Youth and adults from 11 churches came to Fisk University in downtown Nashville where their world would Collide with God. Throughout the week their preconceived notions of people would Collide with God’s love for those people. The questions that they have always wanted to ask about who God is and the world would rise to the service as they encountered poverty, injustice, and spent time nurturing creation.
Collide Summer Immersion was the culmination of the second year of the Center for Youth Ministry Training’s Theology Together grant from the Lilly Foundation. The 140 youth and adults who participated spent the week doing, discovering, thinking, and growing.
Collide was neither a mission trip nor a camp; it was something new. We began and closed each day in worship and prayer, serving at ministries in the greater Nashville area throughout the day. This year, we explored theological topics around science and faith so many of our service projects involved creation. We served and worshiped with 300 Nashville’s homeless under the Bridge. We worked in the community gardens at Franklin FUMC’s Giving Garden and Trevecca’s Urban Farm. We did beautification projects at the Martha O’Bryan Center, Radnor Lake, and at 61st Avenue United Methodist Church. We were present with the elderly at Fifty Forward and McKendree Village. We were moved by the stories of Thistle Farms and the Cookery. We provided support for those in need with the Society of St. Andrew’s, Thriftsmart, Feed America First, and Community Cares Fellowship. We prayed over the city while we shared lunch with the needy. We questioned why things are the way they are and all of these things opened us up to encounter God.
After serving each day, youth and adults participated in theology talks. We invited three theologians-in-residence to participate in the week. They were asked to prepare a TED-style talk on specific theological issues. Andrew Zirschky shared with youth the benefit of doubt and faith beyond technology. Aram Bae shared about how God can vocationally use your science and math, and she talked about why creation matters. Tom Oord helped us explore why faith matters to science and why science matters to faith.
After each theology talk, youth participated in theological reflection in discussion groups where they processed their experiences from the day and from the theology talk. Throughout the week, youth engaged in deep theological reflection as Collide created space and openness to questions.
Emerson Schmidt, who attends St. David’s Episcopal Church, reflected on the experience:
At Collide, I learned so much about Nashville and the Nashville community. I had no idea that so many people needed our help. I have lived in Nashville for most of my life. I learned about caring for the community and the people in it. The people we helped have so little, but they are so very grateful. I don’t take my life for granted anymore after this Collide experience. It is incredible how all these people came together to help the community. It was also incredible how those in need sing along with the songs that everybody sings about Christ. One theme of the week was that we are all here for a reason and everyone has a calling. Everyone has a purpose. Collide was a busy, fun, and thoughtful week. I am thankful for my life, and I will try my best to volunteer in the community SO much more.
Mindy Oldham, a parent and volunteer from Grace UMC, had the following to say about her experience:
I leave this week changed—reconsidering how God would have me share about my personal struggles and doubts, what are other ways I can impact the needs I saw this week, grateful for the time with my son, our Grace youth, and the people and experiences of this week.
Do. Discover. Think. Grow. is Collide’s bold mission. We did all these things while tuning our hearts to God’s presence and action in the world and our lives.
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.