Eric Johnson

This is one of the few places that I felt a true sense of belonging during my high school years.


Why did you attend the program?

More than anything else, I choose to attend the Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics in search of a community. Before the Academy, I was failing to find fulfillment in church and in my individual faith; there were too many ignored paradoxes that caused me to remain in the realm of dissatisfying obedience rather than stimulating curiosity. I went around religious questions instead of pursuing them head on. Science, revelation, miracles, evil, etc, all of these topics remained unquestioned. 

My church growing up could not have been more supportive and impactful to me, but there were still far too few resources available to explore these questions, which was certainly not the fault of my church but of certain stigmas within Christianity in general. Hearing about the Academy was a wake up call. Reading the brochure gave me the idea that these questions can be and should be pursued. As soon as I had this realization, I knew I was in. I certainly could not allow myself to miss such an opportunity when I knew that there was a community out there for curious, faithful people like myself. What a truly awesome concept!


How was your experience during the event?

I have attended the Academy four different times, and there are plenty of reasons why I continue to come back. Each year renews within me a feeling of pure joy and optimism, a greater understanding of the goodness within others and meaning within myself. Whether it be an invigorating science discussion, a workshop on vocation, a funny recreation game, a faith-filling mentor group session, or a beautiful worship, fulfillment—that which I so desperately craved—is found at virtually all moments during the Academy.

Through the Academy I have established meaningful relationships with staff, enduring friendships with like-minded individuals, a beautiful new interpretation of the world and a far better understanding of science. Bringing all of these aspects together creates a week of beauty, where doors are unlocked and lightbulbs are turned on for all who enter.


What were some of the changes you noticed after?

The most common description of the Academy given by participants is this: life-changing. Yes, the week itself is exciting and fun, but it is the lasting impressions that really make the Academy special. I can speak of this firsthand. Before my first Academy, I was one who enjoyed school and worked hard at it. However, my intentions were wrong; I worked hard as a means to getting good grades rather than pursuing knowledge in itself.

The Academy completely flipped this around. No longer was I pursuing knowledge to get good grades. Sure, that was still important, but curiosity became so much more than that. I wanted to learn as much as I could about this complex world and its history for no reason other than the goodness it brought about. After pursuing this knowledge, I was able to look at the world through a much different lens, one that always considered ethical dilemmas, multiple perspectives, and vocation.

Beyond a love for learning, the Academy taught me how to think critically about issues within my faith, knowing that wherever reason took me, I would have a family that supported me. It is because of this that I am now a philosophy major at Gustavus; learning to think for myself about big issues has led to such fulfillment that I hope to always pursue it.


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

One of the central ideas of the Academy is vocation. Essentially, vocation is one's general calling, not just pertaining to one’s career but also considering one’s roles within their families, communities and relationships. Through various activities, all participants work extensively to decipher their own vocation, an important understanding during our pivotal youth years.

Individually, I have learned how to ethically pursue my interests and callings through the Academy, giving me a far better understanding of self. The Academy has brought into existence so much of what I am supposed to be, and because of that I am eternally grateful.

In terms of the world, the Academy has given me such a better understanding of its complexity. The four years that I have attended have had the following scientific topics: reproductive technologies, soil/microbes, climate change and cancer. These large topics, when studied through an ethical and religious lens, have helped me understand this complex world we live in, and anyone who has gone on the same journey can attest to how satisfying that is.

Finally, the Academy has taught me that the most important thing that a church can do is teach and support. It is so important that the ministry embrace science and open-minded discussions on religion; we are living in a time where ignorance cannot be justified. However, these conversations are challenging, often yielding existential difficulties and other worries. Rather than attempting to stop these thoughts, ministry needs to be supportive. The church needs to genuinely promote these internal challenges and help all who are going through them. Otherwise, students and congregants in general will be far too scared to consider these topics and miss the fulfillment that comes with them.



Do you feel better equipped for the future after attending?

Absolutely! As already mentioned, having a far better sense of my vocation has given me confidence that I will always pursue that which I’m passionate about, in all relationships and responsibilities in my life. Knowing this, I can live in the present moment, trusting that my increased sense of self will guide me in making life decisions.

Beyond my individual future, the Academy has taught me how to act with love and justice. The world that we are living in demands love and justice, and open-mindedly looking at questions with an ethical lens has resulted in a newfound view of all contentious questions. While we largely discuss ethics in terms of specific scientific questions at the Academy, I have learned how to ask similar questions about other issues. From this, I am confident that I can have a future that always considers justice and love.


What was the best thing about attending?

Hands down the best part about attending the Academy is the people. This is one of the few places that I felt a true sense of belonging during my high school years; like-minded peers and supportive faculty essentially guaranteed that this would be the case. There are so many cool people that attend the Academy: friends that I continue to stay in touch with, mentors who I have established such close friendships with, and more.

Everyone who attends is willing to explore the same world as me, and that enough is worth something. But beyond that, the friendships established—through mentor groups, recreation activities, and just hanging out—make the Academy what it is. Fortunately, as a current student at Gustavus, I have been able to stay in touch with many Academy people as they, too, are now Gusties!


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

I have always been very involved in ministry and my church, but the Academy has certainly changed how I go about doing it. Not only have I reoriented my number one value in ministry to be nothing other than support, but I have also learned how important science and open-minded religion are within ministry.

Everyone deserves to continue to learn in a welcoming place, and as one who is involved in ministry, I hope to help as many people as possible achieve that; that is certainly a part of my vocation. Granted, I am far from an expert in these discussions on science, but that does not matter. What matters is that I am willing to explore them and support others as they do as well. This should be one of the central aspects of ministry, taught to me by the Academy.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to attend?

You are smart enough. You are faithful enough. You can be a part of this group.

Everyone is welcome at the Academy. In fact, it is one of the most welcoming environments I have ever been a part of, but it makes sense as to why it is: the Academy values open-mindedness. People are fully open to others who may look or act differently, and that is what makes it so beautiful. Similarly, I hope my description of the Academy has not made people think that it is only for the smartest students. That is far from the truth. Everyone has the ability to contribute to the discussion at the Academy, and the presenters do such a great job of speaking to people of all different understandings.

No matter where your interests are, there is something that the Academy has to offer you. Take a chance! Even if this is something that you traditionally would not do, give it a shot. You will be amazed at how good and impactful a decision going to the Academy is. Cheers to that!

Jaelyn Maladdie
Waco, TX
Frank Stanley
Atlanta, GA
Mary Quirk
St. Meinrad, IN
Emmanuel Garcia
San Antonio, TX
Alex Theship-Rosales
St. Peter, MN