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Augsburg Student Reflects on the Youth Theology Institute

Grace’s Journey

Augsburg student Grace smiling in a field
Grace Porter, 4th year Augsburg student

This story has been written by Grace Porter, a 4th year Augsburg student studying Theology & Public Leadership with a concentration in Youth Studies and a minor in Music. Grace will graduate in December 2021. 

I had just finished my junior year in high school, and I was starting to think about my future when I discovered that my love for God and my passion for working with young people could be an actual job! My youth pastor at the time said to me, “I have a friend at Augsburg College who runs a summer theology program for high schoolers, you should check that out!” From the moment I stepped foot onto the Augsburg campus, I knew that this place was special.

So in the summer of 2016, I found myself at the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI), about to spend a week on Augsburg’s campus learning about theology with other young people who were also asking deep questions and yearning for ways to find the answers. That year the theme was “God’s Mosaic; Diversity as Good News.” Throughout the week we explored sociological theories, biblical narratives, and theological frameworks that help us see, appreciate, engage and celebrate the beauty of diversity in God’s world. I ate new foods, I worshiped in new ways, and I met people I otherwise would have never known. I even wrote a paper that was published in a journal about womanism – a theology that I would have never thought to explore before attending AYTI. My experience at AYTI changed my life by helping me realize that my faith is important for the world today.

Participant to Student

Through AYTI, I discovered that Augsburg would be the place to best help me continue to grow. I started as a first year student at Augsburg in fall 2018 as a Theology and Public Leadership major with a concentration in Youth Studies. Professor Jeremy Myers, a director of AYTI, quickly reached out to me to offer a friendly face in the newness of college and suggested that I should apply to work as a student assistant for AYTI during the school year. It has now been three years of working in that job, two summers (going on a 3rd) of being an AYTI mentor, and countless dad jokes from Jeremy. Yet again, my life was changed by AYTI.

Student to Mentor

Summer 2021 is about to be my 3rd summer as a mentor for AYTI. As a mentor, not only do I get to work with young people who have profound questions and thoughts, but I also get to continue to learn about theology in the world and grow in my faith. Each year dives deep into a specific theme, like creation care theology or the call for the voices of young people. This year, the theme is “And It Was Very Good: Affirming and Advocating for Gender and Sexual Diversity in God’s Creation,” where we will dig into scripture, learn about church history, and discover tools for faithful advocacy that allows LGBTQIA+ people to be full members of society.

Mentor to Faith Leader

Wow! A whole week dedicated to affirming the LGBTQIA+ community in Christ and learning how to be better advocates while also exploring the theology of God’s beautiful creation. As someone who grew up in a Lutheran community, I have always been taught the power of God’s love and how to be a loving neighbor, and yet being queer wasn’t something that my church was very open about. Once I got to Augsburg, I was once again in a loving community, but a community that celebrated every aspect of God’s creation. I realized that living authentically into my full self is the best way to share God’s love and represent Christ in all that I do. Being bisexual doesn’t define all of who I am, but hiding that part of myself away was hiding a beautiful part of myself that God had created for good. And now I am prepared and called to be a leader for young people as they discover who God is calling them to be.

The Institute this year offers the unique opportunity for more young people to grow into their full selves while advocating for those in the LGBTQIA+ community and build confidence in their faith at the same time. It will give them a community of other students who are learning alongside them and mentors who can help them flourish. It creates a brave space for learning and advocacy while also giving time for community and just being yourself.

AYTI changed my life – will it change yours too?

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