February 26, 2001
Candler lands grant
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, well 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 programs inception, the new research effort will
be the first comprehensive look at YTIs effects and outcomes. To
test their hypotheses, research-ers in the two-year study will review
YTIs 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 programs 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
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.