Waltrina Middleton likens her experience at Foundations of Christian Leadership to an exercise program: The benefit is not instantaneous, but rather something that reveals its worth over time.
“I think only time will be able to show the true value, but what it has given me immediately is a different outlook, the ability to be able to see the challenges that one may face in an institution differently,” she said.
Middleton works with young people from age 13 to 17 in her capacity as the national minister for youth advocacy and leadership formation in the United Church of Christ. She organizes the denomination’s national youth event, which has a multimillion-dollar budget and brings together about 3,000 youth every four years. Every two years, she also organizes youth at the UCC’s General Synod.
She travels about 50 percent of the time, giving talks and workshops and supporting campuses and centers across the United States as well as the UCC Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries. She convenes the leaders of that council in work that focuses on leadership, faith, service and justice.
“We’re encouraging [youth] to own their identities and to discover who they are and encouraging them to tap into this calling that God has for each and every one of them. Then as you look introspectively, you’re like, ‘Wow, as an adult, I’ve lost that myself. I need to take my own advice,’” she said.
Foundations helped her do that, in part by easing the feeling of being exhausted by the challenges of leadership. The Foundations experience affirmed that “you’re not alone…Here are some tools that can help you.”
The program helped her think about institutional Christian leadership and to recognize “those sources that give you hope, that rejuvenate your spirit. How can you offer that to others as a leader, how can you be a model for those very things that you hope for in your organization?”
She has found that she applies specific tools, such as the Situation-Behavior-Impact feedback method in her work with young people. But in addition to acquiring new skills, Middleton also found that the experience affirmed her sense of call.
“It was just collectively inspiring,” she said. “We had the improvisation. We had a walk in the Duke Forest. We had worship services that were led by our peers. We had speakers that came in.
“All of these things… have made me think in ways that I haven’t even allowed myself to think because I’m so caught up in the work. The program itself gave you a chance to step out of it, step out of that work and really look at it and see, ‘This is why I took this path and answered this calling in the first place.’”
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