By Lindsay Peyton
Kelly Lee was just finishing his sophomore year of high school when he heard about Texas Youth Academy (TYA). The two-week summer intensive, which provides a window into seminary and a life centered on faith, was in its inaugural year in 2009. “I figured it would be a cool experience,” Lee recalled. “It ended up being better than I could have imagined.”
At the time, he was 14-years old, when his youth director at St. John’s UMC in Texas City told him about the then-brand new program. He was involved with his youth group in church and already enjoyed summers at Lakeview and volunteering with UM ARMY. TYA sounded like the logical next step.
Modeled on the highly acclaimed Duke Youth Academy, TYA is available to high school students, during their junior and senior years. Participants attend classes in theology on a college campus affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
Lee recalls stimulating lectures, engaging mission projects and courses on how to incorporate art into faith. “One of the things I remember most was the community we built,” he said. “It’s new friends, new experiences. It was honestly life-changing.”
That summer at TYA, Lee began to discern a call to ministry. He currently serves as associate youth director at League City UMC, where he also leads college ministry and serves as audio visual coordinator.
Lee now refers students to TYA. He looks for leaders – and for individuals who thirst for a greater knowledge of the Bible and faith. “The ones who are looking for something deeper, TYA would be good for them,” he said. “I would definitely recommend it.”
Rev. Eleanor Colvin, Senior Pastor at Westbury UMC in Houston, co-directs TYA with Eddie Erwin, Director of Student Ministry at Wildwood UMC.
Colvin was serving as the Texas Annual Conference’ Director of Communications when TYA first formed. She went to the program to write a story. “I literally fell in love,” she said.
Colvin returned as a teaching artist leading poetry workshops, as a mentor and as a preacher. “I’ve stayed as engaged as I could,” she said. “I honestly think it’s one of the best ministries in the Annual Conference.”
Students have space to ask questions, to explore worship, art and outreach during TYA, Colvin explained. “They are getting deep theological grounding,” she said.
The pastor explained that students might discern a call to pastoral ministry during the two-week experience – or they might find a tug to use their gifts for God’s glory in a whole different way.
“It’s a misconception that TYA is designed only for future clergy or for those who already feel a calling,” she said.
The program is equally beneficial to future lay leaders, Colvin added. “And the lay component is so important for the life of the church,” she said. “It’s not necessary to already experience a call to ministry, because God is always calling all of us.”
The sessions are held at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Courses are led by professors from the seminary, giving students a front row seat in what campus life would be like.
The days in TYA are spent in worship, prayer and discipleship. Afternoons are often dedicated to local service projects. Students share their ideas and meet other youth with similar callings.
Colvin explained that TYA is not for everyone. “It’s not a traditional camp,” she said. “It’s for youth entering 11th and 12th grade who have a deep commitment to growing in faith – and in digging into what God is calling them to do.”
TYA is an investment in the future of the church, Colvin said. “It’s that initial gateway for emerging leaders, a first step towards a life in ministry,” she said. “It’s worthwhile for anyone who wants to explore faith deeply and listen intently to God’s call.”
Eddie Erwin directed a number of students to TYA, when he previously served as Director of Youth and Young Adults for the TAC. He also helped youth apply their experience afterwards. “We had a lot of great success,” he said. “Their eyes were opened to ministry.”
He continues to refer students to the program now that he serves Wildwood UMC – and was eager to serve as co-director of TYA with Colvin.
Erwin explained that the program allows students to build meaningful relationships with their mentors and professors. Youth also benefit from meeting others who share their passion for faith – from all over the Conference. “It’s such a unique community,” he said. ‘It’s fun to see the growth of each individual class. They make it their own and continue to develop ministry together.” Erwin continued, “There really isn’t anything like it. It’s life-changing – and life-affirming in their faith journey.”
Applications for TYA 2023 are due on Sunday, March 26.
For more information Click Here!