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June 24, 2002

YTI celebrates 10th anniversary this summer

By Beverly Clark

Teens of faith representing 23 states and multiple denominations will gather at Emory for a deep exploration of Christian theology and public issues during the 10th annual Youth Theological Initiative’s (YTI) Youth Summer Academy, June 29–July 27.

The four-week living-learning program at the Candler School of Theology aims to cultivate what organizers call “public theologians” with the potential to serve as the next leaders for churches and society. The diverse group of 60 rising high school seniors will live, study and worship together at Emory as they explore issues of faith in an increasingly diverse world.

“What began as an experiment 10 years ago has grown into a year-round effort,” said Mark Monk Winstanley, YTI director. He said the program has evolved into a center for research and education that examines how youth think theologically, and it serves as a resource for educators, churches and those who work with youth on a variety of levels.

The YTI experience already is being used to develop materials and strategies to train youth ministers, including a program for new United Methodist Church youth ministers in Georgia.

The YTI students—or scholars, as they are called—live in an Emory residence hall and choose from one of five classes: “The Whole People of God: Caring for Mind, Body and Spirit as Practical Theology,” “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Exploring the Question of Evil,” “Faith and Dialogue: Exploration of the World’s Religions,” or “Faith and Freedom: Cross-Cultural Liberation Theology.”

They also gather as a community to do service projects and discuss topics such as science and religion, thinking ethically, prayer practices, and world faiths and religious traditions. The program is free for participants and is funded through Candler and a grant from the Lilly Endowment. Teachers for the summer academy include Candler faculty, visiting theologians, Ph.D. students in Emory’s top-rated Graduate Division of Religion, and other guest speakers.

Organizers of YTI are completing a two-year study of the program’s long-term impact. One of the study’s initial findings is that youth are capable of thinking theologically and putting their theology in practice. YTI will share the final results of the study during a Sept. 19–21 conference called “Engaging the Prophetic Voices of Youth.”

“We are finding that youth desire adult mentors and want to mentor to others,” Winstanley said. “They are more open to diverse relationships and ideas, and as adults we need to honor the questions of youth, no matter how bizarre they may seem. It is a key to keeping youth involved throughout their lives.”

YTI is the first of more than 50 spinoff theological programs for teens at universities and seminaries across the United States and Canada. While designed for the same age group, the programs have different formats and emphases; some are intended to recruit young people for parish ministry. Emory’s YTI encourages a more general lifelong love of theology and serves as a living laboratory on how youth respond to and use theological education, Winstanley said.