, he is obviously excited about the large percentage of institute members who remain active in the church after college.
“Our main goal is just to offer the facilities to as many students as possible, to let it become a stronghold for the things that kids hold dear and near to their hearts,” said McCombie.