So, What is Texas Youth Academy?

Date Posted: 7/23/2015

Is it a class, conference, or camp? Attendees and mentors may struggle with the exact words to describe it – but agree that this summer experience is life changing for all ages involved.

In just the first week – alone -- of the 2015 Texas Youth Academy at Southwest University in Georgetown, Texas participants explored the meaning of baptism and covenant, creation, incarnation and the passion. Mentor Erin Sloan Jackson, one of more than a dozen adults attending, says, “The Texas Youth Academy July 5-18 is a unique experience. Collectively we are trying to figure out how to explain to people who have never been exactly what this experience includes.” She adds, “It has been described as theology camp, but it is much more than that as we spend two weeks in intentional community working on our spiritual formation, learning about our faith, building relationships -- so much more.”

Erin overheard one student aptly summarize the impact this way, “It’s like I’ve heard about faith my entire life, but now I get to understand the rest of the iceberg below the surface.” According to Erin,  what makes this experience special “is the almost monastic rhythm of the day.” She explains, “We begin our days early, meeting at 7:15 a.m. to walk together to the chapel for morning prayer, which gives us the chance to begin with a clean slate and we spend time each morning in intercessory prayer for our world and Church, its leaders, the local community and for the hurting.”
She says that the rhythm of the day moves through breakfast, plenary, worship planning, lunch, rest, arts village or mission, free time, dinner, free time, worship, small groups, free time and bedtime. Explains Erin, “The times marked as free are often just as important for processing and connecting as the more structured times. Like a music composition, the pauses and the silences are often as impactful as the notes. Every weekday here begins and ends in prayer. The beauty of the rhythm is that it honors the rhythm of the Creator, allowing us to experience the holy dance that is the Christian life.”
TAC Congregational Excellence Center Director Dr. Jesse Brannan attended for the first time and observed the 29 students and the adults in attendance walk together in a journey of discovery and faith for two weeks in a variety of venues of worship, through opportunities to serve, and lively interactivity. Explains Jesse, “The Texas Youth Academy (TYA), is a ministry of the Center for Congregational Excellence and is headed up this year by Rev. Thera Freeman, who has been assigned to the Elkhart/Slocum Charge in the Northwest District.  The new Annual Conference Director of Youth and Young Adults, Mr. Eddie Erwin, will follow Thera in this role, beginning in August.
During Eddie’s visit to TYA, he was re-inspired to help make “the Texas Youth Academy continue to strive towards creating excellent young leaders for The United Methodist Church,” he says. “Churches that don’t have youth to send to TYA, can participate by donating to the TAC’s Emerging Leaders Initiative.” 

Student Katia Pena shares, “My wow moment was realizing what I can do with my hands. I love being able to express myself through the arts village.” Adds Katie, “If I was recruiting another student to attend TYA, I would need to talk to them in person because I need a lot of time. I would tell them they would have a drastic change in their life with God from day one to the last day --because you are always exposed to prayer and you are able to say what you feel and think and ask questions anytime.”  Participant Jacob (Tru) Furr says, “My wow moment was experiencing church under the bridge.  It was great seeing people from all walks of life coming together in one spot to worship.  I would tell other students if they are interested in learning why we are Methodists, TYA is a great place to come.  I’ve enjoyed all the plenaries, the study groups and meeting with different theologians during the two weeks.”
Jonathan Terry thrived with the camaraderie.  “Our first meeting was so inspirational and we connected instantly” he shares. “I feel that we have connected as a family and I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want it to end.” Student Rachel Gillock enjoyed being stretched. “At church under the bridge I enjoyed talking to someone I would never imagine myself talking to and seeing a side of myself I would never have seen if not nudged into going. At first I was uneasy but as I began talking to the people I felt comfortable and I began to understand them.”

Center for Congregational Excellence Administrative Assistant Marylyn Green attended TYA for the second time.  “Watching the 2015 TYA youth interact with one another was like looking at one big happy family,” she shares. “I attended the worship service on Thursday evening and found it amazing to see how the youth organized and lead the worship service. I can actually imagine them in our United Methodist churches someday in the future conducting an entire worship service.” Adds Marylyn, “I also sat in on the chat and plenary sessions with Bishop Huie and I listened to the youth share with the Bishop about their experiences sharing with people from all walks of life while worshipping under the bridge. It is wonderful to see what our youth of today can learn and experience in two weeks’ time with people they have never met before.  I am hoping that the Texas Youth Academy continues in the years to come and expands to invite more youth.”