It was Orientation Weekend and a new group of youTheologians arrived on the campus of Saint Paul School of Theology ready to encounter the unknown. They had heard that they would learn more about the Wesleyan tradition and visit where American Methodism started, and yet, they entered the doors in August unaware of the journey that would be a part of who they were forever. In looking back over the past year, this is the freshness that youTheology offers to youth ministry and it continues in a cycle of energy that occurs with each new life that is touched by God’s desire for spiritual growth and renewal. Through the youTheology program, the youth and their selected mentors discovered servant leadership and what it looks like when a community is reflecting God’s presence in the world. As the youth and mentors, in August, were learning about American Methodism and the challenges for people to live as a faithful Christian community in a diverse world, they encountered such challenges of their own during the development of community worship and community fellowship. Prayer as well as celebrating spiritual gifts became an integral part of their orientation experience.
When the youth gathered in November, the focus was understanding how their own faith choices had become a part of their own history as they unpacked what Loving God, Loving Neighbor, and Loving Self means in the life of the church. As the youth became a more cohesive and connected group, several shared how they felt comfortable being surrounded by others who were of like mind and spirit, and that they were able to discuss those tough issues of faith, ministry, that they are not always able to discuss with peers at home in their community . As discussions ensued, and conversations increased, the youTheologians eagerly awaited the next weekend, to share what happened in their lives since the last encounter, to share how they handled a situation or issue, to share how they responded differently in ministry due to their youTheology experience. Watching all of this unfold, was amazing; knowing that God was growing them as individuals, but also in their relationship with each other.
Preparations for the Pilgrimage in June began and excitement was in the air. Parents e-mailed with questions, youth were filled with anticipation, and travel plans were arranged. As the youth prepared to leave for the pilgrimage, I thought to myself, they will not return the same. What they see and encounter will be images held for a life time, moments pressed on their hearts, and knowledge that will be so great that they will burst in anticipation of sharing when they return. During closing weekend, all were joyful to see each other, but also subdued, kind of like that feeling after Christmas, when you have experienced something so awesome and then you say, “Now what?” They had learned so much about personal and social holiness, Pan-Methodism, Urban and Rural Ministry, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, prayer, worship, discipleship, Loving God, Loving Neighbor, and Loving Self, and now they were challenged to take all this back to their own faith communities.
I know that this experience is now a part of who they are. The youth at closing weekend were definitely different than the youth I encountered in August. This experience opened their hearts even more. I celebrate how God will use our youTheologians in the building of the kingdom, and how the world will be changed because of their journey.
youTheology’s Planning/Logistics Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor