Jul. 12, 2010
Thirty-nine rising high school juniors and seniors have gathered at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology for the 18th annual Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) Summer Academy, an intensive, residential program of theological education.
The young scholars—who hail from the United States, the Bahamas, Jerusalem, and Mexico—represent a variety of Christian denominations, including Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, non-denominational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Disciples of Christ. They will be on campus July 10-31 to take classes, engage in ecumenical worship, attend workshops with Candler faculty, work with agencies in the Atlanta community, get involved with public issues from theological perspectives, and build intentional community with one another.
Since YTI’s Summer Academy began in 1993 through a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., more than 900 youth have attended and 200 graduate students have participated as staff. A recent $1 million sustaining grant from Lilly means the program will continue long past 2010.
“I am humbled to realize that YTI will not only reach, but continue past, its 20th birthday. Imagine—we're moving into a new generation,” said Elizabeth Corrie, director of YTI and assistant professor at Candler.
Learning to engage in respectful and effective interfaith dialogue is one focus of the Summer Academy. Students participate in Jewish Shabbat services at The Temple in Atlanta and visit Masjid al-Islam for Islamic Jummah prayers. On July 26, the fifth annual Day of Interfaith Youth Service, they will collaborate on a service project with young people from other faith traditions, including Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha’i, Sikh, and Zoroastrian. Following the service project, the youth will reconvene for a time of interfaith dialogue, facilitated by YTI staffers.
Through its “Faith, Ethics, and the City” curriculum, the Summer Academy also incorporates study modules on environmental justice, structural racism and civil rights, and migration, immigration and labor. Among this year’s activities: the screening of a new documentary about Atlanta’s homeless population, co-directed by Candler alumnus Carlton Mackey; a walking tour of the Auburn Avenue historic district and the King Center; working in Candler’s Educational Garden and harvesting their own food to understand the connection among the land, food, and faith; a walking tour of Emory’s Lullwater Park to explore ecology and learn about Emory’s sustainability initiatives; and visits to immigrant and refugee communities to learn about issues related to immigration and labor.
There is no doubt that the YTI Summer Academy shapes leaders for tomorrow, says Corrie. "Many will become ordained clergy, and some will enter other fields. No matter what their profession, they will have a sense that God has called them to work for the common good, drawing on their religious tradition as a formative resource."
Kristian Canler, a 2009 YTI participant from Chattanooga, is just one example. "A lot of programs bill themselves as life-changing, but few live up to it…You can't help but be a different person when you return home from YTI,” he says.
“I have come out of YTI knowing what makes a meaningful, honest community, and how to promote that type of relationship in my groups of friends. I am better able to challenge societal norms and have truly deep experiences and conversations with people I barely know…Not to mention that YTI helped me finally decide that I want to go to Divinity School.”
Whether YTI Summer Academy scholars eventually become leaders of churches and religious organizations or choose other professions, the program’s emphasis on “Exploring Questions that Shape Us” forms Christian leaders who can see the theological implications within social, environmental, and geo-political issues—a skill Corrie believes can change the world.
“At YTI, we’re educating the kind of leaders who are going to model peace-building, conflict resolution, respect for others, ethical engagement in the world—the kinds of things that will actually increase peace, both in the United States and abroad.”