Youth Academy Alumni Gather for Reunion
A group of 50 Texas Youth Academy alumni attended a reunion the first weekend of January to fellowship with classmates and talk about the impact the TYA made on their life. The event featured small group sessions where groups from each year spent time together talking about their experiences.
Texas Annual Conference Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries Rev. Thera Freeman said TYA has been referred to as a theological boot camp for juniors and seniors in high school. It is a two-week camp in the summer where students apply to spend two weeks learning together. They have plenary sessions in the mornings where they are taught theological concepts. They discuss in-depth topics surrounding creation, baptism, the passion, and the crucifixion. There's also a day on Methodism and Methodist history.
The pattern of life is very similar to a monastery. Each day starts with morning prayer before breakfast, with worship every evening in a different style. These range from contemporary, to blended, to traditional, to high church and there's communion every evening. “The day begins and ends with prayer, with learning in between,” Thera noted. “On some days there are mission opportunities. Some are very hands-on, sort of traditional looking missions, like going to the Austin Food Bank and working together as a team. That’s sort of what that week is about - community, prayer, theological formation… We talk about vocation and emphasize that just because you're seeking your vocation doesn't mean that you'll end up as a clergy person.”
The reunion is a time for alumni to share with each other how the academy impacted them initially and how the experience continued to influence them over time. Thera said it also offers a chance for the conference to get additional feedback from former attendees on how to improve academy. “We also learn how we can be of service to help the alumni. We have older college students who want internships and advice, and they're learning they can turn back to the conference when they have questions. They are comfortable asking their senior pastors those questions too.”
Thera said one student attributes the academy as changing the course of her life – “not that she was headed down a bad or wrong path, but she said it really helped give her vision that has surprised her and provided clarity. She said she's much more bold in what she believes and who she is, saying “academy is where I fell in love with God.” Another spoke about how the discussions surrounding vocation lead her to consider studying youth ministry and music, which she only thought of as hobbies.”
Two students from one church didn't really know their senior pastor well before they attended the academy. Their pastor invited them to meet with him so he could write a more informed recommendation. After attending TYA, they ended up talking to him for over an hour about what they learned and how much they enjoyed it. Their youth group leader has since been giving them more opportunities to be in leadership and that has bled into the rest of their life in the church.
"We expose them to so many different things that there's sure to be something they haven't experienced before, and for some people almost all of it is brand new, depending on where they are from,” stated Thera.