Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary awarded $1 million grant to help reimagine youth ministry

Lilly Endowment Inc. grant will help young people use art to express their experiences and encounters with God.

Photo by Delila Ziebart on Unsplash

(PNS) — Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary has been awarded a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to reimagine youth ministry through the Sun-Walking Fellowship, which is part of the Endowment’s Strengthening Congregational Ministry with Youth Initiative.

Through this grant, young people will be empowered to use art to express their experiences of and encounters with God in embodied, experiential and emotional ways. The grant defines art very broadly to include works created from old scraps of fabric or torn up newspapers, as a play, as music with instruments, or as works made from common materials collected by the community.

The grant’s approach to youth ministry is that rather than targeting youth for programming that separates them from their faith communities, it invites youth to participate in creative endeavors with people in their faith communities of many different generations. The grant’s creative approaches will honor young people’s humanity and agency, embed them within the ongoing ministry of intergenerational spiritual communities, and embrace their varying abilities and embodiments. Activities of the grant will involve various forms of art-making and relationship building inspired by the ideals and practice of community-engaged art.

The name “Sun-Walking Fellowship” is meant to indicate a community of mutual interest, like artists who are embedded in communities through an artistic residency. “Sun-Walking” was inspired by the famous spiritual experience of Thomas Merton:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world … if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

“Sun-Walking” is a way of being in ministry with others, in connection with their humanity and one’s own, that seeks beauty and God’s action in everyday experiences.

Dr. Marcus Hong

Dr. Marcus Hong, Director of Field Education, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, and Chapel Worship Coordinator at Louisville Seminary, will serve as project director. “Art-making has a way of bringing people together, of reminding us of our shared humanity and dignity, and of evoking deeply passionate engagement from all involved,” says Hong. “I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to explore playful, embodied, and creative ways of inviting youth into the ministry of congregations. Instead of a consumeristic framework of ministry that is marketed to youth, this project hopes to inspire a collaborative, joyful framework of intergenerational ministry in which youth are central players and decision-makers, held within a loving, supportive community.”

“After being approached by the Endowment earlier this year, Marcus conceived of this incredibly creative, inter-generational and communal approach to youth ministry which will be at once engaging and formative,” said the Rev. Dr. Debra J. Mumford, LPTS Dean. “We at Louisville Seminary are blessed to be able to participate in this work which will affirm the many gifts, talents, perspectives and experiences of youth of many different races, ethnicities, gender identities and faith traditions while also building and strengthening their faith.”

by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary