Gala Palavicini, a sophomore studying political science, described her experiences at BYU-Idaho as, “Hannah Montana, sort of the, best of (both) worlds. I love it.”
In the middle of a university full of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Palavicini stands out as a member of the Episcopal church.
Palavicini chose to attend BYU-I because of the social environment and tuition costs. She knew that people here have the same expectations as her when hanging out with friends, going to parties or going on dates.
“I’ve always had a lot of issues with friends who have expectations of me going to parties and drinking and doing things that I really don’t enjoy, or I don’t like doing,” Palavicini said.
She feels that attending BYU-I has taught her more about members of The Church.
“Every member of The Church has something to teach me in all sorts of ways, and I’ve only encountered nice, polite people who are very very kind,” Palavicini said.
When she first started attending BYU-I, Palavicini experienced some culture shock. Praying at the beginning of class and the concept of serving a mission for example.
When attending school full-time on campus, Palavicini went to church with her roommates each Sunday. Her first in a sacrament meeting was a little alarming to Palavicini.
“Testimony meeting was my first Sunday when I came to BYU-Idaho, and I had no idea what was happening… I was terrified that they would ask me to say something,” Palavicini said. “Generally we read from the Bible first, and then sacrament comes … There’s a lot more hymns, and there’s a procession at the end and a procession at the beginning. The people who administer the sacrament never change. It’s always the priest and always the deacons with the priest.”
Palavicini works as a teachers’ assistant for the Religion Department, where she’s able to continue studying religion — one of her favorite things to do. She assists in Eternal Families, The New Testament, Doctrine and Covenants, Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel, and The Book of Mormon.
She also believes that she has learned a great deal more about her own faith through studying another’s.
“There’s no greater chance than studying religion to get nearer to God and Jesus Christ and your own beliefs,” Palavicini said. “I learned something that’s called (holy) envy, and it’s just the ability to admire a quality of another religion without necessarily adopting it or converting or anything … I admire a lot of elements from The Church.”
The nearest Episcopal church shares a building with a Lutheran church in Idaho Falls. Palavicini doesn’t attend often because of the distance and not having a car. Instead, she uses her Book of Common Prayer when she needs guidance.
“What it has inside is every single rite, sacrament, and ceremony that you need for the church,” Palavicini described. “So it goes through (all the seasons) of the year, but it also has major (ceremonies) such as baptism, marriage, or renewing your vows as a Christian. Then at the very end, it contains songs and … prayers very specific to different situations, and finally all of our beliefs. It’s sort of like a frequently asked questions section.”
Palavicini stays active in her own faith by staying in contact with people from her church back home. With advances in Idaho’s reopening, now she is able to attend church services online. Palavicini wishes more people knew about her church.
“We’re just as passionate, we’re just as involved, we just have different ways of demonstrating it,” Palavicini said.
She believes her church is the most open church in the world about their beliefs. A person can leave the church and come back later and face no judgment. The Episcopal Church also has a good relationship with The Church, and do a lot of humanitarian work together, such as helping refugees.
She feels that common beliefs should be something that connects members of each faith rather than the differences separating them.
“I think both churches and members of both churches can feel a love of Jesus Christ and can feel guided by Jesus Christ himself,” Palavicini said. “There’s obviously no doubt that both share the guidance of God. They have Heavenly Father. There’s no doubt about that for sure.”
To Hannah Montana, “the best of both worlds” is the life of a high school student and a rock star. For Gala Palavicini, it means she can practice her own beliefs and learn from others.