College Connection lands Young Clergy grant

FRUITLAND PARK – It began as a bridge to new discipleship journeys for young people who outgrow their local church youth ministry.

The College Connection program, a weekend retreat at the Florida Conference’s Warren Willis Camp, has been introducing rising college freshmen to United Methodist campus ministries for three years.

But a plan to expand the program to include a focus on students who hear the call to ordained ministry has attracted the attention of the denomination’s Young Clergy Initiative. The plan will get a $14,100 boost after landing one of 46 grants awarded in the final round of project funding. 

College Connection group of students hams it up in posed shot
A Young Clergy Initiative grant will allow the growing College Connection retreat at Warren Willis Camp to add a clergy discernment track. Photo from Tanner Smith.

“The overall goal is to bring the cost down for the students,” said Tanner Smith, who coordinates the program at Warren Willis. The next College Connection event is scheduled for Jan. 23-25, 2015, and registration will open Oct. 1. Smith is hoping to keep registration fees to $40 per student.

YCI grant awards were made in two rounds. For the grant program as a whole, College Connection was one of 75 applications selected for funding out of 164 submitted for the total $5.5 million pot, according to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which is administering the grants.

The camps-to-campus link is also the second Florida Conference program to secure YCI grant funding. Earlier this year, the Florida United Methodist Foundation and the conference’s Clergy Excellence office teamed up to devise an education program aimed at helping clergy reduce their debt. That effort was awarded $50,000.

Smith said College Connection has already partnered with the Florida Conference’s Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry to introduce high school graduates to young people active in Wesley Foundation groups. He said the idea is to encourage rising college freshmen to seek out those ministries at whatever school they choose, and he hopes to recruit more student representatives from the conference’s nine Wesley ministries, along with Bethune-Cookman University and Florida Southern College.

The grant will help expand the program to also target high school juniors, who will receive their own curriculum different from seniors, Smith said.

Also, the connection will add a third prong by including Clergy Excellence in the retreat program. Young people trying to discern their calling will receive information about the steps needed to pursue ministry careers, such as local pastor, deacon and elder. Those who choose to continue may be assigned a mentor.

College Connection has attracted as many as 38 students in the past, said Smith and Joel Pancoast, program director for Warren Willis. They are hoping the YCI grant will help build attendance to double that or more.

The retreat will include worship, small-group activities, games and fellowship opportunities. Check the website at for more information.

For information about the YCI awards program, click here. To view the latest list of award recipients, click here.

-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.

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