By: Christa Meland
God is constant and faithful, no matter where we are on our wilderness journey.
That’s the key message communicated to approximately 130 Minnesota United Methodist youth from 35 churches at “The Event,” which took place Wednesday night, Feb. 3, over Zoom. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Into the Wilderness,” based on the story of Joshua leading people across the Jordan River to the Promised Land after Moses’ death.
The hour-long gathering included worship with Boiling Point band as well two guest speakers. Jacob Urrea, family ministries pastor at Hope Summit Church in Rochester, talked about the story of Joshua and what it means for us when we’re experiencing difficulties, and Sam Eaton from Recklessly Alive Ministries testified to God’s faithfulness when he was facing depression and attempted suicide.
“God will meet you exactly where you are, no matter what you are facing, no matter what you are battling,” Eaton told attendees. “The wilderness is life. We live out here, and that’s okay because God has us and He is going to be with us through everything that we face.”
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.
Tierney explained that the wilderness is that unknown space we sometimes find ourselves in, and it can take many forms—for youth, perhaps it’s choosing a college, entering high school, facing depression or anxiety, or getting out of a toxic friendship. “We want youth to know that God is there when you’re preparing for the journey, taking that first step of faith, navigating the messy middle, and stepping out of wilderness,” she said.
The online gathering also included couple of online games—one in which youth tried to identify Disney songs based on audio clips and another involving guessing how many bananas tall various objects and landmarks are.
Tierney and Levenick were thrilled to see lots of new faces at the virtual gathering: Two-thirds of registrants hadn’t participated in any conference youth events in recent years.
“Something that I definitely took away was that whenever I feel lost or I am in the ‘wilderness,’ I need to remember that God has a plan for me—and that He has had a plan for me since the day I was born,” said Sebastian Hultgren, an 11th-grader from Messiah UMC in Plymouth and a first-time participant at The Event.
One of the benefits of The Event is that it’s an opportunity for youth to connect to those beyond their own church and remember that we are part of a larger community of faith.
“What I love about The Event is how we get amazing worship leaders and music in one place with kids who might be realizing how church is bigger than their own home community for the first time,” said Lynnette Dobberpuhl, coordinator of children, youth, and family ministries at Holy Trinity UMC in Prior Lake, who regularly brings youth to The Event. “I think it is very eye-opening and inspiring. Also, it is so much fun!”
In planning The Event, a key goal of Tierney and Levenick was to create something “multi-modal” that supported and equipped youth leaders beyond the virtual gathering. Consequently, there are a variety of resources for churches to use with their youth in the coming weeks. The Event website includes teaching videos and corresponding leader guides and youth devotionals in the form of four downloadable, on-demand sessions: Before the Wilderness, Entering the Wilderness, In the Midst of the Wilderness, and Returning from the Wilderness. The first session also includes worship videos from last night’s gathering.
Because an in-person Confirmation Gathering isn’t possible this year, each digital session also includes a section exploring a Wesleyan understanding of grace—prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying.
The digital sessions are free for all churches. Churches that registered for The Event also had the option to purchase one of two boxes of additional goodies for their youth, like printed materials, supplies for activities, swag, Eaton’s book, and Boiling Point’s CD.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church