By: Christa Meland
When we choose to follow Jesus, things change. We have a new perspective and a new mission in the world. In other words, we become a new creation.
This is the message that 300 youth (and chaperones) explored last weekend when they gathered in St. Cloud for 36 hours of fellowship and fun at “The Event.” The theme of this year’s gathering was “Something New,” based on 2 Corinthians 5:17.
The Nov. 1-3 event drew youth from 32 United Methodist churches across Minnesota—and this was the first gathering in recent years that included high-schoolers in addition to middle-schoolers. The gathering offered worship, reflections from Christian youth speaker Tony Ducklow, music by Overflow from Church of the Resurrection in Hastings, hip-hop artist Kaboose, and various activities and breakout sessions that helped reinforce the theme.
The gathering was organized and led by the Minnesota Conference’s youth ministry co-chairs—Sami Tierney, director of youth and family ministry at Messiah UMC in Plymouth, and Catie Levenick, youth and family ministry coordinator at Stewartville UMC.
On Saturday morning, to set the stage for the topic at hand, Levenick read a children’s book called “The Rabbit Listens.” In it, a little boy builds a wall and it falls down. People around him want him to react in a lot of different ways. Do you get mad? Do you tear someone else’s wall down? Do you rebuild a bigger and better wall? Ultimately, the rabbit appears and simply listens to the boy—and they eventually rebuild the wall together.
The point relayed to students: “In our lives, we have a lot of possible ways to respond,” said Tierney. “When we follow Jesus, we approach life in a different way. We have a new vision, a new understanding, and new habits.”
On Saturday afternoon, students chose several breakout sessions to attend with others in their age group (middle school or high school). Topics included letting go of what’s holding you back, new ways to worship, exploring how we are uniquely called, and new habits in social media, among others.
There were also two simultaneous breakout sessions for adults, one focusing on what youth ministry engagement looks like, and another looking at resourcing and networking. Tierney asked those present to write down what they need as youth leaders, and what they already have that’s helpful for their work—and she and Levenick will use this feedback to develop future training sessions and online resources. She also had leaders break into small groups that included the most tenured leaders talking with those newest to their roles, which provided rich discussion and idea sharing.
Later on Saturday, students broke into small groups and were challenged to create a short video capturing “something new,” in keeping with the theme of the gathering. The videos were shown at a “film festival” that night and featured everything from “Holy Spirit spray” to a new kind of holy water to upside-down sunglasses.
The Event itself changed things up a bit this year by debuting a “church night out.” Each individual church group selected an activity to participate in Saturday night. Options included an escape room, laser tag, cosmic bowling, roller skating, going to the mall, or hanging out and swimming at the hotel. Tierney noted that many smaller churches don’t have the critical mass to be able to do activities like an escape room or laser tag in their own setting, so this provided that opportunity and was warmly received.
Tierney is already looking forward to the next conference youth event—a Confirmation gathering at Koronis Ministries in Paynesville the first weekend in March, where attendees will explore John Wesley’s three simple rules.
In reflecting on last weekend’s gathering, Tierney said, “I hope these youth understand that following Jesus is a choice you make. When you choose to follow Jesus, you’re a new creation and it impacts how you care about people and how you show up in the world. I want these students to know they have an opportunity to live that out every day.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church