So let’s take a moment to talk about my friends at Project Connect.
Project Connect is an initiative of the Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries, a cooperative group consisting of the Lutheran Theological Seminaries at Gettysburg and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Three ELCA seminaries on the East Coast, working together, pretty simple, eh?
Project Connect is about identifying the future leaders of the church and giving them the resources they need to discern their vocational calling, whether that be to ordained word and sacrament ministry, or something completely different. They’re big on creating an “Ecology of Call,” a connective environment where young adults can understand what it means to be called and have resources in pursuing that call.
Project Connect is about… connections. They like to describe themselves as a web pulling together many various parts of the church on the East Coast. If you’ve helped a young person with discerning their call, either through your congregation, campus ministry, camping ministry, youth group or anything, OR you’re a young person trying to discern for yourself, you can list yourselves among the PERSONAL HEROES of Don Johnson, the executive director of Project Connect.
They do all this connecting by reaching out to places like summer camps and campus ministries, and local congregations, places where you might find up and coming church leaders and connecting these young adults with colleges, seminaries, Pastors who have volunteered to serve as “Discernment Advocates” and other organizations within the Lutheran church. They host various discernment retreats throughout the year at different camps and seminaries and are very visible in regions 7, 8 and 9 of the ELCA.
It’s hard to quantify how successful this program is, especially since its goal is not so much to “pump out Pastors” but instead to be a resource for young adults. It’s still a success if someone decides that they are NOT called to being a Pastor, which inevitably happens.
Here are some numbers, numbers that I think are kinda cool and really telling about the “success” of Don Johnson and his web of personal heroes:
- Since Project Connect became fully functioning on May 1, 2005, they have made connections with 886 young adults who at one time or another indicated interest in exploring a seminary education.
- Of those 886, 240 have enrolled in a seminary or divinity school and 210 of them are at one of the three “Eastern Cluster” seminaries of the ELCA.
- The average enrollment of young adults in those three seminaries has increased by over 17% during the past 6 years, and is up 8% in the other five ELCA seminaries.
- 90 young adults have received Immersion Grants (that’s what I’m doing) or Competitive Mini-Grants (something fairly similar). 39 of those 90 are now in seminary and 27 say they are still heading in that direction.