…Abby was one of 20 participants in the inaugural theology institute. The core group included 10 Buffalo high schoolers, six Canisius undergraduate students, two graduate students, an assistant director from Campus Ministry and a director from the philosophy department. These 20 individuals lived, worked, studied and prayed together contemplating what exactly a “faith that does justice” means in their own neighborhoods. I spent a few days with them and gave the keynote address.
Canisius College is one of 82 Lilly Endowment grantees awarded $583,000 to create opportunities for high schoolers to engage in their faith and to grow in their understanding of theology. According to a November 2015 press release, “The initiative builds on previous efforts to encourage young people to explore Christian leadership and service. In 1998, the Endowment made grants to seminaries to create high school youth theology programs. In 1999, it began making grants to support private colleges and universities as they strived to cultivate faith and vocation programs for undergraduates.”
Funding college-hosted theology institutes strengthens a person’s discovery of faith in the midst of uncovering the many dynamics of politics, family, community, amidst the rising awareness of injustice. Young adult formation varies dramatically between our churches and schools. These institutes fill a gap where young people can ask questions about God and the meaning and purpose of their lives together. They experience community in the residence halls as neighbors, in the classrooms as dialogue partners, throughout the community as people eager to companion others. Without these institutes, young people are left to navigate the jarring questions and curiosities of meaning without many spaces for integration.
Canisius student Maggie Treichler speaks about her faith practice: “I consider myself a person of faith but in a sort of unconventional way. I believe that everyone has their own personal gifts and talents and that everyone must find their own way to worship God and show their faith. While for some people that means attending church, I find my faith through more direct work. I worship God by doing his work and spreading his love and advocating for peace, equality, and love of all people.”
Maggie names service as a place and practice to find God.
Nicole, a junior at Canisius studying English, environmental studies and philosophy, clarifies her own belief while refusing to use names other people have suggested: “I would consider myself a person of good faith. Although I do not ‘fit’ into a particular religious affiliation, I know in my heart that it does not matter what other people have to say about my faith so long as I know what I believe in.”
The college students deepened their experience of faith just as much as the high schoolers did. In fact, one of the students shared an originally written, sung and recorded song as her reflection of how her relationship with God was impacted.
Each day the participants prayed together, worked in the greater Buffalo community alongside agencies that encounter people in poverty or along the margins of society, ate intentionally from local businesses, learned from Canisius faculty and staff, and reflected and played with one another.
In addition to the youth, many adults have benefitted from this experience. Be the Light Institute Assistant Director Sarah Signorino’s initial “yes” to the question of assisting in the program came naturally. After 12 years of working in campus ministry, Signorino affirms, “This amazing opportunity continues to allow me to lend my skills, experience and heart to an institute whose primary goal is ‘to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians.'” Just as the other participants were asked to consider how they are called to “Be the Light,” Signorino reveals, “Being the light to me is being a fire that lights other fires. I see my work in ministry as a spreader of seeds. I try to sprinkle them, my light, in every corner.”
Yes. Light in the corner of our country. Light in and throughout Buffalo.
“At Canisius, we’re ideally situated to help students understand how issues of justice are truly present in an urban setting like Buffalo, and how faith and reason can form their responses to these issues,” said Stephen Chanderbhan, philosophy professor and director of Be the Light Institute.
“I see my God-given gifts being used toward a God-centered goal. I feel this whole endeavor for me has been an answer to a call to serve in the first place.” Chanderbhan chuckled as he recounted his three “yeses” to the college president’s request to consider championing this project last fall. “I was allowed to use my skills at teaching and the exercise of my intellect to craft the broad vision of the institute and so contribute to the cause of justice through helping to educate others.”
Through the lens of discipleship and vocation, I couldn’t help but notice that God’s impact rippled throughout the core community and into the greater city. A deeper form of mentorship unintentionally developed out of the circumstance of living, eating, serving, praying and learning with one another. “I learned that we must have kinship with one another,” Canisius student, Monica Wrobel reflects.
Canisius will continue to offer this week-long journey each summer. I pray that the practice of God’s love continue to spill out into our relationships as freely as it did for these youth and their companions.
