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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2011 Archives > September-October 2011 > Seminary youth academies

A place to belong, to think, to serve

Seminary academies challenge youth to explore faith

By Emily Snell

The Rev. George Miller, Estephania Iracheta (center) and Enid Macias talk during a Saint Paul School of Theology youTheology weekend at Lydia Patterson Institute.
The Rev. George Miller, Estephania Iracheta (center) and Enid Macias talk during a Saint Paul School of Theology youTheology weekend at Lydia Patterson Institute.

For Enid Macias, a 17-year-old from Juarez, Mexico, the youth theology schools she attended were more than just programs educating her about United Methodism. They also provided her with a sense of security and family.

Macias, who first attended the Youth Theological Institute at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, said the most challenging part was "leaving a place where you feel secure, the separation from a great community, a community that is willing to change a little bit of this world."

Macias also attended youTheology at Lydia Patterson Institute, a United Methodist-related high school in El Paso, Texas. After that program, Macias worked as an intern at First United Methodist Church in Dallas. She is trying to combine action and learning.

"Now I'm more involved in helping the homeless, the kids that don't have an education," Macias said, "and spreading the word of God, helping people see the love and the potential change that God can give. We can make a difference in every person that we meet."

Macias is not the only teen whose story includes this perspective. Each year, students throughout the United States find their ideas transformed as they participate in youth theology programs.

Faith, action, relationships

Several United Methodist seminaries provide summer academies that offer high school students spiritual development and challenge them with theological questions. The programs usually include theology classes, group discussions of faith and social issues, service projects and mentor relationships.

Typically, the academies are open to juniors and seniors, but some also welcome sophomores. Most summer academies last between one and three weeks but some include events throughout the year.

The directors of all the theological institutes for high school students – located at Candler, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas and Duke Divinity School in Durham, N. C. – have seen positive results in their efforts to develop spiritually aware, ministry-minded teens.

Two of the seminaries have developed theological programs designed also to develop leaders among young Hispanics.

Alejandra Reyes restocks a food pantry during a weekend to expose youTheologians to town and country ministries.
Alejandra Reyes restocks a food pantry during a weekend to expose youTheologians to town and country ministries.

Lydia Patterson Institute worked with Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., to create its youTheology program. It is an extension of the total Saint Paul program, which has multi-cultural groups of students meeting in Kansas City, St. Louis, Mo., and in Nebraska. A new group will begin in Illinois this year and one is being considered for Oklahoma.

According to Claire Smith, youTheology director, the groups of students meet in their respective locations throughout the year, and then travel together for a nine-day Pan-Methodist Pilgrimage in June, in which they tour early Methodist sites in New England. The students meet on a monthly basis with mentors from their local community or church. Lydia Patterson students also participate in an internship after they finish youTheology.

The Rev. George Miller, chaplain at Lydia Patterson, said many the school's students in the youTheology program live in Juarez, one of the world's most violent cities. He said these students experience a fresh perspective on Christianity when they enter the program. Miller said the work is challenging but rewarding.

"God creates new life out of that challenge," he said. "We find it's a wonderful place to do ministry."

Developing leaders

The Hispanic population is rapidly growing, Miller said, but there aren't many young leaders, which creates a "crisis" for The United Methodist Church. That's why the work of programs like youTheology and the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy (HYLA) is so important.

The Rev. Cristian De La Rosa, who has been national program director of HYLA at Perkins, said it was designed to identify "a new generation of Hispanic leaders for The United Methodist Church."

The denomination funds HYLA through the National Plan on Hispanic Ministries. The program is offered at universities across the United States and is based on a three-year curriculum. Students apply during their freshman or sophomore year of high school. Each year, the program focuses on different aspects of education, spirituality, Methodism, culture or ministry.

De La Rosa, who is joining the faculty of Boston University School of Theology, said HYLA helps students develop spiritually, "discern their call" and consider their ministry. The academy – as do those at other schools – emphasizes the United Methodist teaching that all people are called to ministry through their baptism, regardless of the career they pursue.

The program helps students graduate from high school and encourages them to go to college. HYLA also has a three-year program for university students, decreasing dropout rates at that level, too. De La Rosa said that as these students pursue higher education, they are also becoming leaders in the church.

HYLA leaders at Perkins said they are encouraged to watch their participants put their learning into action outside the program and "to see the growth of the youth from one summer to the next."

Emily Snell, a communications major at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., is an intern at United Methodist Communications.

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