Editor’s Note: Maria Ghianni is in her second year in the CYMT graduate residency program, and she serves as the youth director at Carthage FUMC in Carthage, Tenn.
I was born and raised in Nashville and I grew up in the youth group at Calvary UMC. Kris Lott was my youth director and he was in the inaugural class of CYMT when I first heard my initial call to youth ministry. I majored in religion at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn. and I knew that I would apply to CYMT after graduation. An overseas mission trip the summer after graduation helped solidify my plans, and my placement at Carthage UMC has God’s fingerprints all over it.
CYMT has been a good challenge. I started the program not really knowing who I was as a leader or minister. It was nerve-wracking to walk into a roomful of teenagers and have command over the room, though I’m not sure the “command” aspect immediately took full effect! Through my coaching with Lesleigh Carmichael and with the support of my cohort, I have found myself growing into my role as youth minister and leader. I have learned so much about practical theology as well as my own theological outlook and understanding.
My ministry at Carthage has been great and the church is amazingly supportive of me and our youth ministry. They are genuinely interested in what the youth are doing and actively seek them out; it’s wonderful to be part of a church that truly cares about the youth. Our youth group has welcomed many new members, and I don’t believe that we would grow without the love our youth show to the newcomers.
My biggest challenge thus far has been staying motivated personally. It is so easy to get stuck in a rut, especially in the isolating stages of moving to a small town in a new job with a whole lot of responsibilities. Sometimes it is easy to just say, “I’m not doing anything” rather than to wade through all that is overwhelming you physically and emotionally. However, I have leaned on my cohort through this lack of motivation because it’s nice to know you aren’t alone. Knowing there are others struggling alongside you can be motivation in itself.
Our youth ministry has blossomed from five to 10 regular members to more than 30, plus 10 or so who come now and then! CYMT has helped me realize my appreciation for outreach: more than half of the members of our youth group attend another church. They come to our youth group because we provide a place where they are loved and treated as young adults who are truly able to affect our world. CYMT has shown me how to do practical theology; more importantly, CYMT has allowed me the opportunity to reach a community that needed to feel my passion for youth and their world.
The best thing about CYMT is definitely my coach, Lesleigh. She has allowed me to open up and be myself all while leading me down the right path. One of my favorite parts of my week is walking into her office on Friday morning and sharing my week with her. She is so supportive and so motivating, and I feel so grateful for her. It’s not easy for me to share my heart with others, but I am able to connect with Lesleigh as a mentor and friend. She understands and empathizes with me while pushing me to be the youth minster and person she knows I can be.
I know that God has placed me where I am. Sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s downright confusing. However, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Lesleigh says of Maria, “One of the things I love about coaching is that just like each church, each resident is also unique in his or her style of ministry and personality. A year and a half ago Maria walked into her church in the small town of Carthage and infused the climate of the congregation and the community with her infectious spirit. She started with eight or so youth and in less than a year has more than tripled the size of the group. While ministry is not all about numbers, it is about creating a space where all who want a place at the table feel welcomed to come. Maria has created that atmosphere in a community hungry for a place to come and be fed. Many of the youth are from the community and they come seeking a place to belong; it’s no surprise they found it with Maria. One of the greatest gifts youth pastors can give to the youth they serve is a feeling that they are welcome no matter what, and Maria lives out that call beautifully.”
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.