It’s often said that young people are the future. While that may be true, they’re also an instrumental part of today. When young people are treated as co-leaders and decision makers — and given adequate resources, tools, and strategies — churches and communities will discover more possibilities than they ever thought possible.
Rev. Adam Tobey, MDiv/MACEF '16, and Rev. Catherine Tobey, MDiv '15, founded Arcadia Guided Outdoor Education (AGO) in 2018. Through AGO, the Tobeys are not only positively impacting the lives of students through exposure and access to the outdoors; they are also providing youth with practical and transferable skills that expose them to a world of lifelong possibility.
Inspiration for this ministry connects to their time at Princeton Theological Seminary, which is where Adam built “a theological foundation of the greatest commandment that Jesus gives us: to love God and ourselves and our neighbors,” he says.
While attending Princeton Seminary, Adam participated in a field education placement at an organization with programming that took students on weeklong mountaineering trips. This experience — coupled with a desire to elevate youth voices — served as confirmation. He knew what he wanted to do. “I wanted to be able to facilitate adventure experiences and be able to have a place where we can kind of grow in our understanding of ourselves and our understanding of the people who are on the trip and our place in the world,” Adam says.
Following seminary, Adam and Catherine moved to Catherine’s hometown in Utah. While Adam was equipped with his new-found passion, he realized there was a void — a lack of organizations that were facilitating programs for youths similar to what he envisioned. There was also a lack of diversity in the types of people who hiked trails in Ogden, Utah. Adam had a thought about how to fill the void.
“What if we could figure out a way to offer a program where we're teaching and equipping students not only with the skills but also the gear necessary for recreation?” he recalls. “We wanted to sort of eliminate some of those barriers to access.”
AGO was created with these goals in mind. In the last four years, AGO has grown, gradually expanding its capacity, impact, and reach. Through partnerships with other organizations, programming includes climbing and hiking camps, introduction to backpacking, advanced backpacking, and more.
The Tobeys’ work through AGO — Adam as the program director and Catherine as managing director — has been centered on supporting youth in three key areas: leadership, stewardship, and becoming good neighbors.
These core principles are weaved throughout programming and provide many opportunities for youth to succeed in each area while on the trail. Students develop leadership by serving with the instructor team as leaders of the day. They practice stewardship by using Leave No Trace critical thinking principles to inform environmental impact and decision-making. Lastly, students are encouraged to take those same principles from the outdoors and apply them in their own communities.
“We want them to understand the ethics of being outside, [and] we want those [values] to be transferable to their everyday life,” Adam says. “We want this to be a[n] experience where they're learning values and skills that they can utilize in their neighborhoods.”
Connecting with communities
Through Adam’s work with AGO and Presbytery of Utah as program director, he’s realized the church’s lack of presence within the community. Catherine shares a similar sentiment, which also validates a need for their ministry.
“The problem is that our established churches aren't looking to see the spirit move anywhere beyond what they're comfortable with,” Catherine says.
This revelation led them to work directly with the community.
“I feel very called to being more of like a pastor in the community at this point, instead of a worshiping community,” Adam shares. This call informs AGO’s work, which is framed by Christian values. “We want to offer a space where we can share our lives with one another and learn how to continue to become better neighbors together. We believe that groups of people and communities [can] help to discern what is best for that community.”
This is especially true when considering centering the voices of young people, Adam says. His presbytery work focuses on connecting youth across the state who are members of smaller congregations that don’t have youth groups. Each quarter, youth unite to engage in activities and worship with the hosting congregation.
“They’re the ones who are really the prophets among us,” he says. “They know what's going on and they know what changes need to happen in our communities, but we often don't give them the chance to share those things.”
As managing director, Catherine’s ministry is an integral part of AGO because it sets up the organization for success. While her work is not on the trails, hearing about those experiences from youth and how they apply what they learned is rewarding, she says.
Catherine’s work with AGO is similar to her role as administrator at Wasatch Christian School. She ensures organizations are healthy in various capacities, so they can have longevity. At the school, cultivating strong staff relationships and investing in people are key focuses.
“I want to help people figure out what they care about and who they want to be,” she says. “I want to be behind the scenes supporting them, scaffolding them in any way I can. I believe that God will work through them…I see my role in these organizations as supporting the staff in the entirety of their lives.”
Like Adam, Catherine’s field education while at Princeton Seminary provided great insight. “It gave me just a lot of experience in the ins and outs of running an organization and building relationships, establishing some of these values that I still have and draw on. Those came from my field experience. I'm really, really grateful for that,” she says.
Whether they are on the trails or working behind the scenes, the Tobeys continue to enable God’s spirit to lift up and empower others through their work in the community, churches, and schools.