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2009 NCLI, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

2009 NCLI, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

I just returned from a week in Atlanta. I was on the leadership team for the New Church Leadership Institute, a training event for church planters and church revitalizers. It was a lot of fun working with a great group of people dedicated to growing existing churches and planting new ones. My role was basically to be helpful and do whatever needed to be done to make the NCLI a great experience for everyone. So I lead worship two mornings, provided afternoon music breaks, taught a seminar on social networking and Web design, drove the shuttle bus, helped out with the bookstore, and made lots of great friends. Find out more about the NCLI by visiting Our goal for next year is to have 500 people at the event! The energy this year was great. It’s good to know that there is a new generation of leaders in the United Church of Christ who have the gifts and the skills to work for a healthy, hopeful future for our churches.

Nicole and I have an article about Prairie Sky Church published in the most recent United Church News. Here’s an excerpt . . .

“Jesus invited each, starting where each was, to begin a spiritual adventure in a hitherto-untried way of living.”
— Adventurous Religion by Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1926.

It was on our European backpacking honeymoon in 1996 that we began calling ourselves the “Grant Yonkman Adventure Team.” A call to ministry and a sense of adventure are two things we’ve always shared.

When we accepted a call from the Indiana-Kentucky Conference in February 2007 to plant a church in Fishers, Ind., a fast-growing suburb of Indianapolis, we understood it to be another chapter in the Adventure Team story. We drew on the spirit and energy of our adventurous UCC forebears who had the guts and the will to gather around the vision “that they may all be one” 50 years earlier.

Church planting is the process of starting a new church that will, in a relatively short period of time, become a self-sufficient, self-supporting, autonomous congregation. Ultimately, our efforts did not produce a church, but our experience has taught us a lot about what it takes to plant a church and reach young people. . . . Read more . . .

Photo from our visit to Milbridge Congregational

Photo from our visit to Milbridge Congregational

Last month the Grant Yonkman Adventure Team traveled to New England–as we do most summers. We visited family in Vermont and Maine, spent ten days at Nicole’s family’s camp on the Narraguagus River, and camped at Acadia National Park.

We also had the opportunity to do some church work–including an opportunity to serve as guest preachers at Milbridge Congregational Church. The Downeast Coastal Press (a newspaper for downeast Maine) published a piece on our visit along with a photo.

Here’s the text of the newspaper article:

Young Clergy Couple Share Their Story
By Joanne Halpin
“Rev. Eric Kelley and the Milbridge Congregational Church, United Church of Christ welcomed Rev. Nicole Grant Yonkman and Rev. Todd Yonkman as guest pastors on Sunday July 13. They are a clergy couple with the United Church of Christ serving in the New Church Leadership Initiative. For the last year they have been working in Fishers, Indiana to explore starting a new church.

The couple — who are in their thirties — shared the Milbridge pulpit and talked about how they go about starting a new church. They view themselves as missionaries to people who have not had a positive church experience or no church experience. (Everyone knows about Jesus, “they can google Jesus and find out about him”) Todd said that the majority of people that respond to national polls indicate that they believe in God but may view Christian churches as judgmental and/or anti-gay. The United Church of Christ is a Christian Protestant denomination that accepts people for who they are. They told how their personal experiences of church have been that of a loving and accepting community and want to spread that message. The Yonkmans have found ways to serve others in their work; this reflects their belief that acts of kindness tell the good news of Jesus’ message – that humans can live together, help each other and thus create a way of living that is what God intends—the new wine in new wineskins that Jesus talked about as recorded in the Gospel of Mark in the Bible.

The Yonkmans and their daughters, Fiona and Olivia, were vacationing and visiting Grant-Yonkman’s family in Milbridge. She is the daughter of Milbridge resident Betsy Crane. Nicole was born and raised in Maine, spending most of her growing up years in Standish and summers in Milbridge, where her grandparents lived at the time. She was baptized at Milbridge Congregational Church as a baby. She received a B.A. in Religion from Colgate University in upstate New York and Masters of Divinity from the University of Chicago, where she also completed coursework for a PhD in Biblical Studies. Nicole has served churches in the Chicago area, Dayton, Ohio and Indianapolis, focusing on reaching unchurched people and Generations X and Y.

Todd was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the Christian Reformed Church, an American branch of the Dutch Reformed Church. He received a B.A. in German and English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and his Masters of Divinity from the University of Chicago. He also studied Theology in Marburg, Germany at the university. Todd has been a hospital chaplain and local church pastor in the Chicago area, and co-pastor with wife, Nicole in Ohio and Indianapolis. He is also a gifted musician and amateur actor.”

Flickr Photos