The EXPLORE experience

High school students from all over the region came to Ohio Wesleyan University for the inaugural EXPLORE Theology Institute in June of 2017. It was a faith filled week full of theology, worship and prayer, service learning and outdoor reflection. Students were able to begin discerning God’s call for each of their lives, individually and together, as disciples and servant leaders of Jesus Christ.
So what were the highlights of our week together? Here are some of our favorites

  • The students learned about Christian servanthood by participating in many different areas of the community. They worked on a farm, served lunch at a soup kitchen, worked in a homeless shelter, assisted at a habitat location, and engaged with members of an elder care facility. These creative and practical Christian service projects touched the lives of real people with real needs and we discovered how much our little part can contribute to a greater whole.
  • Participants bonded in their small groups through thoughtful covenant-making, learning conceptual and practical skills to properly identify and articulate more clearly their thoughts and feelings. They had activities and reflections that gave them opportunities to openly and honestly discuss Jesus Christ’s role in their lives and His greater goal for each of them.
  • Each day students shared in traditional ways of worship and prayer such as lectio divina, examen, song and praise, musical reflection, labyrinth meditation, and the liturgy of the hours. They experience the many ways to connect to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The joy of Christian fellowship was present throughout the week.
  • Daily theological lectures from Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical professors and scholars  lead to enlightening discussions during the week. These classroom sessions encouraged the students to recognize and celebrate their similarities and differences as Christians.
  • Much time was given to the students for quiet reflection and journaling. This time opened them up to the silence of their hearts so that they could go deeper and listen more closely to God’s voice.
  • No good experience is without lots of food, fun and laughter! Each moment was filled with adventure and new beginnings.

Here are some of the comments our EXPLORE Institute high school students wrote when the week was over:

"I learned that I was destined to begin something great. I need to lead a new Christian group at my public high school. The experience I gained from EXPLORE has pushed me to try new things and to develop my faith in new ways"

"Since EXPLORE, I have more appreciation for different types of worship and enjoy experiencing different styles. Since EXPLORE, my faith has become much stronger, even though I thought it was very strong before."

"I have been more open to helping and serving others."

"It was such a wonderful experience, I really loved the equal balance held between the amount of Catholics and Protestants who attended; this helped me in amazing ways and let me see through the perspective of my Protestant brothers and sisters."

"I adored all the supplies and extra kindness the staff offered the attendees (and the snacks were pretty great too!). I loved the opportunity to attend Mass every day. The overall size of the ratio of staff to the attendees was comforting, and the small size of teens in attendance built a strong connection between us."

"I adored the ability to explore (no pun intended) my faith through the eyes of other people who don't see God in the same way I do."

"The most valuable thing for me was the labyrinth, it opened my mind up completely differently and really helped me."

"The most valuable experience was getting to interact with a wide variety of people because it sometimes got me out of my comfort zone and made me think."

"I was challenged by others with a strong faith, like iron sharpens iron, these people helped me to question my own faith and through it to continually grow."

We at the EXPLORE Faith Institute at Ohio Wesleyan University believe that our most important accomplishment last year is one that we plan to make even more meaningful this coming summer of 2018: We maintained the foundational integrity of our goals and vision to bring Catholic and Protestant students together to discover the rich legitimacy of their own faith tradition and the thrill of discovering other Christians who are equally faithful, although perhaps with different ways of expressing it; to discover that students can celebrate their faith tradition in the presence of others with quiet, firm confidence that Christ is present in both traditions; and that, as a future leader of their own faith tradition, they can yet collaborate, pray, and worship with those of other Christian communions for the sake of God’s greater glory. Secondly, we accomplished our hope that each student would begin to find their own spiritual space in the midst of this week’s experience, and to hear God’s specific call for their life, whether that be for full-time Christian service or as a strong lay leader for their church and community.

Learn more about the upcoming 2018 EXPLORE Faith Institute