MAST program partners with John Knox Center and UT’s UKirk, hosts training session

MAST program partners with John Knox Center and UT’s UKirk, hosts training session

June 14, 2017

On June 1 and 2, Maryville Adventures in Studying Theology (MAST) welcomed the summer staff from the John Knox Center, the retreat center of the Presbytery of East Tennessee in Ten Mile, Tenn., to the Maryville College campus for a two-day training session.

John Knox Center staff, which includes high school- and college-aged students from various faith traditions, work with youth ages 4 through 18 throughout the summer, leading outdoor recreation and faith formation activities.

To prepare for their work, staff participated in a series of workshops on topics such as “Presbyterianism 101,” biblical hermeneutics, improvising difficult conversations and teaching strategies for different cognitive abilities. In addition to worshiping together in Maryville College’s Center for Campus Ministry, the cohort also participated in activities led by Mountain Challenge (Maryville College’s outdoor recreation program), including low-ropes activities and climbing the 55-foot Alpine Tower.

The two-day event was co-led by Jordan Conerty, MAST program administrator, and Rev. Andy Morgan, the campus minister at UKirk at the University of Tennessee.

The partnership between Maryville College, UKirk at the University of Tennessee, and the John Knox Center is “a unique one that has wonderful potential that each party is looking to grow in the future,” Conerty said.

“At UKirk-UTK, we believe the current and future vibrancy and health of the Church depends the willingness of people of faith to be collegial and connectional with other members of Christ’s body in the greater Church,” Morgan said. “The collaborative effort of MAST, UKirk-UTK and the John Knox Center is a beautiful example of the collegial and connectional Church. Through our partnership with MAST, UKirk-UTK was able to offer training specific to Presbyterian theology, pastoral care, and educational theory through classes and conversations with John Knox Center summer staff. UKirk-UTK is committed to building toward a healthy and vibrant Church, and it was an honor for our particular gifts to be utilized for the betterment of John Knox Center’s staff as they seek to show God’s love through recreation and outdoor ministry.”  

Penny Laitos, the program manager for the John Knox Center, said the training session was a valuable experience for the staff.

“The time that we spent studying scripture and learning tools and tricks for teaching campers of all ages will help ensure that Bible study is a rich experience for our campers,” Laitos said. “We are so grateful for Jordan and Andy and their willingness to lend their voices and expertise as we worked to equip our staff for a wonderful summer of ministry.”

This year’s event was an extended version of a pilot training program put together in 2016 that far exceeded expectations – but still had unrealized potential.

“It became immediately clear at the end of our pilot program in 2016 that we were on to something,” Conerty said. “After visiting with the John Knox Center staff during last summer, we concluded that the training needed to be expanded to two days and that specific topics needed to be covered, included specifics on Presbyterianism and keeping difficult conversations going with young people. Doing so this year will hopefully give John Knox Center staff a coherent understanding of the camp’s foundation and mission – and give them the skills to lead and be present among young people that are exploring what it looks like to be a person of faith in a complex world.”

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Maryville Adventures in Studying Theology (MAST) is a Lilly Endowment-funded resource at Maryville College that strengthens youth ministry by offering educational programming that deepens theological investigation, builds leadership capacity, and fosters an intentional community of youth, youth ministers and laity.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”