If you have attended one of the Center for Youth Ministry Training’s graduate residency intensive retreats in the past three years, you know the importance of comradery to this group. Eating and studying together is not just eating and studying with them, but community and connection.  
The connections formed through CYMT’s Graduate Residency program are vital aspects of the resident training and development process. The opportunities to connect in an organic, spirit-led fashion, point to CYMT’s efforts to offer more than a traditional seminary experience. 
Olivia Keffer and Makenzie Knowlden are amongst the 21 residents who will be graduating as members of the Class of 2022, and they said that their friendship has played a major role in what has gotten them (almost) to graduation day. 
“On our second intensive weekend in 2019, Mak told me she liked my shoes, and we [have been] inseparable ever since,” Keffer said.
“I think I basically just picked out Olivia and decided we were going to be friends,” Knowlden said. “Meeting Liv felt like confirmation that I belonged in the program. We’re so similar. From the beginning, she gave me full permission to be myself and I never felt like I had to hold back… She’s heard some of my deepest frustrations, biggest questions, and most intense feelings about ministry. She affirmed my call, held me accountable, and encouraged me.”
Knowlden said she and Keffer naturally have had questions about their faith and ministry, but that they have helped each other work them through as they went. 
“I think we both held each other up when we wanted to quit school, when work got hard and stressful, and we got to celebrate the joys of our personal and professional lives,” Keffer said. 
During their three years at CYMT, Keffer was placed in Nashville, TN at Calvary United Methodist Church (Calvary UMC), and Knowlden in Florence, AL at Florence United Methodist Church (FUMC). 
“Although we don’t live in the same city…we immediately connected during intensive class weekends, and made me look forward to classes every month because I knew I would see Mak,” Keffer said. 
Knowlden said that they are affectionately called “Liv and Mak” by their peers. “Or ‘Mak and Liv,’ depending on who you ask.”
Knowlden said that as much as they have bonded over things like Just Dance, Webkinz, or planning CYMT’s first prom, “we bonded over our faith too. I think that’s what makes our friendship different from other friendships. Liv is really honest about where she is in her faith, and it allows me to do the same. I never have to pretend I’m doing better than I am spiritually–she handles the highs and lows really well.” 
“[Mak] intimately understands the challenges of my job as it is her job too. We’re able to discuss aspects of our ministry, our faith, and how we are struggling with theological topics,” Keffer said. 
“Throughout our friendship, Liv has consistently re-affirmed my call to ministry and named where God is at work in my life when I couldn’t always see it myself,” Knowlden said. 
“I know that Mak sees me not only as a friend, but as a true sister in Christ doing ministry together. This is the epitome of Christian friendship and relationship; we are able to be intensely connected because of our Creator,” Keffer said. 
Whether “Liv and Mak” or “Mak and Liv,” we at CYMT can all appreciate the deep bond these two have formed, as well as the window into the relationship development aspect of CYMT’s Graduate Residency program.