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Lux Summer Institute for Youth creates a ‘beautiful mosaic’

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Being different from one another is not a negative. That was a lesson that participants in Monmouth College’s second annual Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth learned and came to embrace.

“Through relationships, conversation, growing together and learning together, we have seen our differences,” wrote one student in her reflection at the completion of the two-week July experience. “Perhaps we have seen pieces of each other that we never thought could work in harmony. Somehow, by being forced together, we’ve banished any semblance of discord and, instead, with our differently shaped and colored beliefs, we’ve created a beautiful mosaic that represents our purpose here: to make the world a better, healthier, safer, more diverse and stable place.”

Monmouth Associate Chaplain and Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth Director Jessica Hawkinson also saw that mosaic.

“You learn to interact with people who have a different opinion than you,” said Hawkinson. “They really love each other after two weeks. They’re confident in their differences, but they can sit around the dining room table and have a great time.”

Loyal to Lux

Hawkinson and her staff welcomed 17 high school students from seven states – the same numbers in both categories as the inaugural institute last year. About half of the students also attended last year.

“This is my second year participating in this wonderful program, and I love it,” wrote one. “I came back to Lux this year because of the friendships I cultivated last year and because the things I learned impacted me and will continue to impact me for the rest of my life.”

With that type of commitment to the College, it’s not surprising that some of the participants will eventually enroll at Monmouth. Hawkinson said that’s already the case, as the incoming Class of 2022 features a Lux alum, and she expects three more to apply to the College this year.

Funded by a gift from Lilly Endowment, the institute’s is designed to nurture and equip students to be servant leaders who are spiritually enlightened, globally engaged, socially responsible and vocationally driven so that they can meet the challenges of church and religious leadership. This year’s theme was “Caring for God’s Creation: Thinking Theologically About Ecology and Justice.”

An interdisciplinary experience

“We did what Monmouth is good at,” said Hawkinson, listing several disciplines to which the youth were exposed. “We engaged all the different parts of their brain.”

That included working in ceramics, learning about beekeeping, viewing Saturn’s rings through the Trubeck Telescope in the College’s Adolphson Observatory and learning improvisational comedy techniques from the institute’s recreation director, 2017 Monmouth graduate Johnny Williams.

Another alumnus, the Rev. Brandon Ouellette ’14, who is the new pastor at Monmouth’s Faith United Presbyterian Church, served as the institute’s pastor.

“The institute introduces students to the connection between faith and knowledge,” said Hawkinson. “It helps them learn how to think critically and engage with big topics relevant to their faith and issues that are facing the world.”

She said they the students also learn the difference between a summer camp and an institute.

“You have to work harder at an institute,” said Hawkinson. “I’m delighted by the fact that high school students are excited about and capable of theological reflection. They are a vibrant voice, and the church needs faithful people thinking deeply and thoughtfully about these issues.”

Student testimonials

“Lux has challenged my habitual stagnancy in terms of progressing academically and socially, leading me into a deeper curiosity and craving for broader perspectives,” wrote one student. “Not only have I been inspired to deepen my understanding of ecology and environmental justice, I have also been taught practical skills in engaging and confronting intimidating circumstances, as well as developing awareness for the trials and turbulence that marginalized communities are forced to overcome.”

Added another: “I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned to make a difference in my community and in the world. One thing that has really stuck with me is the interdependence of creation. Before I came here, I hadn’t realized how much we all need each other. Now I really understand my responsibility to do as much as I can.”

This year’s institute was the second of a three-year commitment by Lilly Endowment. Monmouth’s chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott, and others are hard at work building relationships and gaining support to make the institute financially sustainable beyond 2019, when the theme will be “A Place at the Table: Thinking Theologically About Hunger and Poverty.” The institute will be held June 16-30.

“We’ve been through two years now,” said Hawkinson. “We know the institute is a success. What we have here is something special. Experiences like this are few and far between.”