Montreat Youth Conference, part 2

August 5, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

The Montreat trip was absolutely wonderful.  Amazing.  Transformational.  Fun.  There are so many reasons.

We started out by driving 9 hours to Greensboro.  Our youth director used to be the youth director at First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, NC.  We stayed overnight in their youth room (VERY NICE, and with lots of comfy couches and other things to sleep on).  In the evening Saturday we were treated to dinner by our youth director’s in-laws at their beautiful home (not to mention entertained by the dog).

In the morning, we were treated to a tour of this VERY large church (new members have a class on how not to get lost) and breakfast.  We then attended worship.  I found lots of useful information on how they work with visitors that will be useful for my committee.

Then we went to lunch at Fincastle’s Diner and headed for Montreat.

In Montreat we stayed at First House, a private home owned by the Greensboro church that is rented out to groups staying in Montreat.  It was a nice house and suited our needs very well.

Sunday evening, the program began with a welcome session at Anderson Auditorium and Recreation outside.

The program continued with keynote in the morning, small group once or twice, and worship in the evening.  Friday night’s worship was capped by people with candles all the way around Lake Susan two deep – it was so pretty.

Then we drove home 12 hours.  Ooof.

The youth from my church could not possibly have been a better group, or worked together better.  They were ready to go on time every time (sometimes earlier).  They voluntarily pitched in and helped with chores, often before being asked.  They supported each other emotionally and clued in the adults later – leaving the adults free to handle the big stuff (or their own stuff).  Everybody got along well aside from the minor frictions caused by 14 people spending a lot of time together.  I could not ask for a better group.  These 10 youth are now permanently on my list of favorite people.

I feel the same way about my small group.  There were 26 participants (3 adults and 23 youth) plus our small group leader.  I liked everybody in the group.  Think about that.  26 other people, and not one of them was even the slightest bit bothersome or annoying.  This is amazing.  The conversations were deep and meaningful, the games were hysterical and fun (I “won” Big Booty), and I was truly impressed by what other people said.  I hope that I have made one or two or a few friends for life from that group.  I know that I truly love and care for all 26.  Our small group leader was a newbie – having just turned 21 (we couldn’t believe that – he is mature beyond his years) – and he hit the ball out of the park.

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  1. It was HOT most of the week.  The week redefined the concept of sweat for me.  However, I didn’t really mind.  It was cool enough in the evening to sleep and the small group room was air conditioned.
  2. The keynote team did a great job.  We’ll probably use at least one part for our confirmation class.  The concepts that they discussed were well reflected in small group and worship.
  3. The worship was especially meaningful for me (particularly Monday and Friday).  Michelle Thomas-Bush did a good job.
  4. Music was fun, and included some songs that I really enjoyed.  One in particular was very meaningful for me.  Jorge Gonzales was the music leader, and was joined for a lot of the week by Wallness from Haiti (who knew our youth director from when Wallness was a youth in Haiti).
  5. Recreation was well done.  I didn’t get involved in most of the “optional” recreational activities though I did enjoy watching them.  The first night recreation was where I met one of those “friends for life” that I mentioned above.
  6. The site is gorgeous.  Hilly to be sure (I seem to have lost 5 pounds, and moved some of my remaining weight away from my waist), but beautiful.
  7. Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and Raspberry Sorbet make a great combination.  The boundary layer is to die for.
  8. When we went to Asheville NC on our free afternoon, I bought the first pair of sandals that I’ve ever owned in my adult life.  I am now fully qualified for youth ministry.  (There is no need to tell me not to wear socks with them – others have done that already.)
  9. I went swimming.  Unfortunately, I was rock-hopping at the time.  I went into the water and completely soaked myself.  I also completely soaked my backpack.  The electronics all survived, but I need a new Bible and a replacement for the hardcover book that was in the backpack.  I also had some nasty scrapes.  My youth were perfect in that they refused to let me walk back to the house alone – they insisted on accompanying me and carrying my backpack.
  10. My co-workers actually said I seemed relaxed when I got back to work yesterday.  No, really!
  11. You can’t imagine how fun it is to do energizers with a bunch of youth every day.  Adult silliness should be mandatory.
  12. One of the adults in my church group has the uncanny ability to sing harmony with any piece, even if she hasn’t heard it before.  It was beautiful.
  13. I had lots of deep one-on-one conversations with my youth.  This started the first night and I think it’s continuing now.  They impress me with how seriously they take their lives and how thoughtful they are of others.  There is unexpected depth here.
  14. Every group needs at least one unabashedly sunny morning person.
  15. See this post for the most strange and wonderful part of the week for me.
  16. The Jesus in Me loves the Jesus in You.  ‘Nuff said.

