Abbie Doran

It was the first time I felt comfortable asking deep questions about my faith and was not afraid of being a bad Christian because of my doubts and curiosity about the uncomfortable parts of my spirituality. 


Why did you attend a YTN program? 

My first time attending the Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics was the summer after my freshman year of high school. This was the inaugural class of the Gustavus Academy. I learned about this program from my pastor who felt like it would be a good opportunity for me. At my home church, I never really clicked with my youth group and I consistently felt as though all the exploration of my faith was very surface level. Additionally, I have always thought very logically—using science and reasoning to understand the world I live in. Instead of embracing that aspect of my identity in my faith life, I ignored it. When I was presented with the opportunity to attend the Gustavus Academy, I was excited about this new way of thinking. It was the first time I felt comfortable asking deep questions about my faith and was not afraid of being a worse Christian because of my doubts and curiosity about the uncomfortable parts of my spirituality. 


How was your experience during the event? 

I have attended the Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics since its beginnings in the summer of 2016. It is incredible to be a part of a community of learners, thinkers and fearless explorers. While at the Gustavus Academy, I not only felt intellectually challenged, I also felt heard and valued. From the leadership team, to the mentors, to the fellows involved in the Academy, each individual brings their own lived experiences as we all learn together. The week long program brings together people from all walks of life and creates an environment where all members are respected and appreciated.


How are you different?

Being a part of the Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics has changed how I view the world. I have become more able and equipped to look at challenges our world faces in a more holistic way. My involvement in the Gustavus Academy has fostered my ability to respond to and address issues by drawing on scientific reasoning and my spirituality. Additionally, I have learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable—asking questions that I once felt scared to ask, exploring topics that have before seemed ‘off limits’ and using science and faith together to solve problems.


What did you learn about yourself, the world or ministry at this time?

When exploring tough issues, it is easy to get bogged down in the negativity. However, one of the most important and impactful things that the Gustavus Academy has taught me is how to have hope. As I continue to learn more about the world I live in, I find myself seeing hope for the future—even with all the disaster, destruction, and suffering present in our world today. But this is not an innocent hope that comes from ignorance. This is a hope fueled by science and faith and an understanding of the power that these things hold. 


Do you feel better equipped for the future after attending? 

To be honest, the future is definitely scary right now. The Academy does not alleviate this fear. However, my experience has helped me to manage this fear and see hope for the future. Especially when sitting in a room full of individuals who deeply care about the injustices and suffering occurring in our world brings me comfort. So yes, I am scared for the future. But I also am hopeful. Hopeful because I know there are people just like me who want to enact change and will use every bit of their influence, intelligence, and strength to create a better future for us all.


What was the best thing about attending?

The connections and community that is created in one short week are absolutely incredible. One of the most memorable and impactful parts of the Academy are the people. Not only do you become very close with your specific mentor group but you are also able to make connections with everyone involved. Some of the best discussions spark from lunch chats with presenters or transitional walks from one building to another. The Gustavus Academy draws people from all different walks of life, bringing diverse perspectives and understandings to the topics we are discussing. 


How have you engaged in ministry since the program, or how do you plan to be engaged in ministry in the future? 

The Gustavus Academy opened up opportunities for me to be involved in ministry at Gustavus. I am currently a student worker for the Chaplain’s Office at Gustavus Adolphus College. This is an incredible experience as I am able to work closely with members of the Gustavus Academy leadership team and embrace my gifts and talents in an impactful and meaningful way. It also allows me to continue to explore my faith in new ways.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to attend a YTN program?

Going in with an open mindset allows you to get the most out of the experience. When exploring difficult topics and hard questions of faith, it is easy to get stuck in one way of thinking because it is more comfortable. But once you are okay with being uncomfortable, you open up new ways of thinking and learning that would otherwise be impossible. Being willing to explore these tough subjects comes from a willingness to ask tough questions and be okay with the unknown, because we do not have all the answers. The sooner we are able to explore without coming to a complete answer, the more equipped we are to grow in our faith and embrace the curiosity necessary to engage deeply with difficult topics.

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