For more than three decades, Youth Ministry Director Martha Shinn has been drawing upon her faith to serve as a quiet, yet steadfast force in the lives of young adults at Flagler College in St Augustine, according to an announcement received by Historic City News this week.
In late June, after mentoring 400 to 500 students in the Youth Ministry minor over the course of her career, she will officially step down from her post.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity and privilege to do this work,” she said. “I’ve felt like I got to work with the best students — they always wanted to be here and they’re motivated.”
In 1975, Shinn moved to St. Augustine with her husband Walter Shinn, who launched the youth ministry (in partnership with outreach program Young Life) electives program. Martha decided to attend Flagler College and in 1978 graduated with a degree in Social Sciences, and a minor in religion and philosophy. For several years, Martha team-taught a class with former Youth Ministry Professor Dr. Mattie Hart.
The electives program graduated to “minor” status, and in 1990, when her husband was hired as the full-time tennis coach, she filled the vacancy.
“I think the program has done well,” Shinn said. “There are high caliber people in our program, with quality students and good core values.”
The Christian-based Youth Ministry minor, which requires 21 hours of coursework, teaches students youth ministry skills, pastoral counseling and Christian disciplines. Graduates of the minor often major in philosophy and religion and go on to work as church directors and in social work and counseling fields. The program has always been linked to Young Life, a worldwide middle and high school program that facilitates growth in young adults’ faith. As service learning is a key pillar of the Youth Ministry minor, all students are required to complete an internship; about one-third of students in the minor volunteer with Young Life throughout their local communities.
For many of Shinn’s classes, students share and learn by sitting in circles — a method reflective of Shinn’s inclusive approach to her work. She is known not only as a mentor to students, but as a great listener.
“Sitting in a circle with Martha is unlike any other experience students will have at Flagler,” rising junior Cameron Cummings said. “She has an aura of openness, where you don’t feel like you have to respond a certain way. It’s a blessing for every student. She’s kind of like the aunt everyone wishes they had — so kind, super attentive, quick to listen and slow to give answers. I really feel like I can just breathe and be myself.”
When asked about her interest in working with youth, Shinn cited the tumultuous journey they all experience, or, in essence, the act of growing up.
“I just have a passion for kids and what they go through in adolescence,” she said. “It’s such a time of need — no matter what kids look like on the outside, most of them are struggling at some level with a typical identity crisis and all the things they go through developmentally as teenagers. That’s just where my heart has been and that’s what I’m committed to.”
By teaching college students to become mentors to adolescents, she is able to pay forward beneficence. But helping others could have taken many forms — as a therapist or social worker, for example. Why, one might ask, does Shinn take a Christian-based approach?
“For me, it’s a faith based thing,” she said, although she noted students are not required to be of the Christian faith to participate in the minor. “I think kids need some kind of spiritual foundation. That’s part of what I’ve seen over the years. Working with college students…you just see them leave home and figuring out who they are.”
For the director, retiring will be a surreal experience; she’s accustomed to leaving for the summer, so handing over the reigns might not feel too different — until the fall semester begins.
“I still can’t get my mind around it,” she said. “It’s definitely a grieving process.”
In July, Flagler alum Justin Forbes, ’02, will be taking over the directorial position. He has been shadowing Shinn this past semester, and graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary in late May.
In honor of Shinn’s devotion to Flagler College and the Youth Ministry Program, the department has established a “Martha Shinn Scholarship for Youth Ministry,” which will generate scholarships in one year. The local Young Life community has raised over $20,000 in funds, as well as $200,000 in estate gifts, to provide an ongoing endowed camp scholarship for kids in St. Augustine.
Photo credits: © 2015 Historic City News contributed photograph by Zach Thomas, Monarch Studio