Story

Alex Theship-Rosales

I would say that the transformation that I saw and heard in the youth was the most inspirational thing. Given the space to explore, ask questions, learn from professionals and be in community with all of the people the Academy gathers together was just incredible. It was wonderful to witness the positive change that had occurred, to remember the lessons expressed and to see the vibrancy in the high school students.

 

What do you see as the value of the program?

The value of the Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science and Ethics (GAFSE) lies in its intentionality. Oftentimes, high school students struggle with the unity of faith and science, in part and in my opinion, because fundamental-leaning theologies are often the “louder” Christian perspectives in today’s world. 

While healthy questioning and growth in faith is spurred by environments that support inquires and creativity, this pursuit can often be discouraged or simply not presented in many settings as youth grow up. 

GAFSE offers an intentional, valuable learning environment through its encouragement of sincere, applicable faith growth. It is an open-minded and wonderfully unusual space! Youth crave vibrant action, exploration and learning (which reflects the pursuit of scientific learning), forward thinking, and mature ways to explore faith. Not only do high schoolers enrich their own orientation to the world and self through the Academy, but their education also turns outwards. 

The Academy, through its intentionally liberal and timely focus, equips and affirms youth in a world deeply in need of creative solutions.

 

How was your experience working with the GAFSE?

The experience working with GAFSE was life-changing! Not only did I help youth explore new perspectives on the unity of faith, science and ethics—including how our bodies are theological, the deep, spiritual importance of soil, and ethical ramifications of climate change—but I learned so much myself. 

The Academy is rooted in the idea of vocation and how every person has various callings, and these callings are supported and affirmed by pursuits of justice and scientific learning. Bringing these ideas to youth inspires them and leaves a lasting impression. My experience in this environment was one of deep learning, rejuvenation and hope.

 

What was the best thing about your experience?

I cannot choose the “best” thing about working with the program. That said, I would say that the transformation that I saw and heard in the youth was the most inspirational thing. 

Given the space to explore, ask questions, learn from professionals and be in community with all of the people the Academy gathers together was just incredible. It was wonderful to witness the positive change that had occurred, to remember the lessons expressed and to see the vibrancy in the high school students.

 

How did you see students change during and after the participation?

I saw the GAFSE students grow in confidence. The high school students I got to know changed in terms of their ability to wrestle with present-day issues such as land-use and climate change. The growth was rooted in an ability to grasp and appreciate complexity. 

Rather than seeing an issue as definitively “right” or “wrong,” the Academy helped students wrestle with the inherent ambiguity of the world. Subsequently, students began to embody the notion that the process of questioning (scientifically, theologically and ethically) is an honest and helpful process. 

The liberty to engage in complexity, learn from professionals and reflect openly truly boosted the youths’ overall confidence as thinkers. GAFSE is a program that creates space for muti-faceted learning opportunities, and this space changed high school students by affirming their quests for understanding.

 

What do you think students learned about themselves, the world or ministry?

The Academy helps students learn that faith is an active force lived out in a real, complex and resilient world. And it helps students learn that faith can truly be applied to their own internal ponderings. 

GAFSE dismisses compartmentalization and encourages broad minds, scientific processes of exploration and ethical perspectives. Students learn that in a dynamic world with an unending stream of injustices, they can make a difference by leaning into their own callings. Ministry and vocational applications take many forms, change, and are all valid. 

Finally students learn that faith can be applied in ways that heal.

 

Do you feel students are better equipped for their next step or stage of life after attending? 

Yes. Students are undoubtedly better equipped for whatever their next step in life may be after the Academy. Through the process of wrestling with ambiguity, learning methods for opening their minds to unusual perspectives and engaging in mature conversations on ethics, Academy Fellows leave with important tools for living more justly, and are aware of the ramifications of their actions. Furthermore, the skills of active listening, open dialogue and experience of learning from different perspectives help equip students for any next step.

 

Did this experience shape your career or ministry engagement?

The experience of learning during the Academy shaped my ministry engagement. Learning skills in small group facilitation, exploring new perspectives alongside the high school Fellows and leading collaboratively helped me gain skills both relationally and educationally. 

Being placed in leadership positions, my perspective on ministry engagement oriented towards listening and engaging with different points of view. I learned to value the ambiguous struggle of “understanding” and “what ministry looks like” in a way that was affirmed and practiced. 

Moreover, the Academy helped me advance my understanding of how important relationship building is for ministry engagement.

Additionally, at Gustavus I was an environmental studies major with a religion minor. During the summer Academies, I was a mentor alongside other college students, and we facilitated discussions, developed curriculum, and led recreational activities for the high school Fellows. 

Now in seminary, I am in a two-year master of arts program. My studies will focus on practical theological classes, and I have a concentration in justice and reconciliation. I want my education to continually turn outward as I learn more about faith and different theological perspectives. 

 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to lead a program like this?

If someone were interested in leading a program like this, first and foremost, I would say to just go for it! Give it a try with trusted leaders alongside you and you’ll learn along the way. As for advice, I would just urge a new program to be rooted in current, timely events and issues, to leave lots of room for youth to generate their own ideas on the subject and to offer multiple perspectives/lenses in which to view the issue. Create space for inquiry, learning and collaboration.

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