Emory's Youth Theology Institute Cultivates Next Leaders For Church
As the nation's mainline churches strive to deal with the presumed shortage of young clergy entering the nation's pulpits, 63 rising high school seniors from 20 states and abroad will take up residence at Emory's Candler School of Theology June 30-July 28 for the ninth annual Youth Theology Initiative's (YTI) summer institute. The four-week living-learning program aims to cultivate a cadre of what organizers call "public theologians" as the next leaders for the church and society.
The initiative at Emory, begun in 1993 and supported with funds from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, is the first of what has blossomed into at least two dozen spin-off 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; others, such as Emory's YTI, encourage a more general lifelong love of theology.
The YTI students, or scholars, as they are called, live in an Emory residence hall and choose from one of five classes, such as "Exploring the Question of Evil," "Faith and Justice in the Face of Violence," or "Whose Earth is it Anyway?" 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.
Teachers for the institute include Candler faculty, visiting theologians, Ph.D. students in Emory's top-rated Graduate Division of Religion, and high-profile guest speakers, such as Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, who will discuss her work as a songwriter on issues of justice.
"My own vision is that YTI is much more than a summer academy," says Mark Monk Winstanley, YTI director. "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 educators, churches and those who work with youth on a variety of levels."
Earlier this year, organizers of YTI received a $160,000 grant from Lilly to fund a two-year study of the program's long-term impact. Winstanley and fellow researchers intend to "discover whether their work with youth has ignited their moral imagination, leading them to contribute toward the common good."
The YTI experience already is being used to develop materials and strategies to train youth ministers, whose ranks also are in short supply in many mainline denominations, says Winstanley. In partnership with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, YTI is launching a Youth Ministry Institute this fall for youth ministers and lay leaders in North Georgia. Winstanley's hope is that the nine-month-long program will serve as a model and resource for youth minister education across the country.
Youth Theological Initiative
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