Lilly Endowment funding bolsters leadership offerings
May 3, 2018
Three Presbyterian-related educational institutions are offering summer 2018 leadership programs for high school students in cooperation with grant funding from the Lilly Endowment. Maryville College, Monmouth College and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary are each hosting different programs, but the schools are working collaboratively to create a uniquely Presbyterian experience for students.
At Maryville College, the theme for this summer’s Expanding Horizons program is “Wild: Discovering God in the Untamed.” The program runs June 3–9 and is open to students in grades 10 through 12 who show promise for leadership.
Monmouth College’s Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth is focusing on faithful responses to the environment with its “Caring for God’s Creation: Thinking Theologically About Ecology and Justice” theme. The July 15–29 program is also open to rising sophomores through seniors looking to deepen their theological understanding and leadership skills.
In a program that has run in one form or another since 1997, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary will welcome 15 high school students and six college students to its June 24–30 Miller Summer Youth Institute. Students will earn college credit from Waynesburg University for their participation in the program.
Although 20 seminaries and 91 colleges will host Lilly Endowment-funded youth leadership programs this summer, the three Presbyterian institutions are working together to share ideas and needs that are particular to the Presbyterian context. While all programs are interested in cultivating future leaders, these schools are helping forge leaders in the PC(USA) context.
“Of the 529 alums of our program, 17 percent have gone on to full-time ministry,” said the Rev. Erin Davenport, co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute.
That statistic is close to the Lilly Endowment’s report that shows 20 percent of youth leadership program attendees continue into full-time ministry. It also reflects what each program identifies as a need in church communities — encouraging students who want a deeper experience of theology, faith and leadership than can be expressed through traditional youth group settings or for students who have no youth group experience at all.
“The summer theological institutes are the place to serve the one or two kids who want to go beyond the ‘duct tape’ games that are needed to engage a larger youth group,” said the Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott, Monmouth College chaplain. “We’re not trying to create a mountaintop experience. We’re hoping to equip students to discuss theology and Scripture, and them send them out as a gift to the church.”
The Rev. Dr. Anne McKee, campus minister at Maryville College, agrees and said that one of the most important aspects of the summer institute is to help students formulate a theology they can articulate in their contexts, such as how to answer, with a sound Presbyterian and Reformed understanding, evangelicals’ question of “Are you saved?”
“Our programs connect our students with different denominations,” she said. “It reminds our churches there are theological education institutions that are critical ministries of the Presbyterian Church.”
Program leaders are quick to say they aren’t a substitute for ongoing faith formation in the local church, or even competition for events such as Presbyterian Youth Triennium or Montreat youth conferences. Still, they say their offerings give students a matchless opportunity to explore vocation.
Monmouth’s summer program is free. And while the Maryville program costs $550, program graduates who enroll in the college receive a $500 annual scholarship. The Pittsburgh program is $450 and students who enroll at the seminary are eligible for a $1,000 yearly scholarship.
And while Pittsburgh Theological Seminary reports that 10 percent of their current master’s-level graduates are Summer Youth Institute alums, program administrators don’t see the programs as recruiting tools as much as occasions for discernment and development.
“Our goal is to help young people engage in the church,” Davenport said. “We’re not so much about helping them find the answers [to theological questions]; we’re here to help them find better questions.”
Gregg Brekke, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Youth Summer Programs
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Holy God, you call us to love you with our minds. Bless those who are devoted to the study and teaching of theological disciplines. By their fruits strengthen our minds and wills and so bless your church. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.