YTI at 20The crossroads of religion and culture? A worthwhile topic for sure, but not exactly one lacking past exploration. But what about the theological shadings present in the Hunger Games and Twilight series? Now that’s something you can sink your teeth into, whether you’re on Team Edward or not.

With a sextet of expert speakers diving deep, Entering the Waters: Faith, Culture and 21st Century Youth Ministry expands the theological conversations to include Millennial-skewing topics like teen fiction, reality TV, hip hop, fantasy violence, communications technology and much more. It’s an event tailor-made for an audience interested youth ministry, which makes it the perfect kickoff event for the Youth Theological Initiative’s (YTI) 20th anniversary celebration, July 12–14, at Candler School of Theology.

Entering the Waters runs from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Friday, July 12, in room 252 of the Rita Anne Rollins Building, and it is open to the public.

Billed as a “religion and culture remix,” the program will feature short presentations by six guest speakers, all of them veterans of Candler’s nationally renowned YTI program. The speakers and their subjects are:

  • Brian Campbell: Justice and Mindfulness in a High-Tech World
  • Letitia Campbell: Travel, Short-Term Mission and Youth Ministry
  • Gregory Ellison: Fantasy as Addition to Reality?: Fantasy, Aggression and Violent Media
  • Mark Jefferson: Christian Faith and Hip Hop Culture
  • Jessica Smith: Popular Young Adult Fiction: The Stories They Tell About Us
  • Almeda Wright: Reality TV, Religion and Performances of Gender.

Ellison, assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling at Candler, sits on the YTI advisory board. He just released a book, Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men. Wright is assistant professor of religious education at Yale Divinity School and served as YTI’s assistant director while earning her doctorate at Emory. Brian Campbell, Letitia Campbell, Jefferson and Smith are PhD students in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion and all four have taught at YTI.

“The waters of popular culture that surround us present a lot of opportunities for theological engagement,” says YTI Assistant Director Ben Brazil 05T 14G, alluding to the event’s title. “Entering the Waters is geared toward youth pastors, ministers and anyone else who is concerned about involving young people in the life of the church.”

Lunch (bring your own) follows the speaker presentations, then a Q&A with the panelists, breakout groups and reflection. The YTI 20th anniversary celebration continues through Sunday.