I’ve already written in another post about my personal transformation.  I’d like to add to that some confidence in doing youth ministry.  I’m now wondering how to make my job better aligned with my faith and personal ideas about life.  Or find one that is.  I don’t feel a call to ministry (though several others talked about this after this week).  I just feel like I’m not where I should be.

If you are a youth, or you work with youth, you should really consider going to a Montreat Youth Conference.  Groups can be as small as 2 or 3, or very large (I’ve heard of the neighborhood of 50).  Yes, it’s a little scary going to a new place and doing “Jesus stuff” for a week, but it’s really worth it.  My nervousness was wholly unnecessary.

I’d like to thank Rich, Mary Alice, Sara, Gingles, Michelle, Jorge, Wallness, Bill, Aimee, David, and so many others who made my week probably one of the top 10 experiences in my life.

Montreat Youth Conference, part 1

August 5, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

Last week I went to the Montreat Youth Conference as an adult advisor for my church’s youth group.  During the trip, I had an experience that was … well … let me just describe it.

First, a little background.  I’ve written before about my experiences with the church and my departure from the church almost 20 years ago.  If you don’t want to read that, here’s a summary:  very involved as a youth (deacon, Synod YAD, church camp), in college a few things happened and I left the church completely.  I began searching for a congregation related to my return to church just about 3 years ago this month, and joined my current congregation later that fall.  I’m currently serving as a youth advisor for the Sr. High youth group, co-chairing a committee, and I’m about to start serving as a deacon again.

During Monday night’s worship at Montreat, the song “Here I Am, Lord” was sung.  This song was very popular at Camp Johnsonburg when I was working there, and I was happy to sing it again.

Around about the 2nd verse, I started getting very emotional and tearing up.  Around about the 3rd verse, I started to get a picture in my head – one that I can’t claim came from me.

The picture showed something of a timeline.  Over on the left side, there was a dark black line that represented my religious involvement of the past – from about age 13 to age 19.  On the right side, there was another shorter dark black line that represented my religious involvement of the past few years.  There was a big blank space in between.  As we sang, I saw the picture of a jumper wire (almost like a car’s jumper cable, but more like something used in electronics work) connecting the two lines.  I have been considering my religious life of the past to be different from the present.  I believe that the message here is that they are part of a single whole and remain connected.

So I was standing there, singing, tears in my eyes, and a picture in my head that I didn’t put there.

In my mind, this was a full-on Religious Experience.  Maybe even a Vision.  I mean … if there had been a shaft of sunlight and Baptist dancers flying through the air I’d be a Blues Brother now.  It was a really weird experience.

I’ve been skeptical of those who claim to have visions or have other divinely-inspired events in their lives.  Not anymore.  I think I get it now.  A later discussion with a family member produced that person’s story of a similar experience.

At the time that this happened, I had no idea what it meant.  I’m still not sure that I do.
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The first thing that I did was ask my youth director to join me at The Huck for some ice cream so that I could talk about this (and another youth joined us for “Introvert Time”).  On the way we met Jorge Gonzales who was doing music for the week and I got a chance to thank him.

Later in the week I might have gotten some idea of the meaning behind this.

All youth and adults participating in small groups were assigned to a Small Group of about 30 people.  Those groups were broken down into smaller “Threshold” groups of about 6.  I got an opportunity to talk about this experience with my Threshold Group, but due to time constraints I barely got through the story before we had to move onto something else.

The theme for the week was “Throw Open the Doors”.  There were door metaphors tossed around during all activities.  On Friday (the last day of the conference), our Small Group leader asked “what doors have opened for you this week?”  I had a few ideas in my head, and the one that I chose was:  Don’t let the experiences of the past (meaning negative ones) color your view of your experiences of the present.  When I said that the Small Group said things like, “Dude.  That’s not just a door – that’s like a big gate or something.”

Later that evening we had the closing worship.  The preacher was Michelle Thomas-Bush (who I met through this blog).  She told a story about her 20th high school reunion.  At the reunion she met a man who had been in school with her.  He explained that he couldn’t remember anything about his high school experience at all.  He was being abused by his parents at the time, and all of his memories of that period are one big black mess.  He came to the reunion in order to rediscover his high school memories.  He was the life of the party, talked to everybody, and learned a few things.  At the end of the evening he talked to Michelle again.  She asked him if he’d learned anything.  He reported a few memories of good times and stupid high school tricks, but his main message was that this night was his New High School Memory.

Sound familiar?  Yeah, I thought so too.

I’m still working on how to apply these revelations to my life, though the implications for my church life are pretty obvious.  Back in December, I wrote this about how those once hurt by the church may keep looking over their shoulder for trouble to come again.  I think that part of the message is clear – stop looking over your shoulder.  We’ll see.  Being a Christian is hard.

As for the rest, that is not quite apparent yet.  More in the next post on the conference.