Six Church of the Brethren youth gathered at Bethany Seminary this summer for Exploring Your Call, held June 17-27. This unique program brings high school juniors and seniors together to reflect on their own faith, explore concepts of ministry, and form supportive relationships as they consider God's presence and call in their lives.
Russell Haitch, associate professor of Christian education and director of the Institute for Youth and Young Adults at Bethany, leads the Exploring Your Call program. He described EYC as transformational for the youth, noting the spontaneous sharing of their personal experiences of God. "They bonded together and threw themselves into situations of ministry and into some good, deep discussions in the seminary classroom. They were intellectually alert, emotionally alive, and spiritually courageous." Along with Haitch, Marla Abe, a 2008 Bethany graduate and copastor of Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Church of the Brethren, served as a teacher for the group.
Two Bethany students, and former EYC participants, contributed to the event's success. Dylan Haro from San Diego, California, and Bekah Houff from Bethel, Pennsylvania, worked with the youth as student coordinators and leaders. "It was during my participation in Exploring Your Call that I first considered ministry as my vocation," said Haro. "I am excited for high school students today who have the same opportunity to experience this unique and enriching program. It is programs and people like these that ignite my hope for the future of the church."
Exposure to real-life ministry situations is key to the group experience. The full schedule included shadowing pastors in their work; site visits, such as the Brethren Retirement Community in Greenville, Ohio; class sessions with Bethany faculty; and leading and participating in worship. The group also traveled further afield to the Church of the Brethren general offices in Elgin, Illinois, and Reba Place Fellowship, an intentional Christian community in Chicago, Illinois.
Stephen Dowdy, a participant from Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, reflected on new understandings of living out one's faith. "I came to realize that my church life and my 'normal' life should not be separate, but a whole experience with a concentration in community. I will always have a special place in my heart for those with whom I shared the experience."
Participant Alina Douglas intends to encourage EYC attendance by other youth in the Northern Plains District, where she is a member of the Living Peace Church of the Brethren in Sioux City, Iowa. "Being around other people with strong faith and looking at the Bible in different ways has really helped me to be more open with my faith," she said.
First held from 2001-2005, Exploring Your Call grew out of an invitation from the Lilly Foundation to encourage youth to consider ministry as a vocation. Funding to reinstate EYC this year came through a new $25,000 grant from Barnabas Ltd., an organization that had helped fund the earlier conferences. Located in New South Wales, Australia, this family foundation was begun by the parents of current Bethany trustee Jerry Davis and focuses primarily on projects that help prepare people for ministry.
Plans for next summer's EYC are underway, building on the success of this year's conference. Haitch says, "Next year we hope to have a larger group, but certainly we could not ask for a better group than we had this year."