5 Words To Sum Up Summer Seminary
Essential Questions and Answers
At some point in our lives (or at multiple points for many of us) we ask ourselves,
What do I want to be when I grow up?
I’ve answered this question by wrestling with a variety of career choices: “a farmer, a teacher, a filmmaker, an artist, a youth minister,” and settled on a variety of qualities: “kind, generous, grounded, influential.”
The Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Unitarian Universalist Association(UUA) created space for 18 teenagers from across the nation to wrestle with, and perhaps settle on, just such a loaded question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” at Summer Seminary hosted at the Iliff School of Theology.
Students explored their personal call and began to define what role they want to play in Unitarian Universalist ministry to the world. They played music, sang and worshiped together. They preached in the Sunday service at our host congregation, First Universalist Church of Denver. They even had lunch with UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and got to pick his brain.
In workshops and events with youth, we often end our sessions with a one-word summary of our experience as a way to process, distill and share. For the outside of the box thinkers, sometimes they cram their summary into a short phrase, and everyone laughs, “That’s not one word!” “It’s hyphenated!” they say.
I can’t possibly sum up Summer Seminary in one word (even if I hyphenate) so I have 5. Here goes:
As Cas said in his sermon during the preach-off on Saturday night, “When I got off the plane in Denver I thought to myself, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’” That’s not an uncommon gut reaction for folks on their first night of Summer Seminary.
Many students feel kind of like frauds, they think every other attendee knows already that they want to go into the ministry but they’re still flirting with the idea, or maybe they even know they don’t want to become a minister or a religious educator, but they just love their faith so much they had to attend.
Our theme for the week, Certain Uncertainty, hopefully alleviates some of that initial struggle. You don’t have to know today, or by the end of the week, or for a long time what you want to be when you grow up. And even if you are certain now, and meticulously plan your path, inevitably The Great Mystery will intervene and redirect your path at some point.
Summer Seminary is a process of listening deeply to who you’ve always been, stripping away who you’re told to be and becoming who you’re called to become.
On Thursday night, with eyes closed, students first cautiously dipped their toes, and then waded into the envisioned river of our forbearers, the religious leaders who came before, imagining themselves becoming part of the clan. This meditation with Rev. Kiersten Homblette guided students in deeply integrating the teaching that dedicated colleagues are ready to support their journey into the waters of ministry.
Summer Seminary is not only a process of personal becoming, but of understanding your unique role in the becoming of others. On preaching, Rev. Jeannie Shero said, “You’re luring people into their own human experiences…. and then into becoming. And maybe that’s from awesome to super awesome but it’s becoming something.”
Summer Seminary is a ministry of emboldening. In our Faith Formation session, a student commented, “faith is holy trust.” We teach students to have a holy trust: in their voice, in the call they hear and in The Great Mystery urging them on.
Most of our students are going into their senior year of high school or had just graduated, but we had one brave sophomore attend. When I talk about being emboldened, I’m talking about being Eliana. She stood in front of a congregation of 300 at the First Universalist Church of Denver during the Sunday service, emboldened by faith, she dared to proclaim how courageous, unconditional love can transform the world.
I spent quite a bit of time in this state throughout the week…
…and I know many students did too (since I poached this vid from one of their Facebook posts).
As I cuddled with 3 packs of tissues during Saturday night’s Preach-Off, I wondered to myself why I get so emotional at times like this. Is it pride in seeing the fruits of our labor come to fruition in the pulpit? Yea, maybe a little. Is it feeling moved by the spirit in their words and their stories? Yea, maybe a little more. Is it whatever sinks into your soul when you get to witness others break free, spread their wings and proclaim their truth? Yea, that’s definitely it.
Unitarian Universalism is a heart-centered experience for me. I believe that the ways Unitarian Universalist youth minister in their faith is what delivers us from shortsightedness, impoverished spirits and sequestered hearts.
Summer Seminary isn’t just all tissues and soul searching though. Frankly, we had a blast. Whether it was singing spontaneous hymns in the lobby of Nelson Hall on the University of Denver campus, or singing Taylor Swift in the van on our way to Lair O’ the Bear, or singing Gathered Here with Director of Music, John Hubert (wow we did a lot of singing!) we made time for serious play.
As Max said, “The most valuable part of Summer Seminary was being with all those fantastic people who are so passionate about ministry.” Camaraderie is an elemental component to religious professionalism. Being generous with joy is an elemental part of a fulfilling human experience and this year’s students did not hold back.