Pannell to Direct ‘LEAP’ Program

Richard PannellRichard A. Pannell of Harrisonburg has been named director of “LEAP,” a new program being established at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

LEAP, which stands for “Learning, Exploring and Participating,” is a broad-based effort the seminary is undertaking to encourage ministry inquiry among high school youth.

Pannell, a native of New York City, has most recently been a social worker in child protective services with the Harrisonburg Department of Social Services. He has also been assistant pastor of worship and community development at Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg.

Pannell will work with Del Glick, recently named director of church partnerships at EMS, in administering new initiatives to give young people more opportunities for serious intellectual encounters with the Christian faith and what that means for their own lives and vocations.

The LEAP program is designed for youth who have completed their sophomore or junior years of high school. Up to 50 participants will spend four weeks in July on the seminary campus for orientation, including two 10-day, off-campus “classroom in the world” learning experiences in both urban and rural cross-cultural settings.

This summer, 50 high school students and 10 adult leaders will attend a Global Youth Summit, Aug. 8-10, and Mennonite World Conference, Aug. 11-17, in Zimbabwe, Africa.

By the summer of 2004, the program will feature a month-long event, launched from the EMS/EMU campus, of theological reflection, spiritual formation and experiences in rural, urban and international settings.

“Richard Pannell brings a wealth of experience to this new venture,” Dr. Glick said. “He understands cross-cultural dynamics and is bi-lingual, has a sensitivity to bridging the diversity evident in the Mennonite Church and has a passion for youth and inviting them to consider pastoral ministry as a vocational calling,” he added.

“The LEAP program will change the face of the seminary community, the EMU campus and the broader church as high school youth come on campus for theological reflection and a stretching experience,” Glick noted.

Before moving to Harrisonburg, Pannell did program planning, community relations and other administrative work at Seventh Avenue Mennonite Church in Harlem, NYC. He also did social work with the Salvation Army Social Services Department in Manhattan.

He earned a bachelor of science degree from Concordia College, Bronxville, N.Y., and has also studied at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He is director of the Northeast Community Choir of Harrisonburg and the gospel choir at EMU.

Pannell is married to Tracey Pannell, a social worker and former administrative assistant in EMU’s Conflict Transformation Program. They had a son, Richard Victor Pannell.

“The position of LEAP director resonates strongly with my personal and professional experience,” Pannell said. “I look forward to helping to identify and develop tomorrow’s church leaders.”

Pannell’s position and the LEAP program are being funded by a $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., an Indianapolis, Ind.-based foundation that supports college and seminary initiatives in religion, community development and education.