|Leadership academy nurtures African-American youth|
Students at the first Thomas Shockley Youth Theological Academy review
digital photos following a presentation on church communications.
Thirteen African Americans between ages 11 and 15 attended the two-week
academy in Nashville, Tenn., to learn about church ministry and
leadership in The United Methodist Church. UMNS photos by Linda Green.
By Linda Green*
Aug. 10, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
For 35 years, four different mentoring and networking programs for
primarily African-American young people laid the foundation that helped
to develop many of today's clergy and lay leaders in The United
Until 2004, however, the leaders of those four groups – the Pembroke
Institute in Chicago, the East Ohio Institute, the West Ohio Institute
and the Thomas Shockley Institute in Atlanta – had never come together
to share their knowledge and resources.
When they finally did meet in Nashville, the institutes joined
together to launch a new network to more intentionally recruit youth for
development into future leaders for local churches, educational institutions and outreach ministries.
The first fruits of that new networking system arrived in Nashville
in July when 13 African Americans between the ages of 11 and 15 attended
the first Thomas Shockley Youth Theological Academy. The academy is
named in honor of Bishop James S. Thomas and the late Rev. Grant
Shockley, a noted Christian educator, who began conversations on how to
work with young people in the church.
Held July 1-15, the two-week program explored the value of ministry
and the church's work through a focused, rigorous curriculum. It was
developed based on the premise that identifying and cultivating strong
United Methodist leaders for the future should begin before a child is
in high school or college, according to the Rev. Luther Felder, director
of campus ministry for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education
A top priority
Building strong leadership is one of the four mission initiatives
identified by The United Methodist Church as a priority at the dawn of a
In the United States, the church has only 850 commissioned and
ordained clergy ages 35 or younger. This is only 4.69 percent of current
elders and reflects a decline from 15.05 percent of the elders serving
in 1985, according to research conducted in 2005 by the Rev. Lovett
The Rev. Luther Felder and student Kevin Walls work on a presentation to the academy.
"This (annual) academy is an attempt to move back the recruitment
process so that persons have an opportunity to test their skills in
theological discernment in Bible study, in growing and understanding of
the church and its mission and addressing that mission with their own
sense of what are the creative edges that might help it be a greater
church," said Felder, noting that the model can be used for any racial
"We recognize the importance of young people as being viable to the interest of the church," he said.
Academy consultant Marilyn Magee Talbert called the recruitment
program and leadership academy a gift to The United Methodist Church.
"This has been an intentional process of exposing young people to the
best we have in The United Methodist Church," she said.
Nia Holston, 15, a member of St. Matthews United Methodist Church in
Philadelphia, attended at her father's urging and found the experience
"filled with life-changing affirmations of faith." She cited
opportunities to meet people in the church and learn more about
Methodism, particularly the history of African Americans in the church,
as being vitally important to her future.
DeRon Young, 11, is interested in a career as an ordained minister. A
member of Union Memorial United Methodist Church in Davidsonville, Md.,
he attended the academy "to be a better leader" and because "I want to
be a preacher."
"I want to lead more people to Christ and lead more people closer to Him," said DeRon.
Beyond the classroom
Organizers are quick to point out that the academy is more than a
two-week classroom experience. "It is not a one-time deal," said
Talbert. "It is mentoring in letting young people know that when there
are moments of discouragement or moments of wondering what they should
do, that they have somebody that they can pick up the phone and call or
e-mail or whatever."
Felder said the academy will involve parents, local pastors and teachers in a long-term support system.
"This is about how do we help enable a cadre of young people to be
exposed to what it means to be theologian, clergy, church, church family
and have those young people supported by other persons in their
churches, in their homes, in their schools and various other walks of
their personal lives," he said.
The academy also will attempt to be a feeder program into United
Methodist-related academic institutions, particularly those that focus
on African Americans. "It is an opportunity for the historically black
colleges and universities to be a launching pad for these young people
as they consider their future as servants to the larger community,"
In addition, the Office of Loans and Scholarships and the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry will track the academy
students "because we want to know what happens to these 13 young
people," he said. "We want to know what age and station and what issues
and conditions they confront as they go through life. And we also want
to help them understand the importance of education and continue that
support for them."
Participants received insight and instruction from numerous
African-American leaders in the church, including bishops, staff of
churchwide boards and agencies, clergy and lay leaders.
"We wanted them to understand theology in broader context than
ordained ministry," Talbert said. "When you do that, then these young
people will be able to think for themselves and they will become viable
leaders in our congregations to strengthening The United Methodist
"This has been an intentional process of exposing young people to the best we have in The United Methodist Church."
-Marilyn Magee Talbert
The academy also provided opportunity to look spiritually into many
areas of the students' lives. "We want the youth to think theologically
about public policy, the music they hear, the clothing they wear," said
Talbert. "… And we want young people to be very serious in considering
what it means to be a child of God, what it means to be in the image of
God, what is seemly or not seemly for a person of Christian character
and Christian integrity."
While The United Methodist Church acknowledges a churchwide
leadership crisis, Felder also cites a declining pool of
African-American clergy in annual conferences to fill vacancies in
"Here is an attempt to develop pastors for our churches at an early
age so that they can then begin to see the value of ministry, the value
of the work of the church, and also identify their own special gifts for
the future of the church," he said.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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