A $600,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will make way for a new program at Emory University geared toward connecting high school students to theology and faith. Emory’s Office of Spiritual and Religious Life (OSRL) will partner with Candler School of Theology to facilitate Emory IMPACT (Immersion in Meaningful Practices of Action, Community and Theology), a four-pronged approach designed to invite a wide range of Christian high school youth to deepen their spiritual lives and embody their faith in the world.

The four-year grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore their religious beliefs and their concerns about contemporary challenges by studying theology and examining how faith calls them to lives of service. The initiative’s ultimate aim is to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.

Bridgette Young Ross, the university’s dean of the chapel and spiritual life, will head the program. “Emory IMPACT reflects Emory University’s belief that education can be a strong moral force in both society and the lives of its individual members,” she says. “It stands to play a critical role in developing a new generation of leaders with moral and spiritual grounding who can connect their convictions to their analysis of contemporary challenges and lead organizations with vision and creativity.”

YTI participants worship in Cannon Chapel.Emory IMPACT will build on the success of Candler’s Youth Theological Initiative (YTI). Established in 1993, YTI has educated more than 1,000 youth from across the U.S. and around the world during its three-week Summer Academy, where participants wrestle with deep theological questions in a supportive community of peers and are taught by seminary students and Candler faculty. Elizabeth Corrie, director of YTI and associate professor in the practice of youth education and peacebuilding at Candler, will serve as the faculty advisor to Emory IMPACT.

The program is designed to address current challenges that hinder young people’s exposure to theological education, including schedules that don’t allow time for long-term summer programs; school-required service projects that lack engaged reflection; using social media in place of face-to-face relationships; and the frequent departure of young adults from religious communities.

Emory IMPACT hopes to scale these hurdles with these four components:

  • Taste of YTI: Finding God in the City, a four-day, five-night residential program on Emory’s campus for rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders that will offer the opportunity to engage in intentional community, theological reflection, and contextual learning in an abbreviated timeframe. The shorter time commitment will allow more young people to benefit from the YTI experience.
  • Praying with our Feet and Journeys of Faith and Reconciliation travel seminars that will engage rising 11th and 12th graders in the theological, ethical, and practical dimensions of mission, service, and peacebuilding in the United States and abroad. Praying with our Feet will draw on the Civil Rights history of Atlanta, Birmingham, and Selma, as well as current movements for racial justice. Journeys of Faith and Reconciliation will examine the religious peacebuilding process among Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
  • Taking Faith to College, a one-day workshop to be offered multiple times a year at Emory, designed to engage youth in the theological, ethical, and practical dimensions of the transition from high school to college and provide tools to aid the growth of their faith into adulthood. Participants in 9th through 12th grades will connect with campus ministers, learn about the role of religious life in college, and engage in critically reflective, theologically rich conversations on various aspects of college life.  

Emory will begin offering Taking Faith to College this fall. Other programs will launch starting in summer 2017.

Corrie believes that the OSRL’s partnership with Candler and YTI will be critical to the new program’s success. “Because this program will use pedagogical approaches similar to those that have been honed over 23 years at YTI, we have confidence that Emory IMPACT will help young people gain greater facility and interest in theological reflection in their lives, their local communities, current events, and the larger issues we face in the church and the world.”

About Emory University

Emory University (http://www.emory.edu) is known for its demanding academics, outstanding undergraduate experience, highly ranked professional schools and state-of-the-art research facilities. Emory encompasses nine academic divisions as well as The Carter Center, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, and Emory Healthcare, Georgia’s largest and most comprehensive health care system.

About Candler School of Theology

Candler School of Theology, Emory University (candler.emory.edu), prepares real people to make a real difference in the real world. An intellectually vital, internationally distinguished and intentionally diverse university-based school of theology, its mission is to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries in the world. Candler is dedicated to expanding knowledge of religion and theology, deepening spiritual life, strengthening the public witness of the churches, and building upon the breadth of Christian traditions, particularly the Wesleyan heritage, for the positive transformation of church and world. It is one of 13 seminaries of The United Methodist Church, with an enrollment of nearly 500 students representing 40 denominations and more than 8,000 alumni worldwide.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grant-making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.