corrie-elizabeth-rec.jpgThis year, we are celebrating 25 years of the Youth Theological Initiative (YTI). During this quarter century, over 1,500 young people—many now in their 30s and 40s, leaders in ministry, non-profit work, education, business, and politics—and over 250 Candler and GDR students—many now using what they learned at YTI in churches, seminaries, colleges, and K-12 schools—have been shaped by this program.

On the Candler faculty, incoming faculty member Alison Greene attended the program in 1996 as a high school student, while Jennifer Ayres and I served as residential staff members numerous years. Many more have participated in YTI by leading workshops, plenaries, and even sending their own children.

Several books in religious education, including The Spiritual Lives of Young African Americans by Graduate Division of Religion (GDR) alumna Almeda Wright, The Ethics of Ambition by former Candler faculty member Brian Mahan, Lives to Offer by GDR alumna Joyce Mercer and Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) scholar-in-residence Dori Baker, Branded by GDR alumna Katherine Turpin, and Mission Trips that Matter by former YTI director Don Richter, drew on pedagogies and research conducted at YTI over the years.

yti-story2.jpgThe program has contributed significant research and professional formation for leaders in religious education and youth ministry across the country. Programs inspired by the YTI model have been started in Switzerland and Northern Ireland, and new programs in high school theology regularly seek out YTI for consultation and advice.

As we look to the next 25 years of theological education, we know that we must continue to work directly with youth through our residential programs. But our participants can never afford to pay the true cost of tuition, and thus we rely on grants and donations to make the program accessible to all young people. Right now, we are in the midst of our fourth annual crowdfunding campaign. Many of you have already donated. If you would like to contribute, you can give online here.

This weekend, we will celebrate 25 years of YTI. We will gather together alumni and staffers, as well as their families, to reconnect with class cohorts and make new connections across different years, engage in public theology and worship, reflect on YTI's evolution and look towards its future. Over these years, YTI has fostered lifelong friendships, vocational direction and spiritual growth. Hundreds of young people have been transformed by this program. With the funds we raise this month, we can reach even more.