The IGNITE Squad! Photo provided

IGNITE Youth Leader’s Day Builds Connections, Stretches Reach

March 5, 2019 | | GNJ News, Next Generation Ministries

EAST BRUNSWICK – Over 100 youth leaders gathered to worship, learn, and replenish at the third annual IGNITE Youth Leaders Day on February 9 at Aldersgate UMC in East Brunswick.

“We are building meaningful connections, relationships and experiences for leaders serving the next generation in our churches,” said Eric Drew, Director of Next Generation Ministries.

Proof of the program’s success lies in the engagement of those in attendance. In order to go deeper and apply lessons, 20 leaders signed up for four -month cohorts to implement their learnings while others signed up for IGNITE, summer camps and retreats. 110 people received free gifts for registering early for IGNITE 2019 and learned the theme which was revealed exclusively to attendees.
“God is doing new and exciting things!” exclaimed Drew. “I’m so proud and encouraged.”

Drew was encouraged by the many new faces and churches that came out to the event and how they were met by a community that had gathered to learn and welcome one another for several years.

“It was an incredible feeling of affirmation that we aren’t just hosting events or trainings,” said Drew. “Next Gen is cultivating healthy communities of students and leaders.”

Aqueelah Ligonde, an ordained PC (USA) clergywoman who currently serves as Staff Consultant and Coach with Ministry Architects and Transitional Pastor at Far Rockaway Presbyterian Church was the event’s enthusiastic keynote speaker who spoke to taking care of the soul while serving as volunteers or staff in ministry. As a coach with a passion for today’s generation of youth, women, and leaders, Ligonde has worked with organizations such as Princeton Seminary’s Institute for Youth Ministry and Youth Specialties and serves on the Executive Board of GenOn Ministries, an organization dedicated to intergenerational relationships. For over a decade she served as the Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, NY and worked for The Presbyterian Mission Agency as Field Staff for Racial Ethnic Young Women and the Young Adult Volunteer New York City Site Coordinator.

“For me, it was powerful that she created a lot of space for discussion,” stated Drew. “I was moved by the vulnerability of what people shared and the depth of our reflection.”

Workshops balanced practical aspects of student ministry, such as small groups and recruiting volunteers, with deep spiritual work of prayer and shepherding others in times of grief.

Megan Dewald, Assistant Director of the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary led a workshop on “doing ministry when life sucks” addressing the different experiences of grief and how to manage the risky work of youth ministry while grieving. The workshop engaged wise practice, self-care, and theological reflection.

Rev. Catherine Jordan-Latham of Simply Grace UMC in Bloomsbury spoke on how to create safe spaces for young people and Mecan Payne, Youth and Young Adult Pastor at Clinton UMC in Hunterdon County, led a workshop on creating a foundation of small groups in youth ministry.

“It was a good day, well planned, very informative, not just for being a youth leader but applying to life too,” said Linda Chapurtinov of First UMC of Toms River. “Met so many nice people and all the programs that I was able to attend will surely be put to practice.”

Erin Raffety, an author and lecturer in Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary led participants through a workshop on how to grapple with real, practical, structural and systemic barriers to inclusion for youth with disabilities and move beyond the limits placed on their opportunities to lead, contribute and grow in church.

“The workshop reviewed practical approaches to ministry with youth with disabilities, explored case studies and real life challenges and equipped youth leaders with models and strategies for empowering youth with disabilities to leadership across the body of Christ,” Raffety stated.

The youth ministry leadership team from Princeton UMC comprised of Erik “Skitch” Matson, Pearl Quick, and Jacob Davis engaged attendees in a workshop on building a youth volunteer team from applications to theological training.

“Ending our last session in prayer for one another impacted me,” said Drew. “I was replenished through worship, community and learning.”

Trey Gillette, Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Marlton UMC and Media Technologist at Princeton Theological Seminary addressed youth leaders in exploring prayer through journaling and other creative means to focus on enriching one’s prayer life.

“It was a day well spent!” said Shaun Connors of Millville. “Amazing Worship, fantastic workshops, awesome people! Much needed! God speaks through His people; I was listening, message received! Thank you for being a loving Father, willing to pursue me until I understand. Replenish.”

Many reported leaving the day with a deep sense of gratitude for their community of youth leaders, having connected with new friends from IGNITE as well as church leaders.

“I continue to be amazed at how God is moving and connecting with leaders and students through IGNITE,” said Drew. “Youth Leader’s Day has helped us to go deeper, engage more fully and stretch our reach for students who need to encounter the love and grace of Jesus Christ. God has great things to come!”

If you are interested in group coaching or a learning group and would like to grow deeper in your leadership with the next generation of disciples, please email Eric Drew at or sign up for the Next Generation Ministries newsletter at