Hope College’s summertime Awakening faith-formation program for high school students has been so meaningful to its participants that several have enrolled repeatedly since it began four years ago.
Thanks to a new grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., Awakening will continue to have an impact for another five years. The program, which was established in 2016 through a previous grant from Lilly Endowment, has received a new matching grant of $250,000 through Lilly Endowment’s Theology Institutes for High School Youth at Colleges and Universities initiative. If matching donations are received by Hope College over the next five years, the grant will sustain Awakening from 2020 through 2024.
Running for an intense week each June, the residential institute serves students who will be entering ninth through 12th grade in the fall following their participation. The program is designed to deepen their faith formation and understanding of Christian theology, providing an opportunity for them to develop their artistic gifts for worship, their passion for God and their understanding of their calling or purpose.
The participants study Scripture, worship traditions and musical expressions, and cultivate their skills in worship arts — art, dance, music, preaching, songwriting, technology (sound) and planning. The students visit multiple area churches to learn about a variety of worship traditions and styles. In addition, they engage with Hope faculty, staff and student-mentors, regional clergy and recognized national and international worship leaders, to better understand the complexities of theological pursuit as they discern their own vocations to serve others. At week’s end, the students apply what they’ve learned, working in teams to present worship services of their own design in the college’s Dimnent Memorial Chapel.
The institute hires faculty from Hope’s Department of Music; members of the college’s Campus Ministries team; and worship leaders, area pastors and lay leaders to teach classes and lessons in preaching, playing any sort of instrument, visual art, dance, drama and technology. In addition, 15 college interns are paid for two weeks of the summer to be trained and then work with the high school students during the week as counselors and spiritual and worship advisors.
A total of 115 different high school students from eight states have participated in Awakening since the program began, with the initial cohort of 20 growing to about 55 during each of the past two years. Forty-five of the students have attended two times or more. Some, having enrolled at Hope after graduating from high school, have even returned to serve as the program’s mentor-interns.
“I think it is a great way to grow closer to God and other people that also love God,” one student wrote in a follow-up survey. “It gives you a better understanding of your calling.”
“I love this camp. This was my third year,” another wrote. “The first year changed my life and it continued to be changed every year.”
Awakening’s founding director, James DeBoer, notes that for some of the students the experience reveals or reinforces full-time service in ministry as a vocational choice — whether as pastor, music director, youth leader or in another capacity. But the larger message, he said, is that there’s a role for everyone.
“Awakening students learn that this could potentially be a career for them,” said DeBoer, who has served for decades in K-12 music education and throughout his career in several churches, and is currently an adjunct associate professor of music at Hope. “But even if it doesn’t become a career, students learn the value of the Church and how their contribution will make a difference as a volunteer or staff member.”
The Awakening institute at Hope has also produced materials for student learning, growth and assistance with specific congregational needs in worship. “The Six Pegs of a Worship Leader” was released in 2018, and at the close of 2019 the institute will print “Songwriting for Worship,” a 64-page manual about writing worship songs for the church. These manuals on worship were produced through a smaller grant from the Lilly “Youth Theology Institute” and a partnership with Campus Ministries and edited by Bruce Benedict, Hope’s chaplain of worship arts.
This year’s program will run Sunday-Friday, June 7-12. Students who are interested in attending, or anyone who would like to learn more about the program, can find additional information, including a video, podcasts and contact information, at hope.edu/awakening.
Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.
The Endowment’s initial, foundational grant to Awakening at Hope was for $500,000, and was among their awards to colleges and universities around the country that were establishing programs to encourage young people to explore Christian leadership and service. The new award to support Awakening’s continuation is a matching grant for which Awakening is in the process of seeking an additional $250,000 from other sources.