Educating imaginative, resilient leaders for God's changing world.

A Calling Restored; a Passion Rekindled

by Katy Walters

Katy Walters and Jenn Morganthal

Katy Walters is a first year M.DIV student at the seminary. She recently completed the Youth Ministry Leadership Initiative (YMLI) course of study, receiving a Certificate in Youth Ministry Leadership on April 14, 2012 along with 11 others. In her own words, Katy tells the story of her call to youth ministry, to begin the YMLI program, and to pursue ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

I first heard of YMLI while admiring a nicely framed certificate in the office of my supervisor, associate pastor Jeremy Wilhelmi (CTS M.Div., 2007). The certificate said something like “Jeremy Wilhelmi has been certified through the Youth Ministry Leadership Initiative.” Never being one to shy away from questions, I asked Jeremy, “does this mean you are certified to work with youth?” While I have forgotten his exact response, I know that seeing that certificate and asking that question redirected my vocational path.

I had sworn off working in Youth Ministry a few years before. My fire for youth ministry had burned out. But a phone call from the pastor of my home church inviting me to return to youth ministry seemed to strike something within me. I tried to deny it. But I did not like where I was working at the time. I knew how much I missed working, teaching, learning, and serving alongside the amazing youth of the church. So here I was, serving God – through a pastor’s phone call - as Middle School Youth Director. Perhaps being in Jeremy’s office that morning was of itself an act of God.

Jeremy encouraged me to enroll in the YMLI program for part of my continuing education. He may or may not have mentioned that Dr. Rodger Nishioka would be leading the first class. I had seen Rodger’s leadership in action at a Middle School conference at Mo-Ranch and I was sold! With financial aid provided by Lifelong Learning, a continuing education budget to pay for my plane ticket, and a blessing from the youth committee, I headed to CTS for the Beginning Retreat.

That weekend ignited something within me I hadn’t felt in years. The conversations, frustrations, meals, laughs and tears that we shared united us in a way I had never imagined. We shared our call stories, and in sharing mine, I found that a call that had once seemed broken and of little value was restored and affirmed. I discovered a group of colleagues that shared my passion for the church, love for youth ministry, commitment to serve the church that had nurtured us and who loved all the awesomeness and awkwardness that the youth with whom we work have to offer.

After each course I returned home full of hope, joy, and with a new passion and vision for my ministry. The eight courses in the YMLI series created time and space for us to gain a deeper understanding of the call to youth ministry and in doing so, a practical knowledge of how to work within the church to create theologically sound, enjoyable, innovative ministries for youth. I felt better prepared to lead devotionals, create bible studies, listen to students, think theologically and navigate the committee work that comes with Presbyterian polity. I networked with people who shared their resources and ideas.

That spark ignited at YMLI kept burning, and would not go out. I found myself thinking of going beyond the certification process to actually attending seminary. So a year later, I once again found myself in Jeremy’s office, where we talked at great length about my fears, anxieties and sadness about leaving the church that had nurtured me in so many way, the youth I had come to love so deeply, and the place I had called home for so long. We also talked about calling, and the courage and faith it takes to answer when God calls.

I never would have thought a simple conversation about a certificate hanging in on a wall would lead to my enrollment at Columbia Theological Seminary. But here I am, pursuing a call to youth ministry, a call once quenched, but now reignited in me through the Youth Ministry Leadership Initiative.