For seven days at the end of July, 36 rising high school juniors and seniors from Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and as far away as Mexico attended the Summit Youth Academy on the campus on Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas.
The Summit, which was designed by the Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship and others at the college, focused on helping young people hear God through practicing spiritual disciplines, understanding the Wesleyan faith, learning missional approaches to poverty, and discerning a vocational call.
“When we arrived on Sunday afternoon, none of us were quite sure what to expect,” said participant Ben Tiller, Wichita. “But soon, we found ourselves involved in an incredible week of learning, worship and service.”
Each day, the students practiced spiritual disciplines and read scripture in the morning.
“They had a different way for us to connect with God and pray every day, and it was great,” Kailie Hamilton of Hesston, Kansas, said.
Students, who were called “Summit Disciples” throughout the week, also listened to a lecture on one of the core tenets of Wesleyan faith and participated in an elective class on Bible, theology, worship, art or spiritual disciplines each morning.
“The professors introduced Summit Disciples to theological education, and engaged them thoughtfully through topics like theodicy, hermeneutics, baptism, grace, aesthetics and more,” said the Rev. Wendy Mohler-Seib, director of the Summit. “Not only were the Summit Disciples encouraged by the teaching, the professors were energized by teaching young people who interested in deeply engaging their minds alongside their hearts and hands.”
“My teacher did an amazing job!,” said Amber Harris, of Wichita, who participated in the Bible elective class.
“I asked for guidance and got even more than I asked for,” agreed Connor Moore, of Mount Hope, Kansas.
Class time smoothly transitioned into worship, as students participated in a contemplative prayer service every day at noon and had worship with communion every evening.
“Midnight communion on Friday night was definitely a highlight,” Tiller said.
The colorful, immersive, interactive worship services were designed by Southwestern campus minister, the Rev. Ben Hanne, and Worship Outreach director Martin Rude, and delved deeply into the sacraments and aspects of Wesleyan grace that were covered in the morning classes each day.
“Everyone poured their hearts out during worship,” one student said.
Each day of the Summit ended with time in Wesley class meeting-style small groups, in which students reflected on hearing and responding to God’s voice. These small groups were led by Southwestern students trained in Wesleyan youth ministry and were each accompanied by Southwestern alumni involved in ministry professionally, including Kyle and Rev. Molly Just, Revs. Amanda and Ross Baker, Rev. Kim Shank, Rev. Lucas McConnell, Leah Hartman, and Anna and Rev. Isaac Chua.
A focus on call
Throughout the week, students had opportunities to learn about their gifts and talents and work toward discerning a call from God toward a career field.
Each student took the Birkman Assessment to determine their strengths, interests, and preferred working environment, and were given examples of careers that might fit them best.
Students also had the chance to hear from ten adults from area United Methodist churches who find their call fulfilled in a variety of fields outside of formal ministry. Students were given the chance to talk with several of the adults and ask them questions about their faith and career or volunteer work. Many Summit Disciples said they loved the opportunity to hear from adults who felt their work was a part of their call.
Broadening perspectives on community and poverty
As a part of the Summit’s approach to exploring the wide variety of calls that Christians experience, participants examined several new approaches to the old idea of “mission.” On two of the weekdays, the students and leaders traveled to Wichita to learn about various approaches to poverty alleviation.
On Tuesday, students participated in a poverty simulation with the Wichita Circles Network that mimicked a month of appointments, bills and responsibilities in the life of a struggling family. Twenty-five clergy and lay volunteers from five area United Methodist Churches helped make the poverty simulation a success.
The experience introduced the students to some the challenges and choices those in poverty face every day.
“It was really stressful. I was role-playing a mom of three with breast cancer and I cried twice, but it really opened my eyes to how bad some people really have it,” said Arianna Jacobson, of Fremont, Nebraska.
Another camper said, “The most impactful aspect was being submerged in other people’s life and realizing poverty is not a lack of money, but lack of resources.”
