VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 9/1/2023)—In the spirit of its missional commitment to cultivating leaders and equipping disciples, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) launched its Summer Passionary Institute (SPI) in late May 2023. Over the next ten weeks, members of the inaugural cohort, young adults ages 18–29 hailing from Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, were immersed in their internships and encouraged to reflect deeply on their faith and futures.
The SPI centers on the work of congregations, community ministries and nonprofit organizations focused on social justice, with participating passionaries interning with ABHMS partners located across the United States and Puerto Rico. Each passionary in the first cohort was assigned to a specific site based on the individual’s sense of calling to ministry and vocational interests, which this year included social media, filmmaking, technology, graphic design and international law. Throughout the duration of their internship experiences, the passionaries were coached by relevant professionals.
The goals of the SPI are simple, yet powerful. It is designed to facilitate deep conversational and reflective engagement around formative questions; connect the passionaries with experiences that align with their developing sense of life calling; and nurture empathy for those seeking to overcome challenging circumstances. Further, participation in the SPI is intended to instill confidence and provide greater clarity through a process of answering questions such as Who is God calling me to become? and What is God calling me to do?
The first cohort of nine passionaries consisted of seven college, university or seminary graduates, and two high school graduates contemplating the next chapter in their formal education. All were responding to calls reflecting social issues currently affecting the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Maleah Smith, a passionary from Pennsylvania, said: “One thing I’d like changed is gun policies. So many school shootings have happened within the past decade. Too many children never get to grow up because of it.” Fellow passionary Amari Lockhart, from Georgia, said: “I will make a change in the world! Homelessness is one area I’d like to change. As Christians, we are supposed to love and take care of each other as Christ does for us.”
The SPI kicked off with a comprehensive three-day orientation at ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building in King of Prussia, Pa. There the passionaries met each other for the first time and became acquainted with the ABHMS staff who would facilitate several learning sessions over the three days. Each day concluded with a communal reflection on the conversations that had occurred.
As he considered the orientation in retrospect, the Rev. Kerwin Webb, ABHMS national coordinator for Justice and Advocacy and an SPI convenor, expressed surprise at how quickly the group coalesced: “Early on [the passionaries] were sort of unsure, but within a day or so, you would have thought that they had known each other for years just by the way they were interacting. All of them were seeking a community of people around their age to explore their faith and faith journey, [so] this was big.”
Immediately after their orientation, the passionaries traveled to their respective worksites, including Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia; Corporacion Milagros del Amor in Caguas, Puerto Rico; and the Weirton Christian Center in Weirton, West Virginia. Thereafter, they convened online weekly with different ABHMS program staff and ABHMS partners for facilitated conversations on topics such as “Listen to the Ancestors,” “Listen to a World in Need” and “Design the Next Right Step.”
“We are cultivating these leaders with eight organizational partners with a ‘win, win, win’ in mind,” said the Rev. Lisa Harris Lee, ABHMS director of Healing & Transforming Communities. “It’s a win for the interns and for the organizations whose missions the interns are helping to advance. It’s also a win for the communities these organizations serve because they see young adults with a heart to make meaningful impact.”
The initial SPI ended in August, and now ABHMS is looking forward to recruiting next year’s cohort. The new recruitment season is scheduled to begin in October.
To learn more about the Summer Passionary Institute and ABHMS in general, visit abhms.org.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.