Leaning Into Leadership

6/6/2019
By Debby Kirk

Hartford, CT — Pastors, youth leaders, parents, and siblings gathered at the Connecticut Conference Office for a celebration of the 2019 cohort of Thinking About Working For God (TAWFG) Apprentices. TAWFG is a signature program of the CT Conference that offers youth a chance to consider their call to ministry.

The six apprentices from around the state spent several weeks over the course of the spring in a variety of activities designed to foster leadership development. Youth had conversations with pastors and participated in church events.  They planned and led elements of worship, both in the local church and at the CTUCC Youth Revival.  They attended the Interfaith Exploration at Hartford Seminary.  Using zoom meetings, they were able to connect to each other to compare notes as well as hear from former apprentices.

“The program has been a unique opportunity for Lucy to see herself in a new way—as both a confident leader/speaker and as a justice advocate," said Dani Morisse-Corsetti of Kensington, parent of an apprentice.  "I don’t think she understood she could do that through the church.”

One apprentice, Olivia Labbe-Fahy of the East Woodstock Congregational Church, helped with church school and shared a children’s message in worship.  “I have been blessed with a stronger belief in God and been able to grow as a leader,” she said.

Andrew McKinnis of First Church, Congregational of Fairfield attended workshops at Super Saturday and the Fairfield East Association meeting as part of his apprenticeship.

“I enjoyed being able to work more closely with two of our ministers (Rev. David Spollett and Rev. Vern Swett)," McKinnis said. "I appreciated learning about their experiences and how they see their calling. They have been great role models.”

Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer of First Congregational Church of Woodstock served as a mentor for Abby Fritz, a student a Nichols College and a member of the Bethany Congregational Church. 

"Abby brought openness and authenticity that inspired each person who encountered her," Gardner Spencer said. "I saw the congregation rise to the opportunity to offer her support and care, which brought out the gifts in our members, too.”

A Religious Studies major at Susquehanna University, Grace Winakor completed some elements of her apprenticeship at college, and some at her home church of First Congregational Church of Portland.
 
“The program has helped Grace transition from a spiritual follower with some leadership qualities, to a real spiritual leader who people are beginning to look up to,” her father said.

Sarah Olearnick, a rising sophomore at Johnson and Wales, designed and led a complete worship service at First Congregational Church of Lebanon.

“I was grateful to be able to reconnect with my church again in a new, more mature way,” she said.

The 2019 apprentices were warmly received by host congregations, networked with other faithful youth, and developed skills for leadership in the church and beyond. The result is self-awareness, confidence, and the sense of being connected to the wider church body.  Some may eventually pursue parish ministry or ordination, but the program is simply meant to encourage conversations about vocation and discipleship.

“I’m not sure what the future holds. I want to keep my mind open to many possibilities," McKinnis said. "I continue to love working with people and in my church and look forward to seeing what opportunities arise.”
 
Debby Kirk is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for CTUCC.  If you would like to nominate a young person for a TAWFG apprenticeship, contact her at debbyk@ctucc.org.  The annual Shine4Justice retreat for TAWFG youth who are in grades 8-12 will be held at Silver Lake on October 11-13.