After the simulation, Summit Disciples toured United Methodist Open Door in Wichita, which provides a variety of resources to help those in poverty, including a clothing closet, food distribution, and a homeless day shelter and laundry facilities. They ended their time with a worship service led by the band from The Gathering at Mead’s Corner, a worship community out of First United Methodist in Wichita that regularly welcomes homeless individuals into their service.
On Thursday, the Summit students and leaders visited SoCe Life, a community organization in the south central neighborhood of Wichita founded by several Great Plains conference clergy.
Even though south central Wichita is often seen as an area with a lot of drug, prostitution, and crime problems, SoCe Life battles that stereotype and builds community by discovering and encouraging the gifts and talents all residents, and empowering residents to help one another and see each other as a neighbor instead of a threat.
At SoCe, Summit participants learned about the organization’s “Asset-Based Community Development” model and had the chance to work alongside neighbors at several area projects.
“We helped with their community gardens, painted murals and got to know the locals and how they lived their life,” Tiller said.
Students also helped build small raised garden beds, which are placed in front of the homes of residents who request them to encourage sharing, visibility, and conversations.
“It was impactful to build the garden boxes, and to know that they would help to build community,” said Hayley Koontz of Benton, Kansas.
A focus on hearing God
More than anything else, the main goal of the Summit was to help young people learn how to hear God’s voice and stay attuned to that voice in the future.
Based on reviews, that goal was accomplished.
“I heard God everywhere this week. In the Summit Guides, fellow youth, and the teachers as well,” said Molly Chitty of Gypsum, Kansas.
By the end of the Summit, some students already had concrete plans to listen to and follow God’s call after their return home.
“I heard God through prayer and I am going to go home and make a prayer room in my bedroom,” said Courtney Weir of Wichita.
Another student said, “I heard God’s voice in a lot of ways, and I will respond to him by following him every day and continuing with the disciplines.”
In September, the Summit Disciples will join in a nine-month online Bible study under the direction of Leah Hartman. The study is designed to not only nurture the students’ understanding of core elements of their faith, but as an opportunity for them to remain in community with their peers and adult leaders as they continue developing their sense of call.
“I am thrilled with the inaugural year of the Summit!” Mohler-Seib said.
The passion, growth and dedication of the young people who attended the Summit was clear to all of the adults who helped with the event.
“I’m grateful for clergy and laity that nominated high caliber high school juniors and seniors to spend the week with us. The Summit Disciples are faithfully serving in their local churches, and making meaningful contributions in their schools and communities as Christian disciples,” Mohler-Seib said.
Mohler-Seib also expressed appreciation for the work of those who contributed their time and energy to the Summit.
“Over 100 clergy and lay volunteers interacted with the Summit Disciples during the week, which really speaks to the heart of our work at the Institute for Discipleship and Southwestern College,” she said.
In addition to the poverty simulation volunteers and support staff at the college, teachers for the morning theology and elective classes throughout the week included Dr. Matt Sigler from Seattle Pacific University; Shannon Sigler from Fuller Theological Seminary; Dr. Sarah Sours from Huntingdon College; Rev. Peter Cammarano from the Texas Annual Conference; and Dr. Jackson Lashier, Rev. Molly Just, and Leah Hartman from Southwestern College. Matt Sigler and Sarah Sours both taught at Southwestern in past years as Visiting Scholars.
“When we all bring our gifts together, God meets us in a unique way, and enables us to spread the gospel to others. It will be exhilarating five years from now to see how God uses the Summit Disciples as they continue listening to the Holy Spirit and respond to God’s voice,” Mohler-Seib said.
Plans for the 2018 session of the Summit Youth Academy are already underway. If you know a current high school sophomore or junior who would enjoy deepening their faith and learning how to creatively follow God, nominate them for the 2018 Summit Youth Academy at www.summityouthacademy.org.