By: Christa Meland
Last weekend, 333 fifth- through ninth-grade youth (and chaperones) gathered for 36 hours of fellowship and fun at “The Event” at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd while exploring the unique call God has placed on their lives. The theme of this year’s gathering was “You are not a rubber chicken.” (Unlike a rubber chicken, you were created on purpose for a purpose as a child of God!)
The Nov. 2-4 assembly drew youth from 33 United Methodist churches across Minnesota. It included worship, music from Boiling Point band, learning and reflection, and activities that allowed them to let their creative juices flow. Students were invited to think about four specific questions to help discern their call: How is God shifting my perspectives? What passions has God given me? What possibilities should I be noticing? And what will I pursue?
“The bottom line is that we wanted students to know they were created on purpose for a purpose and God’s got a purpose for their life,” said Sami Tierney, who co-leads the conference’s Youth Ministry Team and serves as director of youth and family ministry at Messiah UMC in Plymouth. “I hope more than anything else they came away with that.”
This was the first gathering organized and led by the Minnesota Conference’s two new youth ministry co-chairs—Tierney and Catie Levenick, youth and family ministry coordinator at Stewartville UMC.
Tierney co-preached with Sam Townsend, senior high pastor at Calvary Church in Roseville. Drawing from 1 Samuel 3, they talked about the importance of listening for and being obedient to God’s call, and being surrounded by people who can help them understand and make sense of that call.
Students spent time Saturday learning about how they have inherent value and worth because God loves them—and they were encouraged to think about how to build each other up and speak kind words to each other. The girls at the gathering took that to heart and placed hundreds of Post-it notes with supportive messages around the retreat space.
Youth also explored John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. They talked about how they are already in a covenant relationship with God, but a covenant requires action of both parties. They explored what it means to belong to God, and during a worship service, they were asked to write down something they have to give—being a good friend, helping with school work, patience, time as a babysitter, etc.—and place it in the offering plate.
Among the most popular parts of the weekend were a color crew competition that took the form of a photo scavenger hunt and a lip sync battle. Songs performed at the lip sync battle ranged from “Baby Shark,” which was sung a whopping four times, to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” to the “Chicken Dance,” which ironically has no words. The winning team received the “golden chicken award.”
New to this year’s gathering was a session exclusively for the adult leaders present. It provided an opportunity for them to make connections with one another and to talk about how to follow up with and engage students in the 30 hours and 30 days after they return home from The Event.
The adult leader session was one of the most well-liked and, for Tierney, one of the most personally rewarding parts of the entire gathering. Tierney and Levenick hope to create a robust network of youth ministry leaders and provide more opportunities for them to learn from each other, and this was the first step in that direction.
On Sunday morning, The Event ended with a message drawing from John 15 that focused on getting rid of your “unless.” We are called to love God and love others, but we know there are things that get in the way of doing that. Students were encouraged to let go of their excuses and fully embrace who God is calling them to be and how God is calling them to live.
“I hope that students, interns, and leaders left knowing that they were created on purpose for a purpose,” said Tierney. “You are not a rubber chicken. And God loves you and has a design for your life.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church