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Maryville College continues tradition of fostering youth leadership

Lilly grant helps fund PC(USA)-related school’s initiatives

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Over the course of the week, students not only study together but also participate in leadership building and small group exercises. (Photo provided)

Over the course of the week, students not only study together but also participate in leadership building and small group exercises. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – Maryville College, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related school, is one of 82 institutions nationwide that has received funding as part of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes. It is the only PC(USA)-related school awarded the grant. The $433,152 grant will help the college establish the Maryville Adventures in Studying Theology (MAST) and continue its long history of youth leadership development.

The college has run its Expanding Horizons program, in one form or another, for the past 15 years. This week-long residential retreat brings 10th, 11th and 12th grade students with an interest in religion and theology to the campus for leadership training and religious studies, and gives participants the opportunity to experience college campus life. Expanding Horizons will remain a cornerstone of MAST’s leadership development curriculum.

“The hope is that this program will grow in ways that will be sustainable,” says Jordan Conerty, MAST Program Administrator at Maryville, of the four-year lifespan of the Lilly grant. MAST’s goal is to prepare youth leaders for the church and world by helping them discover and embrace the traditions of Christian faith, put their faith into practice, and explore—through the lenses of Bible study and theology—the important questions of today.

Conerty lifts up last year’s Expanding Horizons session as an example of why it was selected by Lilly for further development. The inquiry point for discussion was thinking about theological nuances between the Bible and the Quran.

Phillip Sherman, Associate Professor of Religion at Maryville College, works with students during classroom sessions for Expanding Horizons 2016. (Photo provided)

Phillip Sherman, Associate Professor of Religion at Maryville College, works with students during classroom sessions for Expanding Horizons 2016. (Photo provided)

“We noticed different ways different figures talked about themselves, their communities and God,” he says of the dialog that began around the issue of Islamaphobia. “We visited a mosque as part of that—to learn about Islam and what people practice, and why they believe what they believe. Our students were able to go back to their churches—and I’ve heard success stories about it—and bring our conversations back to their youth groups. This is especially important at a time when this topic is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. These students have actually held a Quran and read it and can say to others, ‘Jesus actually shows up in both [the Bible and the Quran.]’”

Conerty is proud of the program’s wide reach and ecumenical nature, recruiting students who are leaders in their churches as well as those who exhibit leadership in other areas of student life.

“Anybody who looks like they could potentially be a leader in their youth group, or leader on student council, or on their sports teams is a candidate,” he says. “We want to foster leadership in the church as well as the world. We want them to be informed and thoughtful leaders in whatever capacity they find themselves.”

While church membership or even a faith background isn’t required for potential candidates, Conerty says curiosity is the key for participants who will discuss issues of faith and theology, and how they relate to leadership.

Anne McKee, Campus Minister at Maryville College, works with a student and her mentor during one the breakout sessions for Expanding Horizons 2016. (Photo provided)

Anne McKee, Campus Minister at Maryville College, works with a student and her mentor during one the breakout sessions for Expanding Horizons 2016. (Photo provided)

“Students should have an interest in pursuing the depths of faith and religion, and being willing to ask questions,” he says. “It wouldn’t be the best program for students who are willing to accept faithful ultimatums or capital-T ‘this is an absolute and unquestionable and infallible Truth.’”

Conerty says the program hopes to recruit a cohort of 15 students for its June 4-9, 2017 session. Student costs are set at $225, while the program funds most of the approximately $1,500 expense related to each attendee. Those who complete the program are automatically granted a $500 annual scholarship from Maryville College if they choose to enroll at the school.

“We are so grateful to Lilly Endowment, for its commitment to help young people explore, grow and embrace a complex faith for a complex world—and to those who work with youth in the Presbytery of East Tennessee, whose enthusiasm and willingness to try new approaches is making this work possible,” says the Rev. Dr. Anne McKee, Maryville College campus minister. “We look forward to expanding our own horizons of understanding through the MAST program, so that we can help equip a new generation of leaders.”

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Applications for the June 4-9, 2017 Expanding Horizons program are now being accepted at https://www.maryvillecollege.edu/about/faith/MAST/expanding-horizons/apply/.


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