By Pastor Bill Bixby, director, Theological Education with Youth
Twelve youth disciples of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod went deeper
and farther in faith in the two summer retreat events of Theological
Education with Youth (TEY) this summer.
and fresh motivation for serving emerged following the two-week Summer
Theological Academy, held July 2 to July 16 at
Muhlenberg College, and the one-week Crossroads Event, held June
19 to June 25 and
hosted at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. For the
second year in a row, all 12 participants received scholarship
support for growth
in faith from the synod, coordinated through the synod’s Leadership
Development Ministry Team.
In the Crossroads Event, seven youth from Northeastern
Pennsylvania Synod — Nathan
Derr (Friedens, Oley), Sierra Fogal (Christ, Jim Thorpe), Heather Miller
(St. John, Slatington), John “Gabe” Newman (St. Paul, Easton),
Karen Ward (Trinity, Pottsville), Samantha Wertz (Trinity, Pottsville),
and Jonathan Wolff (Holy Spirit, Emmaus) — took part in a lively
community comprised of 24 youth from eight synods across Regions 7 and
8, ELCA, and in four immersions for ministry exploration and dialogue
Creative encounters were offered on advocacy in conjunction with the
Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in PA, on urban hospitality and justice
ministries hosted at Luther Place in Washington, DC, on international
development hosted at the Lutheran Center in Baltimore, MD, and on
lifecare communities at the Lutheran Retirement Village in Gettysburg.
included a team presentation on “Advocacy in a Real World Congregation” by
a contingent of lay ministers and community activists from Union Evangelical
Lutheran Church, York; a homelessness simulation (staffed in part by
persons who had formerly been homeless) at Luther Place; a fair trade
chocolate exercise and a community gardening project in Baltimore, and
preparing health kits at the Lutheran Retirement Village, concrete signs
of love bound for persons served through Lutheran World Relief.
Comments from youth participants reflect new insights about vocation
and public witness. “I was surprised at how many different ways
there are to combine your faith and your work;” said one participant.
Another remarked, “I was surprised to learn about the great number
of ways that people can help or serve in the church without being pastors.
I learned that I have a voice, and things I say matter.”
Crossroads Event youth have continued to reflect on and share their
transforming experiences in sermons and in congregational newsletters,
council and youth group meetings, and in a special presentation at
the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. A number of them will
participate in future TEY events as co-leaders. Many echoed this comment
of one participant who went farther in faith: “It’s a life-changing
and eye-opening experience that I would recommend to anyone.”
At the Summer Theological Academy, the accent was
on theological exploration in creative courses, including a study of
the book of Exodus and Christian
identity for all 17 youth and 10 staff, as well as three elective courses
on worship, practicing theology in your own voice, and the faiths of
our neighbors in a multicultural world.
Servant learning and neighborhood ministry were experienced in new
partnerships with St. Stephen and Christ Lutheran Churches, Allentown.
scholars and staff were invited to a deeper understanding of urban
ministry issues and theological foundations for contemporary mission,
led by Rev.
Maritza Torres Dolich of St. Stephen, and by AiM Leesa Wimmer and the
Rev. Sam Zeiser of Christ. At St. Stephen, academy youth joined a diverse
group of young people and adults for a day of sprucing up and planting
in the community park and play area adjacent to St. Stephen. At Christ,
academy youth were carefully oriented, prepared, and sent with outreach
folks of the congregation for neighborhood visitations with invitations
to participate in VBS and a community picnic.
Life at the academy also included Morning and Evening Prayer each weekday,
held in Muhlenberg’s Egner Chapel, small reflection groups for
processing all the discoveries and new ideas of the academy, and opportunities
for creative expression in song and music, dance and fabric art.
Presentations, testimonies and new forms of ministry continue for these
participants as well. One Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod youth, Drew
Chaveas (Allegheny, Mohnton), is now leading a youth Sunday school
focus on Exodus, and two synod youth, Jennifer Andrews (St. John, Nazareth)
and Katie Kane (Zion, Brodheadsville), are initiating ministry leadership
projects in their home congregations. In addition to those three youth,
two other Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod youth — Amanda Bernecker
(Trinity, Pottsville) and Amanda Tompkins (St. Paul, Tannersville) — participated
in the academy.
The Summer Theological Academy is a profound experience of going deeper
in personal faith and in faith-seeking community. Comments from two
participants capture its depth and dynamic power:
“ It forces you to dig deep in your faith and helps you realize what you
truly believe. It shakes your foundation a little also. It introduces
new views and prospects of faith that help you to remold your theology.”
“ Uplifting, awesome, faith-challenging, memorable, outstanding, worthwhile.
I would do it again any day.”