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The Missing Voices Project: Flagler’s Youth Ministry program lands $1 million grant to help youth on the margins

May 12, 2020
by Tonya Creamer

The legacy of the Flagler College Youth Ministry Program is one that begins at the margins. In the early years of the program, Martha Shinn began teaching classes on theology and youth ministry. It can be said that the retired program director’s most impressionable impact on the program was her steady focus on solidarity with people at the margins as an expression of Christian faithfulness.

Youth Ministry team standing together and smiling in front of Markland House.

Fast forward to 2019 and the focus on marginal communities takes new shape in the work of The Missing Voices Project, a two-year innovative grant led by current director of the program, Justin Forbes, and Missing Voices Project Coordinator Mary Scine.

As former students of Shinn, both Forbes, ‘02, and Scine, ‘99, launched her legacy into the future through the receipt of a $1 million grant to work with youth on the margins. The grant seeks to discover innovative expressions of youth ministry reaching people systematically left out by the church and society at-large.

 “There are gifts to be found in people that society has often left overlooked,” Forbes said. “There is a jewel there that needs to be uncovered and brought forth.”

Two other members who make up the grant staff include Caitlyn Posey, ‘16, the project’s assistant coordinator, and Shinn herself, ‘78, who is returning as the congregational liaison between the grant staff and participating congregations.

A grant to uplift overlooked voices

The grant is funded by the Lilly Endowment, an organization whose work is serving the needs of people and communities experiencing growth and change in the areas of religion, education and youth. It focuses on grant-making in support of those causes, having donated $9.9 billion to various organizations over the last 80 years.

The project will involve two years with 12 congregations across the state of Florida participating together to uplift the voices of youth who have been systematically overlooked in society and the church.   

Who are the young people who have been marginalized? Forbes said they come from all walks of life. Some include young teenage mothers, youth with disabilities, LBTGQIA+ young people and those struggling with poverty. The grant rests on the assumption that in recognizing the missing voices of these young people, there is an opportunity to learn from one another in an effort to create beloved communities.

The project coincides with the college’s new Strategic Plan, which calls for creating “concrete ways to be connected and to serve the local community,” which in turn creates an integrated campus and helps students lead transformational lives when they participate in programs hosted by the Youth Ministry program.

With the college’s Strategic Plan and the $1 million grant to back up the concept, this is where the Youth Ministry program hopes it will make an impact. Issues of race and reconciliation, teen parenting, disabilities, foster care, mentorship, and LGBTQIA+ will be at the forefront of the project. The voices of these young people will be heard and learned from in order to foster communities that are welcoming to all.

An intersection of youth ministry and innovation

As one cohort, the 12 participating churches will explore the concepts of innovation intersecting with youth ministry through workshops, events, coaching and immersion trips. In addition, each congregation will be given $10,000 to help them dream, experiment and risk trying new things.

One exciting event the grant will bring to Flagler’s campus is a design thinking retreat hosted by Justin Ferrell, director of the fellowship program at Stanford University’s Design Institute, and Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Kenda Dean, in the spring of 2020. The retreat will lead cohort leaders through the process of “human-centered design thinking” alongside theological reflection as they consider innovative ministry ideas.

The Youth Ministry department is well-known on Flagler's campus for being relationship builders, and that knack for getting people together speaks volumes in Forbes’ mind, as he stressed the need for collaboration and overlap with other campus programming.

Scine said that ultimately the program will bring speakers, workshops and discussions to campus, helping Flagler students with their “spiritual formation and the practical understanding of faith integrated within the community.”

“Our hope is that the presence of these young people will push the broader conversation around Youth Ministry to new places of insight and understanding,” she said.

While the push for innovation to reach and learn from youth at the margins is a good start, the deep hope of the Missing Voices Project is that insights gleaned from this experiment will actually transform what should be considered normative across the discipline of youth ministry for all.

Why youth ministry and innovation? “Love! Love is why we innovate,” said Forbes. “It is the love we have for the young people in our communities that forces us to always reimagine what ministry looks like.”

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