Spiritual Journey Draws High School Students to IWU Campus

Indiana Wesleyan University will welcome more than 22,000 visitors to its Marion campus this summer, but none on a more important mission than 21 high school students who will spend two weeks exploring spiritual matters and discerning if they feel a vocational call to ministry.

The students will form the inaugural class of Examen, a summer program funded by a $599,111 grant IWU received in January from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. The students will live on the IWU campus from June 18-July 2.

The students, most of them high school juniors and seniors, were drawn from throughout the country after the program first was announced in December at an international youth conference, sponsored by The Wesleyan Church.

Forty percent of the participants are racially diverse and are split almost evenly between boys and girls. “All of these students have expressed an interest in discerning whether they might be called to full-time ministry,” said Dr. Amanda Drury.

Drury, an Associate Professor of Practical Theology at IWU, wrote the grant proposal and will serve as director of the program. She earned a bachelor’s degree from IWU in 2004 and now has master’s and doctoral degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The 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 students also will earn three hours of college credit in biblical studies.

“My hopes for Examen are twofold: first, that we would be able to create an environment where women and men can explore whether they might be called into ministry. And second, that we would be able to model to these teenagers what healthy self-care looks like,” Drury said.

Drury and other IWU faculty members will lead the high school students through the study of scripture and pivotal theological texts.

“The students also will enter into daily times of discernment via the Ignatius Examen,” Drury said. The term refers to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, a set of Christian meditations, prayers and mental exercises, written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th-century Spanish priest and theologian.

In addition, the program will include service projects and hands-on ministry, examine the moral and ethical dimensions of contemporary issues and discuss religious practices, including prayer, contemplation and worship.

“While Lilly Endowment is funding the program for four years, we already are addressing questions of sustainability so that the program can continue well into the future,” Drury said.

Lilly Endowment, as part of its High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, is giving $44.5 million in grants to a select group of private, four-year colleges and universities around the nation. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in the church and society.

“Young people today want to make a difference,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “These programs will connect them to faculty and religious leaders who will help them explore that longing by drawing more deeply on scripture and theology as they make decisions about their futures.”

Learn more about Examen!

Written by Alan Miller