Pictured above L to R are CYMT graduate residents Derek Walker, Leigh DeVries (alumna), Dwight Johnson, and Connor McCracken.
Connor McCracken, CYMT graduate resident from Northern Ireland, is completing his second year in the CYMT program. We sat down with him to talk about his experience so far.
How did you learn about CYMT?
I heard about CYMT through a good friend of mine, Neal Wilkinson, an alumnus of the program. During my last semester of undergrad I was feeling led to apply for internships in youth ministry. I decided that I would apply to CYMT expecting not to get in. I thought that they would have better and more experienced applicants. To my surprise I was accepted into the program and after I hung up with Deech, my stomach instantly knotted up and doubts began to creep in. I’d just agreed to move to another country to do youth ministry? How was I going to tell my parents?
Tell us about your placement.
I was placed as the youth minister at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, and it took me a couple of weeks to learn how to pronounce the word “Episcopal.” It is a small parish set on a hill in the middle of the West Meade area of Nashville. It is a wonderful job and a great environment to work in.
St. David’s partnered with CYMT because while they had a thriving children’s ministry, once the kids graduated from elementary school, the church had no programs in place to keep those young people and families engaged through middle and high school.
I work with young people from fifth grade through twelfth grade, running Sunday School, monthly group activities, and meeting up with the kids for coffee, treats, or afternoon activities.
Share with us some of the challenges and opportunities that working and studying in the United States provides.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced over the last year is how to balance school work with church work. Time management is not one of my gifts, and it has been put to the test this year. I am also not a big reader, so having tons of reading to do for school every week is a challenge.
Having said that, I am so glad that I have this opportunity that CYMT provides, to not just study the theory behind youth ministry but to actually get my feet wet in the practical work of youth ministry, although at times it feels like you’ve been thrown in the deep end! Seeing a different part of the world, different scenery, and a different culture is also an opportunity that I am so thankful to have.
How has CYMT impacted your ministry?
I had applied for other internships at churches in Northern Ireland when I applied at CYMT. I was seriously considering one option, and I felt like I could have done a great job at that church. However, I believe that the learning curve would have been more severe, and I would have made many more mistakes and gotten a lot more gray hairs. CYMT provides a coach, an experienced youth minister, to help you through the hard-to-navigate situations so you don’t make quite as many mistakes in learning the ropes of youth ministry. Also in the program you have a cohort of graduate residents who journey with one another through the same challenges. They are people to whom I turn regularly.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I was brought up Presbyterian, and when I went to University, I attended a Charismatic Anglican church. St. David’s is a church that I, given the choice, would not have picked looking at it on paper. But now I love St. David’s. I love the congregation, and I love the young people. This church loves, encourages, and supports me, and I have experienced God through this congregation like I have in no other place. It hasn’t come without its challenges, but I am so thankful that I was placed in this unexpectedly wonderful church.
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.