On June 14-20, 2015, 50 students, staff, and youth ministry fellows gathered for the 15th Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation. The 2015 DYA cohort was incredibly diverse. Students came from Connecticut, California, China and many places in between. 44% of the students came from non-white racial and ethnic backgrounds. We had Catholics and Pentecostals, Methodists and Baptists, Presbyterians and non-denominational students.
Before residency, we carefully selected faculty lecturers, Living Theology workshop leaders, and worship preachers and celebrants so that every student could experience something that felt like “home” and something that felt disorienting.
We knew early in the week that we had, yet again, an incredibly talented, bright, and engaged group of young people in our community. They rushed professors after lectures, ran mentor group late, and sang their hearts out in worship.We held fast to the rhythms of DYA: a day booked ended with Morning Prayer and evening worship, rigorous morning plenaries, engaging afternoon workshops, delicious food, and nighttime reflection groups.
On Wednesday, like many around the country, we were stunned into silence by the news of Dylann Roof’s horrific crime in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. On Thursday, Pastor Julian Pridgen led us in a solemn morning prayer full of tears, anger, and lament.
This was not DYA-as-usual. And yet it was. We kept the schedule, but instead of the jubilant tone of eschatological hope that fills the last days of DYA, we lamented and lit nine candles and prayed that light would fill the darkness. Our mentors guided our students to not avert their eyes, but to speak to God and to each other honestly about the evils of racism and other systemically oppressive forces.
The pattern of DYA life forced us to listen to God and each other in different ways—in worship, in reflection, in prayer, in song, in silence. In listening carefully to each other, we bonded together in rich and deep ways. As we move forward into our year of mentorship, our experience at residency of community lamenting and hoping together frames our conversations, student’s Practices Projects and the way each of us lives out our baptisms.