When asked about their experience with Student Leadership Academy (SLA) throughout this summer, students who are participating have shared that it has been different and cannot replace being in person, but it has been fun, something to look forward to, a great opportunity to meet new people and to learn about God.

Avery, a young church member at St. Luke’s UMC, shared, “Online SLA has meant a lot to me. In a time where everything has been canceled, SLA has been so giving. I have loved being able to see all of my SLA family again and even meet new people too!”

SLA continues to be an opportunity for high school students to learn about theology and vocation provided through a partnership between the Indiana Conference and the University of Indianapolis (UIndy). The summer session of SLA is usually hosted on the campus of UIndy for two weeks in July. When it was apparent that it would not be possible to meet in person this season, an alternative plan emerged that included meeting together virtually over a ten-week period.

Over 50 high school students across Indiana registered and met weekly for reflection, theology lessons, small groups, as well as optional game time.

“SLA has been different, but that doesn’t change the love and connection that everybody has online. It is definitely been a different type of inspiring change to get closer to God. Especially during the lessons,” said Sarah, a returning SLA participant.

Imago Dei or “image of God” has been the focus of the theology lessons during this time together online. Students have been engaged in discussions about creation, race, gender, redemption, and restoration. College students from UIndy have led small group discussions following the lessons that allow students to reflect and grow in their understanding of God and grow closer to one another.

“SLA, although exclusively virtual, is still SLA. It’s still super fun and a great experience to come together and meet new people in the presence of God,” shared Leif, a member of Epworth UMC.

Relationships are still being built and valuable conversations are still being had, even though SLA has been online this summer. Students who registered were sent a package at the beginning of the summer with items they would need for their weekly meetings. They share snacks and games together after being told what to grab from their box for the week. SLA may have switched formats, but the opportunities for growth and connection have continued.