Lilly Endowment grant to SWU benefits ministry program for youth

CENTRAL — Southern Wesleyan University received a $316,866 grant to establish the Fellowship of the Called Youth Theology Institute, part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative.

This initiative seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

The Fellowship of the Called Youth Theology Institute at Southern Wesleyan is a 10-day summer intensive institute for high school students that will guide participants: 1) to dive deeply into the Holy Scriptures; 2) to examine within the Wesleyan tradition the social issues and moral challenges of our day; 3) to help students define their unique callings to service, and, in the language of contemporary, ministry-minded youth, help their callings “stick”; and 4) to help these committed youth determine options for full-time engagement in ministry.

The institute’s director is Dr. Roger McKenzie, who serves as professor of religion for youth ministry and spiritual formation and coordinator for outdoor education at SWU.

The Adventure Ministry Track leader is Rev. Stephen Tolan, youth pastor at Kernersville Wesleyan Church in Kernersville, N.C. Tolan has a passion for utilizing adventure experiences to help teens in their faith development.

The Missional Outreach Track leader is Rev. Dave Tolan, missionary with Global Partners and missionary in residence at Southern Wesleyan. Tolan is a career missionary who, before coming to SWU, served for 10 years in Zambia.

The Women in Ministry Track leader is Dr. Mari Gonlag, professor of religion and chair of the Division of Religion. Gonlag leads a center for women in ministry and has been an advocate for women in ministry through multiple venues.

The Worship Ministry Track leaders are Dr. Bob Black, SWU professor of religion, who has led, taught and written on worship and practical theology; Rev. Bob Kerstetter, who serves as director of worship and discipleship for SWU’s Spiritual Life Department; and Rev. Gail Kerstetter, who serves as director of music ministry and outreach in Southern Wesleyan’s Spiritual Life Department.

In addition to these institute faculty, current Southern Wesleyan students will fill leadership roles in each of the four tracks.

The Institute will be held July 5-14 at Southern Wesleyan University and is open to rising high school freshmen through recent high school graduates. Detailed information and online registration is available at

“The university has been offering just such an institute since 2002, though on a smaller scale. The experience gained in that annual endeavor will profoundly enhance the effectiveness of the expanded Institute,” said Dr. Lisa McWherter, Southern Wesleyan’s vice president for advancement.

“With our nearly 110-year heritage of preparing young people to serve as a pastors, missionaries, evangelists, youth workers, church planters, parachurch and Christian organization leaders, the possibilities are almost endless for this program in assisting high school students to follow their call to ministry,” said Dr. Todd Voss, president of SWU. “We are so very thankful to Lilly Endowment for its commitment to investing in the next generation of faith-filled leaders so they can have an impact on the world. We believe this program is exactly what is prescribed to do just that.”

Southern Wesleyan University is one of 82 schools participating in the initiative. The schools are located in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Although some schools are independent, many reflect the religious heritage of their founding traditions.

These traditions include Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian and Reformed churches, as well as historic African-American Christian communities, Roman Catholic, non-denominational and Pentecostal.

“These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.”

The Endowment is giving $44.5 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create the institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.

An additional grant to the Forum for Theological Exploration will establish a program that will bring together leaders of the high school youth theology institutes to foster mutual learning and support.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.

This story courtesy of Southern Wesleyan University.

This story courtesy of Southern Wesleyan University.

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