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VEV program helps young volunteers pursue call to seminary

Exploring one’s vocational calling is an essential part of the discernment process for young people preparing for life after college. Some recent grads, not quite ready to head into the work world, dedicate a year to a faith-based, young adult volunteer program. These young people, with a heart to serve, are often the up-and-coming leaders in the church.
Recognizing this, the Fund for Theological Education (FTE), with funding from Lilly Endowment, Inc., created Volunteers Exploring Vocation (VEV). This program helps participants explore the relationship between faith and work, and consider career paths geared toward serving others, lifting up Christian ministry in particular.

Andrew Twiton and two other Lutheran Volunteer Corps volunteers working at Lutheran World Relief (LWR) spell “LVC” with their fingers while holding fair trade coffee offered by LWR. The other volunteers are Alison Robert (left) and Kirsten Lindholm. Photo provided by Andrew Twiton

“Part of what we’re trying to do is not only honor where [these people] have come from, but bring them into conversations with others going into ministry from different denominations and demographic areas,” said Kim Hearn, director of ministry fellowships at FTE.

The program offers funding for conferences to young people who are considering ordained ministry.

“Our role is to put seminary in front of them. This is one of the areas where we are intentionally doing this,” she said.
According to Jim Ellison, program coordinator for VEV, about 80 percent of people who go into these volunteer programs do so to get a sense of how they can be shaped before entering graduate school or going on to a career.
In order to find these potential future church leaders, the program offers funding for conferences, led by educators and pastors, to young people who are considering ordained ministry as their vocation. In addition to these conferences, up to 12 selected volunteers each year receive a $2,500 VEV Fellowship to pursue a Master of Divinity degree.

A helping hand in discerning vocation

Julie Bringman and Andrew Twiton both know they are called to ministry. However, upon leaving college, both were unsure what form that call might take. Each entered into Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) after college, and attended VEV conferences as a part of their discernment. This fall, both will begin their seminary studies.
Bringman says her path to ordained ministry was not a straight line. After completing college, she enlisted with LVC, spending her volunteer year at Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis, where she remained for two years as a staff person. Following her time at Redeemer, Bringman went to India to work with a study abroad program; she stayed to work for a local non-government organization. She is currently working at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., and will begin seminary this fall.
In February 2006, Bringman attended the first VEV conference. She returned for a later conference as a volunteer in October 2009. Both events were important ways for her to reflect on whether she was being called to ordained ministry.
“I come from a family of faith leadership. I am not surprised that this is the call in my life. But I had to get to it on my own,” Bringman said. “To realize this is not the easy step, not to follow in my family footsteps, but to come to it on my own.”
Like Bringman, Andrew Twiton knew he was called to some form of ministry. For Twiton, the option for ordained ministry has been present his entire life; both his father and grandfather are ordained ministers.
“I didn’t seriously grapple [with] ordination until [I worked with] LVC,” Twiton said. “[When I attended a] VEV gathering, I started to discern and pray about ordained ministry. I might have done this on my own, but having the opportunity to [meet] with other people doing volunteer programs was important to me.”
He also notes the support from FTE was important in his call process because the people he worked with at FTE did not know his father or grandfather as ministers.
Through the VEV program, each year several young people, like Bringman and Twiton, are affirmed in their calls to ministry. And, while the program looks toward possible changes and growth, the hope remains that this program will help prepare the future leaders of the church.
“I don’t know what the church is going to look like in 10 or 20 years, but I’m convinced it is going to come out of young people doing programs like this,” Ellison said. “They will have the skills that the church needs.”

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