Students explore faith and theology at Catawba camp

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 7, 2016

By Steven Porter

Catawba College

SALISBURY — Very rarely are people given the opportunity to have an experience that could be considered life changing. Catawba College’s Lilly Center for Vocation and Values allowed high school students from all along the East Coast to have just this type of experience through a newly founded program titled DISCOVER, offered June 19 through June 25.

The DISCOVER program, designed to educate middle and senior high school youth about theology and ministry and help prepare the next generation of leadership for the church, is funded by a $600,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment.  DISCOVER involved collaboration from faculty at Catawba, Livingstone College, Hood Theological Seminary, and local clergy to provide participants a vibrant, challenging curriculum as the youth explore theological traditions, ask questions about contemporary issues, and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

DISCOVER director Chris Gratton is responsible for putting together the faculty for the program, hiring, training and supervising interns from the participating colleges that staff it, and recruiting and screening participants. 

The weeklong program provided an opportunity for these high schoolers to meet new people, to explore who they are and discover things about themselves that have brought them a new sense of joy and satisfaction or happiness. DISCOVER included  field trips to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte and activities on or near the campus of Catawba College.  Participants engaged in a special service project at a local Hospice house, attended worship services and learning sessions from spiritual leaders to help each student grow not only in their faith but also in life.

These experiences helped these high school students explore and discover answers to some of life’s most important questions, grow in confidence as they realize their own worth as a child of God, and come to understand that God is very real and active in the world. They also realized that by helping others, they can experience a gladness from doing so.

Stacy, one of the high school participants, said the learning lessons “have been broken down to where we can understand.”

Another student named Payton mentioned that DISCOVER had allowed her to develop her social skills. The students spent a week living and doing things with other people they did not know. This allowed them to step out of their comfort zones and have the experiences that they will soon have to handle in life.

Ashley, another participant, reached out to Gratton and said, “I just want to say thank you for everything from this past week. I really enjoyed everything. It taught me different life lessons. It means a lot to know that people still care for us teens. … Most of all, I really enjoyed the camp. Thanks again.”

Middle school students will be the focus of the next DISCOVER program to be offered the week of July 31 through August 6. The experience is free and DISCOVER applications will be accepted from youth of all religious denominations and affiliations as well as from youth who are not part of a congregation. For more information, please visit or contact DISCOVER director Chris Gratton at or 704-637-4725.

Steven Porter is a member of the Catawba College class of 2017.