2012 Youth Academy: Personal Reflections


“The highlight for me,” says Thera Freeman, TAC’s new Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director, “was watching TYA students and staff alike growing in knowledge of our Church and the world, growing a solid Christ centered community and growing in desire to know, love and serve God with each of their own gifts and talents--affirming one another along the way.” Adds Freeman, “It really excites me to see participants that are excited about loving God and neighbor--pushing their growing edges and reaching for more knowledge and companionship. They're excited to be the church and they are being the church in bold and profound ways!”


The Texas Youth Academy (TYA) is an advanced discipleship program for senior high United Methodist Youth initiated by the Texas Annual Conference in the summer of 2009. Patterned after the Duke Youth Academy program, TYA is a two-week summer experience that held at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. TYA is intended for youth in any of the UM Conferences of Texas who show promise for clergy and lay leadership in the Church. High school sophomores and juniors are also accepted through an application process.


In their own words:

Katie Eichler-- serving at John Wesley UMC in youth ministry for 8 years full-time, and as a mentor this year at the Texas Youth Academy

I had the great pleasure of serving for the first time as a mentor at the Texas Youth Academy this summer. Although I had already heard wonderful things about TYA from one of my own students who had been before, I was blown away by the experience. This is by far the best thing I have been involved with in youth ministry. The great value of theological material that is presented to students and adults through plenary and worship is amazing. The opportunities to process and practice what we learn through arts, service, and small groups are so pivotal. And the depth of community that is developed through two weeks of eating, worshiping, living, experiencing communion, praying, and playing together is life changing for students and adults. I can’t wait to send more youth from my church to be a part of it.

Student Gabe Grantham calls the Art Village at the 2012 Texas Youth Academy “an absolutely amazing experience. It gave my fellow students and I the opportunity to create beautiful works of art and giving praise to the Lord all at the same time.” According to Grantham, the Art Village was split up into four separate stations to facilitate storytelling, “where we learn how everyone has an unique story and it is our job to tell our own, creative writing, where we learned about the power and beauty that words have and we were able to create our own psalms, visual arts, where we painted and created an image of a bible verse, and printmaking, where we were able to turn what we learned about God into a beautiful work of art with paper, ink, and linoleum.” He fell in love with printmaking.”I was able to take two of our lessons and turn them into two pretty cool works of art. The one named ‘The tree of life” reflected the lesson about how, “because of Christ’s death, we have life. It has a tree but the trunk of the tree is a cross. The idea of Christ supporting us as giving us life, just as the trunk of a tree does for the branches and the leaves is just an incredible picture,” he adds. He describes his print named “Word of God Speak” as a man speaking into the darkness. It was originally created to depict God speaking into creation but became more representative of the power of words. Recalls Gabe, “The night before I drew that one, I just couldn’t get the image of a man speaking EVERYTHING into existence so I had to stay up and try to scribble something onto some paper to make this come to life.” He thoroughly enjoyed attending the Academy. “I am so grateful for that opportunity for many reasons. I got to experience God in a new way, I was able to praise God in a fun way, and was able to boost my confidence when it comes to art.”


Thoughts from John Seaton, associate pastor, West University UMC:

From June 24th-July 7th, I had the great privilege to serve as a mentor at what is essentially a two-week theological academy for rising 11th and 12th graders. The students worship together, eat together, learn together, serve together, and reflect together. Professors from seminaries and colleges as well as pastors come in to teach and lead worship for the two weeks (although four of the services are student led). The students have the opportunity to go deeper in their faith as well as ask questions about the many essential Christian doctrines. They also share three meals a day together, express their faith through art, serve together on various mission projects in the Georgetown and Austin areas, and have time to reflect with each other on the day’s activities in nightly small group gatherings. A wonderful group of 27 students and an additional 19 staff made up the 2012 version of TYA. My life was blessed by the conversations with my new brothers and sisters in Christ. I will not soon forget the ministry we took part in for Jesus and the many things I learned from watching them be the hands and feet of the kingdom of God in this world. Their laughter and smiles were – and will continue to be -- a source of hope.


Student Rebekah Fulton says:

When I returned home from TYA and everyone asked me what I thought of it or what my favorite part of it was I was speechless. There was so much I wanted to share but I had no clue where to start except to say it was an amazing experience... TYA taught me ways to sustain personal growth through leadership, missions, fellowship and creative expression. More specifically, here are my thoughts on:


Worship - I came to a deeper understanding of the various styles of worship practiced globally by the Church. Experiencing these differing styles and even planning a service led me to realize how vital community is for strengthening individual faith.


Arts Village - Although I have been meddling with art my entire life, this opportunity had the biggest impact on me. I was forced out of my usual creative boundaries. Being exposed to self-expression through new forms of creative writing and art challenged me to reflect and interpret scripture in new ways. Because of my experiences at TYA, I brought home many of these activities to incorporate into my daily life.


Plenary - Like most of the kids at TYA, I had a base knowledge of the subjects preached in plenary, but because of the phenomenal speakers we were able to dive into what we, as Methodists, proclaim to believe in a way that is simply not possible in your average Sunday school class. Despite my list of questions being doubled, I have a whole new understanding of what having faith means to me and to the Church which I could not have gained in any other fashion. This new type of study has inspired me to expand my individual study of theology more ravishly.


Missions - Everything we did at TYA differed from our expectations, but more than anything missions surprised us. Instead of going out and completing small, short-term projects, we learned about large scale issues and how as members of the body of Christ we can make a difference. By becoming aware of fields of mission work such as homelessness, aiding refugees, and wide spread poverty, which all involve people our age or younger, our approach can have a bigger impact.