In 1993, the first group of Youth Theological Initiative scholars went through an intense four weeks of theological inquiry. Now, 20 years later, YTI alumni number more than 1,000. More than 100 came together July 12-13 to celebrate, reconnect, and continue the journey of theological exploration.
A picnic outside the Dobbs University Center Friday night kicked-off the reunion where former scholars caught up with those from their year and those from others, discussing what YTI has meant in their lives.
“So how rich it was to return to the reunion, to gather and reminisce with those who were so similarly transformed without having to explain anything?” Laura McCandlish ’97 reflected. “We six ’97 scholars picked up right where we left off, even though we’re now almost twice the age of those 17-year-old selves.”
The picnic was followed by an opening worship service, and featured tag-team preaching from Robert Brewer and Chris Dorsey, two of many former staff members who returned for the reunion.
Kathryn Banakis ’98 lead a panel called ‘Theological Reflection in Conversation and in Storytelling.” In the group she asked people to try and understand the different ways to tell and hear a story.
“I wanted to give theological communities a way to think about their stories and then interpret them,” Banakis said. “The word of God lasts to the extent we can express it through our voices.
Aaron Klink ’96 led a discussion on Life, Death, and Justice: Christians and Medicine. He discussed his work working in a Veterans Hospital trying to help soldiers fight Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Given that we asked them to serve, what are our responsibility to help them heal,” Klink said. “As Christians, what duty do we have to help them heal their moral injuries?”
The second panel session was lead by former YTI mentors, who discussed the struggles and benefits of guiding inquisitive teenagers.
Noelle Simmons ’94 was a YTI mentor in 1999 and 2000 and is now the senior associate rector at an Episcopal Church. She said even when things around her are going bad, she is able to be a mentor because of the skills she learned during YTI.
“YTI changed my life and the way I see ministry,” Simmons said. “I knew I could engage with youth on a spiritual journey. YTI scholars really wrestle with faith. They are not afraid to ask tough questions and struggle with multiple answers.”
“YTI is about being at a place where one can feel safe to ask the big questions and the ability to learn actions to make communities a better place,” said Robert Brewer, who worked at YTI between 2003-2005 and is now a chaplain and pastor at Greensboro College.
Saturday afternoon some joined at MedShare, a non-profit organization that sends unused medical equipment to hospitals around the world. People joined to pack boxes and serve through service.
That night was the 20th Anniversary Celebration banquet. Dr. Craig Dykstra and Dr. Chuck Foster spoke on the history of YTI. Dr. Dykstra gave the same speech he gave 20 years ago to the first batch of YTI scholars.
Amy Lin ’93 said, “The best experience for me was to hear Craig Dykstra give the exact same speech from 20 years ago. I didn’t have to imagine what it was like–I could remember.”
Current YTI director Beth Corrie gave the final speech at the end of the banquet describing a question she was asked by YTI scholar Kristian Canler. He asked, “Are you planning on running YTI forever?”
Before she could answer, he said, “Because that would be a pretty cool life.”
Afterwards, alumni talked about the reunion and their transformative time during YTI.
“Not only do you see places you remember, you also reconnect with others. It helped to remind me of that wonderful month 20 years ago and how far I’ve come in my life,” Lin said.
“Indeed the fact that so many gathered for the reunion was a testament YTI’s power to shape those who are involved in it, and inspire lives in service to the common good,” Klink said. “It was great to see that the YTI’s mission continues.”