Ways to Improve Faith/Vocation Summer Experiences Offered to Youth
February 15, 2019
Sub-zero outside temperatures resulted in the Grand Hall Ballroom of Indianapolis’s historic Union Station never getting above 60 degrees, but there was a warmth in the room as Catawba College employees, Shannon Axtell Martin ’08, director of the Theology Institute, and Dr. Ken Clapp ’71, chaplain and senior vice president, joined more than 250 college and university representatives representing over 70 institutions of higher education for three days of sharing and formulating ideas.
The topic those gathered in Indianapolis were pondering was how to better address the concern of helping high school and college students embrace faith and allow that faith to instruct them in the critical decision-making process of what vocation is right for them.
Most of the participants in the High School Youth Theology Institute conference held January 30-February 1 lead programs similar to Catawba’s DISCOVER, a weeklong summer immersion experience for middle and senior high youth which is coordinated by Axtell Martin. This program was developed in response to the realization that so many of today’s youth have very little understanding of theology and the ways theological understanding informs the way we live our lives and shape our values. Participants were encouraged to be sensitive to the way language can either help or hinder the understanding we seek.
Part of the conference, coordinated by the Foundation for Theological Exploration, was devoted to sharing ‘our stories’ through which participants became aware of ‘best practices’ leading to the realization of goals. Clapp, who authored the proposal that resulted in the funding from the Lilly Endowment which makes it possible for Catawba to offer the program at a very nominal cost to participants, discovered that Catawba’s program is serving more students than most of the programs, but the follow up with the participants through mentors is not as strong.
Axtell Martin, who just completed her first year as director of the Catawba program, is already at work addressing this. She also will be seeking greater buy-in from other departments on campus with the intent of helping the participants see the ways God is present and at work in all dimensions of our lives and how our response to God calls for us to honor this connection in all aspects from the arts to athletics to the environment.
The Discover program places particular emphasis upon helping students recognize the way in which God equips each of us for a vocation that will bring joy and meaning to our lives and assists participants in discerning and preparing for pursuing the vocation that is right for each person.