BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — Where, in a span of four hours, can a junior high school student scramble under picnic tables, dance to praise-and-worship music, pray quietly, go swimming, and watch a skit about an Irish family witnessing to atheist neighbors?
Welcome to the Christian Leadership Institute, an annual summer program offered by the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Youth and Young Adults Ministry that gives junior high and high school students a chance to develop their lives as Christians while also having a lot of fun.
All of the above and more took place on the second day of the annual institute for junior high students, held June 23-27 at the Kinard Conference Center in rural Lexington County. The facility is run by the South Carolina Lutheran Synod. The summer session for high school students will be held at the conference center July 10-14.
Approximately 80 sixth- through ninth-graders from around the state attended the session, the highest number on record, according to Jerry White, director of the ministry. Christian Leadership Institutes have been held since the summer of 1997.
“This is all about bringing them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” White said. “The kids learn about the importance of having a personal faith life, and of sharing their witness as Catholics.”
White said the session for junior high school students is important because it helps the young people enter high school with a strong Christian focus.
“It’s so important we spend time with them during these years, because once they get to high school, there are so many different activities and decisions to make,” he said. “If Jesus is already at the center of their lives when they start ninth grade, they’re far ahead of many other young people.”
Each day of the program had a different theme revolving around “Getting Wired for God.” They ranged from “faulty wiring,” which involved learning about things that hinder a relationship with God, to “developing new power grids,” which focused on how to make faith the basis of everything in life.
White said many students who attend the CLI take what they have learned back to their parishes and use the ideas in their youth programs. Over the years, others who have attended keep coming back through high school and then sign on as counselors and staff members once they are in college.
Many teens have signed up for the diocesan evangelization team, also called the “E-team,” and White said some students have told him they are considering vocations to the priesthood and religious life because of the CLI experience.
“The whole process itself here has produced great fruit, great Catholic witnesses,” White said.
Days at CLI begin at about 8 a.m. with prayer and breakfast, and continue through evening prayers, activities and worship. Participants take part in daily small-group discussions, outdoor activities, Scripture studies, workshops on different aspects of faith, and larger gatherings with guest speakers from around the diocese.
On June 24, the speaker was Kyle Logue, 18, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Greenwood who is also a member of the E-team. He talked about coming to a relationship with God after making some bad decisions during his early teens, and how a relationship with Christ can get young people through anything they might face.
“It’s hard to explain how amazing it is that no matter how bad you think you are, or what you have done, Jesus will take that away,” Logue said. “That’s why Jesus died for us. Even if we mess up, God is always going to forgive us.”
The CLI schedule included skits and entertainment, swimming and sports sessions, and live Christian pop music from Wannabe Stephen, a band made up of E-team members from around the state that has become a popular fixture at youth rallies and workshops.
“The whole thing has really been fun,” said Casey Brown, 13, of Jesus, Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg. “You get an opportunity to meet new people and learn some new things.”
“I’ve enjoyed just being with my friends and meeting new ones, making new relationships,” said Shelton Corbett, 13, of St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach.