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Celebrating Young Theologians

The Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI) is one of the many initiatives of the Christensen Center for Vocation. AYTI inspires emerging high school theologians to observe, interpret, and engage their world through Christ for the sake of their neighbor. Our participants learn how to reflect theologically on culture and find meaningful ways to respond to the call from God that happens in this process of reflection. Following their week at the institute, students write a theological paper on the theme that is compiled into a journal and shared with congregations and the wider community.

At the end of June we wrapped up the 2021 institute, and it was incredible! So many amazing young people were excited about our theme, And It Was Very Good: Affirming and Advocating for Gender and Sexual Diversity in God’s Creation. We welcomed instructor Deacon Ross Murray to guide us through a week of curriculum that focused on faithful advocacy that allows LGBTQ people to be full members of society, reading the bible through a queer lens, assessing our congregations using the Reconciling Works Building an Inclusive Church tools, and telling compelling personal stories rooted in theology. Our young people engaged in deep discussion, thoughtful reflection, and learned what it means to be a young theologian.


With the uncertainties around group safety with the Covid-19 pandemic, we did not host an in-person event this year. Our participants joined us from four time zones, four states, and ten churches. Our six college mentors were able to live together in community on campus as they used their leadership skills for mentoring with our participants in small groups. We are so grateful for the college mentors for their incredible leadership. Our pastoral chaplains joined us from their offices or dining rooms, worship leaders “zoomed in” for music and worship together, and our final celebration brought together participants, mentors, staff, pastors, youth ministers, parents, guardians, and supporters of the AYTI experience. It was incredible!

zoom screenshot of 2021 AYTI participants
The era of Zoom screenshots will always be a memory of the 2021 AYTI Virtual Institute.


AYTI publishes a student journal each year and you can read essays from past participants here. High school participants spend time brainstorming topics and issues that matter to them and their congregations. Then at the end of the week, they choose one to focus on when they go back to their congregations and communities. Their nominator supports their research, development, and writing process as they implement a project and write about or if they research a topic and write about. Below are the topics for essay writing or issues that matter to these young people that may be developed into a project in their congregations.


  • A Coat or a Gown: looking at bible stories in a different way
  • Gender and Sexuality Garden: A Journey through the LGBTQ+ community with flowers
  • White, not Radical: An Analysis and Critique of Mainstream American Christianity and LGBTQ+ Politics
  • The Trevor Project and Why It’s Important
  • The Rainbow Can Mean Both; Delving into the Relationship Between Sexuality and Religion
  • The reasons for having LGBTQ+ safe spaces for youth and otherwise, especially in the church.

    picture of a list of gender neutral terms to address a group
    AYTI participants and mentors practiced using gender neutral terms in our discussions.


  • Looking at parallels between early leaders/figures in the bible and the queer liberation movement OR fundraising for Trans people of color
  • A LGBTQ support group in my church community
  • Out and Ostracized: A website in the form of a public forum, for members of the LGBT+ community to share their experiences coming out in a faith community — the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.
  • Connecting a Lutheran argument for having a GSA in schools to the secularized idea, with the goal of organizing one at a new high school later on.
  • Something involving lgbtq+ homeless youth, and/or doing something inside my church helping lgbtq+ youth feel more welcome.

It is such an honor to work with each of these young people and we look forward to hearing how they take what they learned at AYTI and apply it to affirming and advocating for gender and sexual diversity in God’s creation. Watch for updates in the fall about our upcoming 2021 Journal.


We close each week of AYTI with a worship and celebration in community with one another. This was true of our virtual institute as well when we welcomed families, pastors, church leaders, and participants together to celebrate all that we learned together in the week. And we closed with this prayer of thanksgiving for all that God made us to be and all that we are sent into the world to do and be.

We thank you, O Holy One, for the learnings, the challenges, the wonderings, and the hopes we have discovered together this week. By your Holy Spirit and through this community, you have affirmed and reaffirmed us as your beloved ones. We celebrate our bold and beautiful LGBTQ siblings who show us the wide diversity of your creation. Strengthen us in our call to be your church of welcome and inclusion for all your peoples. On this day, we rejoice in the projects that have been birthed this week in the minds and hearts of these young leaders in your church. May they be supported and received by their home faith communities as together we work toward your kin-dom here. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior and our Song. Amen.

picture on the last day of AYTI with mentors and staff
Celebrating the completion of the 2021 AYTI Virtual Institute on the last day with mentors and staff