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February 26, 2001

Candler lands grant to study
YTI impact on kids

By Elaine Justice

The School of Theology has received a $160,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund a study of the long-term impact of its Youth Theology Institute (YTI), an ecumenical summer academy for rising high school seniors designed to help young people fall in love with theology as a lifelong pursuit.

“Our goal has been to create a cadre of public theologians for the church and society,” said Mark Winstanley, director of YTI, now entering its ninth year at Candler. Originally founded with a Lilly grant in 1993, YTI has inspired at least two dozen theological study programs for teens at universities and seminaries across the United States and Canada.

“With this research grant, we’ll be able to discover whether our work with youth has ignited their vocational imagination,” Winstanley said. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that YTI has had a lasting impact on its participants. Some of our alumni are working on justice and peace initiatives throughout the United States and abroad.”

While YTI staffers and researchers have collected information on participating youth since the program’s inception, the new research effort will be the first comprehensive look at YTI’s effects and outcomes. To test their hypotheses, research-ers in the two-year study will review YTI’s original claims and purpose, then distribute questionnaires and hold “listening sessions” around the country with YTI alumni, who now number some 520. Researchers hope to publish a book and a number of articles on their findings.

Beyond measuring the program’s outcomes, Winstanley hopes to use the findings to develop materials and strategies to train ministers working with youth, whose ranks currently are in short supply among mainline Christian denominations.

“We hope to use our research to build bridges between the seminary and the local church,” he said. Currently Winstanley is working on a collaborative effort to apply YTI techniques to help create an orientation program for new youth ministers in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

What began as a four-week summer residential program for youth at Candler has now blossomed into a comprehensive Christian education initiative at the seminary. The goal, according to Winstanley, is “to reconceive the way youth are viewed within society and within the church.”

“My own vision is that YTI is much more than a summer academy,” he said. “Our goal is to develop a center for research and education that examines how youth think theologically. We hope to serve as a resource for theological educators, churches and those who work with youth on a variety of levels. This research project will move us closer to making that vision a reality.”

Among its other projects, YTI is planning to set up an exchange between YTI alumni and South African youth. “We are seeing some parallels between the struggles of the post-apartheid era and the early years following the civil rights movement in the United States,” Winstanley said. “We believe a dialogue is very timely and will engage youth in the process of global reconciliation.”

This summer, YTI runs June 30 through July 28 and is open to 65 rising high school seniors from across the country. The program seeks to recruit young people from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and denominational backgrounds. It also admits youth who have no specific faith commitments and those from other traditions who are eager to explore religious questions and Christian theology.

The program is free to participants. For more information, send e-mail to or visit CANDLER/yti.


Back to Emory Report Feb. 26, 2001