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An exploration of faith

Prestigious grant fosters students’ engagement in Youth Theology Institute

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“Jesus is in the generosity business,” said Amber Kalina ’15 when she quoted from Walter Brueggeman’s theology of abundance at an Augsburg College chapel service. “That means being constantly alert to any mismatch between the generosity of God and the needs of people.”

Certainly, Augsburg was given a great and generous gift this winter when the College was awarded a prestigious three-year Lilly Endowment Inc. grant of $467,000 for the Youth Theology Institute. This residential summer camp program explores deep and meaningful questions of faith and vocation through classes, service work, and reflection. The competitive grant ensures that this program will continue the work of helping young people discern their vocations.

Kalina’s homily was part of a visit to her home state of Minnesota to pursue the next step in her vocational journey: Attending seminary to become ordained as a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The journey of this youth and family ministry graduate, however, started in the the summer of 2010 when she was a junior in high school in Perham, Minnesota. It was then that she attended Augsburg’s Youth Theology Institute at the encouragement of her youth pastor.

“I would grill my youth director about everything. He had heard about the Augsburg College Youth Theology Institute, and he encouraged me to attend because I just couldn’t stop asking questions,” Kalina said. “At the Institute, I was challenged and pushed to think about and explain what I actually think about faith.”

Diverse experiences in a diverse ZIP code

The 13-year-old Youth Theology Institute engages young people in grades 10-12 in deep theological questions and vocational discernment through community-based and classroom learning, worship, reflection, and solitude. The program, which has touched more than 200 young people since its inception, is an example of how Augsburg College lives out its vision to educate people for lives of purpose across disciplines and beyond the classroom.

“This grant supports Augsburg’s continued commitment to intentional diversity and to modeling what it means to be a Lutheran college of the 21st century, located in the heart of one of the nation’s most diverse ZIP codes. It equips young people with theological and vocational skills and helps them learn what it means to practice their faith, with its commitments to education, radical hospitality, and serving your neighbor,” said Augsburg College President Paul Pribbenow.

Learn, pray, and play together  

Since its inception in 2004, the Youth Theology Institute—a program of Augsburg’s Bernhard M. Christensen Center for Vocation—has explored themes germane not only to the College, but also to current events.

Augsburg’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning shaped the 2015 program, which explored interfaith action, a deeply compelling topic for participants and the College, particularly given Augsburg’s setting in the midst of a neighborhood with a growing Muslim population.

The Lilly grant will allow the Augsburg College Youth Theology Institute to expand upon its history of success while increasing programmatic goals, including:

  • Development of a cohort of youth ministers from regional churches, synods, and multicultural and ethnic-specific congregations, interested in enhancing vocational discernment and theological reflection among youth.
  • Growth in the number of participants from 20 in 2016 to 40 by 2019 while also strengthening relationships with attendees, their families, their pastors, and their churches.
  • The creation of a mentor program to allow college-age students to help high school students develop practices and skills for theological reflection.
  • An increase in connections to the four synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that form Augsburg’s governing structure—Minneapolis, St. Paul, Southeastern Minnesota, and Northwest Wisconsin.
  • Continuation of scholarships for Youth Theology Institute alumni to attend Augsburg College.

Participants in the program are respectfully challenged in every activity to dig deep into their perspectives and biases to uncover their beliefs.

“We learn together, pray together, play together, explore the city together, and discern God’s work in our world together,” said Associate Professor of Religion Jeremy Myers, the Youth Theology Institute program director.

For her part, Kalina hopes the grant prompts others like her to find their paths.

“Young people are so eager to learn,” Kalina said. “But if there is nothing at home to welcome their questioning or to guide them, it is difficult. Home church congregations have to be involved. Participation from our churches provides a chance for all of us to show young people that abundance exists in Christian community and that abundance is meant to be shared with everyone.”

Augsburg College will welcome the 2016 class of Youth Theology Institute students to campus from June 19–24. Participants from across the country will explore meaningful questions related to social and environmental justice, the role of the congregation in these questions, and how one can both love and be frustrated by community.

[Top Image]: Amber Kalina ’15 serves Abundant Life Together, a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This Alt Year program in Toledo, Ohio, provides young adults a chance to explore in community subjects including vocation through reflection, leadership, relationships, and service.

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