Jill Carr is the youth minister at White Oak Pond Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Mo. This is her story of how she came to be a CYMT graduate resident.
Growing up on a farm and the youngest of three, our family lifestyle consisted of school, work, farm work, and church. The only social life we had was through the church. If the church doors were open, we were there working, leading, and participating. I made my profession of faith in Jesus Christ at a Vacation Bible School closing ceremonies when I was eight. My church family has always been a critical and integral part of my life. As I reflect on my life and my faith, I cannot separate the two. My identity is my faith and my faith is my identity.
While serving as staff at a summer youth camp, God called me to youth ministry. That was 20 years ago, and this May, I’ll complete my Master of Arts in Youth Ministry through Memphis Theological Seminary (MTS) and the Center for Youth Ministry Training’s graduate residency program.
The journey to CYMT for me was a long one. I previously worked as an assistant controller for a worldwide, multi-million dollar manufacturing company and had already earned a BS in Finance and an MBA. I began searching my heart and researching my options to attend seminary. As a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination, I started with Memphis Theological Seminary since it is a Cumberland Presbyterian school; however, because my husband is involved with his family’s business, we could not relocate and the commute to Memphis is a six-hour drive. The only seminary within commuting distance for me didn’t offer a degree in Youth Ministry or Christian Education, and differed theologically in more ways than I could reconcile within my heart. I decided to wait and be open to God’s callings to serve in the church. I began working with the youth in my local congregation, was ordained as elder, became active in leadership roles in my presbytery and denomination, and continued working in camps and conferences at all judicatory levels. I completed the Certificate in Youth & Theology through the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary and continued to explore other educational opportunities and off-campus degree programs. Six years later I quit full time work in finance to stay at home with my then-two-year-old daughter and to seize any opportunity available to work in youth ministry.
Finally, I discovered the CYMT program in 2009 when Dr. Jay Earheart-Brown, President of MTS, shared MTS news with the Ministry Council of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, on which I serve as a board member. It was exciting to finally find a program that concentrated in youth ministry and one in which I could participate from home. I began the CYMT program in the fall of 2010 in pursuit of my MA in Youth Ministry.
The church I serve, White Oak Pond Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is a rural church located in Lebanon, Mo., a small town in Southwest Missouri. iLIFE (I’m Linked in for Eternity, taken from Titus 3:4-7) is the youth ministry of this congregation and includes youth grades six through 12. With 28 active youth, about half are members of the congregation and the remaining youth are members of other, even smaller area churches who do not offer youth programs. We are a mix of Cumberland Presbyterians, United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Freewill Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Church of God.
Last summer, two siblings from iLIFE brought two friends with them to church, a brother and a sister. These new youth have faced extreme challenges, both emotionally and physically. They were abused by a family member for three years. Their father left them a year ago and remarried quickly. His only contact with them is attempts to get them to drop their abuse case. Their daily life is a struggle from maintaining their health, to dealing with finances, to going out in public and attending school, to simply living. Our group has been blessed by their presence. They learned to trust the youth and adult leaders. They have been welcomed by each and every iLIFE youth—included without reservation. They participate in all our activities, wherever we go, and not one youth is embarrassed or treats them with exclusivity. Conversely, we have learned and are continuing to learn much about challenges and hurts that face others in their daily lives and what our response to those situations should be.
CYMT has changed my life and helped me better fulfill my call. It’s nearly impossible to identify specific ways because as I’ve learned, grown, and changed, so has every part of my ministry. As I have been filled, formed, and transformed, my ministry has greater purpose, more depth and increased breadth.
Through the cohort of CYMT, I’ve gained deep friendships, a network of colleagues, and resources into whom I can tap for homework questions or advice for curriculum selection, event planning suggestions, any type of ministry “how should I…,” to prayer requests for my youth or myself. These resources cannot be found in a traditional seminary setting.
Jill Carr is married to her high school sweetheart, G.T. They have a daughter, Allison, who is a junior in high school and active in the youth program at White Oak Pond CPC.
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.