June 8, 2021
Four Trenton area churches were recently brought together by the Institute for Youth Ministry (the IYM) to partner in discovering unique new forms of ministry to meet the needs and hopes of young adults in their community. As a result, four innovative programs will be offered by those congregations in the coming months.
Thanks to the generosity of the Zoe Project (funded by the Lilly Endowment) and with the help of coaches at Ministry Incubators, the congregations — all relatively new to one another and to Princeton Theological Seminary — worked collaboratively as part of the Trenton Design Incubator, one of the first place-based projects at Princeton Seminary.
“Our intent was to find congregations who wanted to reimagine what faith in community can look like and to partner with them to identify the ways God is already moving in and through their congregation’s relationship to the spiritual formation of young people in Trenton,” says Carmelle Beaugelin, MDiv '08, the IYM’s program coordinator.
“We also employed a research team of Princeton Seminary students to learn how those young adults are helping to shape the way congregations are reimagining ministry and how Princeton Seminary, through the IYM, can be a resource and ‘holy cheerleader’ as congregations engage deeper with young people,” she says.
The project timeline was short. The idea was conceived and given a green light in late 2020. Churches and coaches were recruited in February and given six weeks to design an innovative prototype to present in May.
Yamilet Lopez of Living Hope Alliance Church; Rev. Donald Estrada of First Antioch Church; Rev. Todd McCrary of Shiloh Baptist Church, Bordentown; and Thomas Singleton of Capital City, a ministry of First Baptist Church Trenton and NextGen Church in West Windsor, each directed teams in their communities.
During the online “pitch party,” congregations pledged resources to one another — time, money, space, prayers, an English-to-Spanish translator — all possible because the churches are geographically connected.
As a result, four programs are to be implemented:
- a bilingual open mic night for non-English speaking residents to share their faith and life journeys;
- a community kick-back picnic to facilitate joy;
- a vocational discernment retreat for young adults; and
- a wellness day focused on holistic physical health.
“These ideas stand out due to their deep grounding in the inclusive needs of their local community,” Beaugelin says.
Many lessons were learned along the way.
“We learned that ministry innovation is contextual, that youth/young adult ministry is ministry ‘with’ not ‘to’ young people, and that some of the best ministry is in the highways and byways (think Luke 14:23),” she adds.
For now, Beaugelin and the IYM team are discerning their learnings and making plans to share them with community members from Trenton for feedback and guidance about how to proceed.
“Our mission is to help Christian leaders know and love young people, so that the whole church might participate in the transformative work of God in the world,” says Beaugelin. “We hope to continue the good work of resourcing congregations through future iterations of the Trenton Design Incubator, possibly in other cities,” she concludes.