Northwest University has received a grant of $427,345 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish the new Summer Journey program under the auspices of the soon-to-be-formed Center for Calling and Theological Formation. It is part of Lilly Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.
Following a planning year, the Summer Journey will launch in 2017 on the Seattle-area campus of Northwest University. Rising high school juniors and seniors from churches in the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition will be invited to apply to the program beginning in fall 2016. While there, they will engage in theological reflection on how God’s story intersects their lives and their sense of God’s calling. This will take place through interactive and recreational activities, lecture/discussion sessions, formative worship opportunities, service projects in greater Seattle, and a focused wilderness experience in the Cascade Mountains. Northwest University is well suited to provide top-notch faculty involvement from the College of Ministry and beyond, access to nationally recognized thinkers and practitioners, enthusiastic congregational and denominational support, interaction with current college students, and urban and wilderness experiences that will enrich participants’ time.
The purpose of the Summer Journey is to develop a cadre of high school students that has a strong and articulated understanding of their faith and its importance for the work ahead of them. After completing the 10-day experience the students will return to their congregations and youth ministries with a new ability to articulate their sense of vocation and its implications in their churches, communities, and beyond.
Once formed, the Center for Calling and Theological Formation and its related programs will be led by Dr. Joshua Ziefle (Associate Professor of Youth Ministries at Northwest University). In addition to the Summer Journey, the Center will host an annual youth leaders’ conference—the Youth Ministry Symposium—intended to enrich the work of youth ministers in our region with the findings and insights generated from the work of the summer program as well as related research and reflection. This conference will begin in Fall 2017.
“I am excited for the potential of the Summer Journey,” stated Dr. Ziefle, “both for its ability to enrich the faith of individual students and the way in which their deepened reflections and subsequent actions will impact their peers, churches, and communities.” Northwest University President, Joseph Castleberry, concurred. “We’ve been educating students since 1934 to help them hear the call of Jesus Christ on their lives. It is foundational to our mission. We are very grateful for this grant, as it will amplify our mission to equip even more youth for service. Our world has never needed them more.”
Northwest University is one of 82 schools participating in the initiative. “These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, Vice President for Religion at the Endowment. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.”
The Endowment is giving $44.5 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create the institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.
An additional grant to the Forum for Theological Exploration will establish a program that will bring together leaders of the high school youth theology institutes to foster mutual learning and support.