Visit Jocelyn and her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, atingoodcompany.net.co or email her at [email protected].
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 30, 2015
Contact: Judith Cebula
317.916.7327 | [email protected]
Lilly Endowment Makes Grants to Encourage
High School Youth to Explore Theology
INDIANAPOLIS – Many high school students yearn for opportunities to ask difficult and probing questions about their faith and the moral dimensions of contemporary challenges. Now some private colleges and universities are creating summer institutes and other programs to encourage young people to explore these questions by studying theology and examining how their faith calls them to lives of service. To support the effort, Lilly Endowment Inc. is giving $44.5 million in grants to help 82 private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to develop high school youth theology 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.
“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.”
Reflecting diverse and rich expressions of theological traditions, the colleges and universities are located in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Although some schools are independent, many reflect the religious heritage of their founding Christian traditions, including Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed traditions, as well as Catholic, non-denominational, Pentecostal and historic African-American Christian communities. With guidance and support from religion and theology faculty, chaplains and local pastors, young people will study sacred scripture and pivotal theological texts; take part in service projects and hands-on ministry experiences; examine the moral and ethical dimensions of contemporary issues; and learn about religious practices, including prayer, contemplation and worship. Most programs will take place during the summer and offer short-term residential experiences to groups of students as small as 24 and as large as 300.
“Young people today want to make a difference,” Coble said. “These programs will connect them to faculty and religious leaders who will help them explore that longing by drawing more deeply on scripture and theology as they make decisions about their futures.” The initiative builds on previous efforts to encourage young people to explore Christian leadership and service. In 1998, the Endowment made grants to seminaries to create high school youth theology programs. In 1999, it began making grants to support private colleges and universities as they strived to cultivate faith and vocation programs for undergraduates.
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.
The Endowment has made high school youth theology grants to the following colleges and universities:
Asbury College, Wilmore, KY
Ashland University, Ashland, OH
Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA
Barclay College, Haviland, KS
Baylor University, Waco, TX
Bethel University, St. Paul, MN
Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, FL
Brescia University, Owensboro, KY
Caldwell University, Caldwell, NJ
Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC
Canisius College, Buffalo, NY
Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee, WI
Carroll College, Helena, MT
Catawba College, Salisbury, NC
The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN
Concordia University, Portland, OR
Concordia University Irvine, Irvine, CA
Corporation of Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA
Emory University, Atlanta, GA
George Fox University, Newberg, OR
Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY
Gordon College, Wenham, MA
Goshen College, Goshen, IN
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN
Hendrix College, Conway, AR
Holy Cross College, Notre Dame, IN
Hope College, Holland, MI
Huntingdon College, Montgomery, AL
Huntington University, Huntington, IN
Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN
Johnson University, Knoxville, TN
LeTourneau University, Longview, TX
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL
Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA
Loyola University, New Orleans, LA
Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Lubbock Christian University, Lubbock, TX
Malone University, Canton, OH
Marian University, Indianapolis, IN
Maryville College, Maryville, TN
Mid-America Nazarene University, Olathe, KS
Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA
North Carolina Wesleyan College, Rocky Mount, NC
Northwest University, Kirkland, WA
Northwestern College, Orange City, IA
Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, OK
Ottawa University, Ottawa, KS
Our Lady of the Lake University of San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
Pfeiffer University, Misenheimer, NC
Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA
Roanoke College, Salem, VA
Rust College, Holly Springs, MS
Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN
Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA
Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA
Simpson College, Indianola, IA
Southern Wesleyan University, Central, SC
Southwestern College, Winfield, KS
St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN
St. John’s University, Queens, NY
St. Thomas University Inc., Miami Gardens, FL
Tabor College, Hillsboro, KS
Taylor University, Inc., Upland, IN
Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville, TN
Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL
Trustees of Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL
University of Findlay, Findlay, OH
University of Mount Olive, Mount Olive, NC
University of Saint Francis of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, IN
The University of the South, Sewanee, TN
Virginia Union University, Richmond, VA
Viterbo College, La Crosse, WI
Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN
Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, TX
Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA
Wiley College, Marshall, TX
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.