Director hired for theology institute at Catawba

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2016

SALISBURY — The new director of the Theology Institute, “DISCOVER,” and Volunteer Catawba is a recent Catawba College alumnus. Christopher Gratton, a 2015 graduate from Burlington, Vt., began his position at the college on March 1.

Gratton will be responsible for putting together the faculty for the institute, hiring, training and supervising interns from the participating colleges that will staff the institute, and recruiting and screening participants. One quarter of his position will be devoted to Volunteer Catawba, an on-campus clearinghouse that connects students and members of the college community with local nonprofit opportunities in need of volunteers.

“DISCOVER,” funded by a $600,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., is a program to educate middle and senior high school youth about theology and ministry and to help prepare the next generation of leadership for the church. It will involve collaboration from faculty at Catawba, Livingstone College, Hood Theological Seminary and some local clergy to create a vibrant and challenging curriculum for the youth who opt to pursue the study of God and of faith. “DISCOVER” will be a part of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s high school youth theology institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues, and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

Catawba, Livingstone and Hood students will also be involved in “DISCOVER,” mentoring and providing leadership to program participants, and giving feedback during the curriculum development process. “DISCOVER” will make it possible for 120 middle and senior high youth to attend a week-long experience. “DISCOVER” will also afford college students with opportunities for internships and experiential learning experiences in programs as varied as outdoor ministries to education to business management.

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Clapp, chaplain, senior vice-president and director of the Lilly Center for Vocation and Values at Catawba, was the principle author of the most recently received Lilly Endowment, Inc. grant. He will oversee Gratton’s work.

“Dr. Clapp reached out to me with an offer and allowed me time to consider it,” Gratton explained. “I was really careful not to let my own personal wants get in the way of what God wanted. This position has a good balance of bringing in the administrative/business/management side and the rest of it is the spiritual. This is another way that I get to proclaim my faith and my walk.”

“It’s the ministry side,” Clapp interjected, noting that Gratton’s attributes as a Catawba student weighed heavily in his favor as a leading candidate for this new position. As a student, Gratton majored in business administration with a concentration in information systems. He was active in the Dead Athenian Society, Phi Beta Lambda (a business honor fraternity), the Chapel Scholars, the Retreat Leadership Corps, Catawba lacrosse and served as a work study student.

At Catawba, Gratton was an extrovert who was “not afraid to be real, not afraid to be honest,” he said.

“My previous job before this was as a worship leader at Life Church in Salisbury. The reason I bring this up – I really care about intentional worship – praising God, not just singing to be singing. I’m really excited to be able to help out with the worship side of things – my personal touch,” he continued.

Since coming on board in his new position, Gratton and Clapp have been meeting with various church constituencies to talk about “DISCOVER” and how their congregational youth in grades 7-12 could participate in the program. These youth participants can come from anywhere, but with specific outreach efforts targeting the Southeastern U.S. and North Carolina denominations that have been involved in developing the concept for “DISCOVER.”

Youth who make application to be a part of “DISCOVER” will need a mentor, who may be a pastor or a church member from their denomination. Clapp and Gratton will work to secure mentors for youth who do not have them. Mentors would need to be identified before participants engage in one of the two week-long experiences planned for this summer. And the mentors would themselves have a session on “DISCOVER” expectations for them, including making contact with their youth at least every six weeks and participating with their mentee in a reunion over Christmas break.

The weeklong experience will include a series of daily field trips designed to reinforce what is taught by the faculty from Catawba, Livingstone and Hood Seminary who are engaged in “DISCOVER,” as well as a service project. There will also be a Ministry Fair where “DISCOVER” participants can learn about different vocations involving ministry.

Gratton will be developing a Facebook page and other electronic ways to communicate and stay in touch with the “DISCOVER” participants after the weeklong summer experiences.

Up to 60 youth can participate in one of two week-long experiences scheduled this summer for June 19-25 and July 31-August 6 at Black Lake Retreat Center in Asheboro. Applications are available by contacting Gratton at or 704-637-4725 or Penny Rice, Clapp’s assistant, at or 704-637-4488.