Red shirts mark the New England contingent at the National Youth Event.
Photos by Eric Anderson
|MK Asante, J. R. Martinez|
|Lolisa Gibson, Miah Yager|
by Eric Anderson
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN (07/18/2012) -- They've all returned home now, but for four days their feet (and a few wheels) trod and re-trod the three quarters of a mile between the dorms and the event spaces through the high heat of an Indiana summer. But it was the energy and joy on 2,500 faces that most marked Purdue University's campus during the UCC's National Youth Event last week, winning praises from presenters, denominational leaders, campus staff, chaperones, and the youth themselves.
Speakers on the stage of Purdue's Elliott concert hall found an audience that fully engaged them, straining to their feet to sing and dance and calling encouragement if a presenter had to pause. They shouted an echo to writer/teacher/filmmaker MK Asante's declaration, "If you make an observation, you have an obligation." They cheered wounded Iraq veteran J. R. Martinez -- whose charm and commitment to helping other severaly injured servicepeople won him a spot on ABC's Dancing With the Stars -- when he told them to "adapt and overcome, and promised that they would hold on to what they learned at NYE.
"Some of the things that they're going to be talking about may not impact you now," he told them, "but treat it like loose change. Just take a five dollar bill and put it in your pocket because you never know, something that I said right now, something that the next speaker is going to say, something that they're going to sing, is going to help you not now, but it's going to help you four weeks from now, it's going to help you four months from now."
Presenter Lolisa Gibson, who contracted HIV as an infant but did not have it diagnosed until she was nineteen years old, struggled much of her life with her family's reluctance to discuss or even name the disease. "You guys are great," she told the crowd. "I was nervous when I saw the stage... but this is cool. I'm not even nervous up here. Thank you." She won the affirmation of all as she told her story of learning to confront a scary and deadly illness, and her commitment to help others who share it.
The week's true heart-winner, however, was Miah Noel Yager. A graduate of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, she has lived with Down's Syndrome all her life. "This is my very first time doing something like this, so I'm really, really nervous right now," she told them crowd, who cheered her on repeatedly, even when she struggled to find her next words. The experience mirrored her description of her church, where she had found a place that truly welcomed her.
"In high school, you had to wear the right clothes and wear them the right way, and be in a box," Miah recalled. "But it's not a good thing to be in a box. It is not a good thing to break your happiness. At church, I am accepted as I am, as a person. Being part of a church has given me a community to laugh with. I can just be silly and break into song, or do impressions, and my friends laugh."
Her audience cheered with tears in their eyes.
The UCC's Collegium of Officers were present throughout the event, celebrating communion on Friday evening on a sunny hillside, using fish-shaped crackers and grape juice cups for elements. Twenty-one of the denomination's conference ministers also attended, leading town hall style gatherings on Friday.
Coverage from United Church News
New England Comes to Serve
CTUCCyouth on YouTube
|CTUCC ConferenceCast video edition from NYE|
The Collegium, along with the conference ministers on hand, issued a Pastoral Letter of thanks and reflection on Friday. "Thank you to the more than 2,500 youth of this church who gave of yourselves -- so generously and sacrificially -- to be here and to open your hearts, your lives, to this faith-filled moment," they wrote. "You -- our sisters, our brothers -- are amazing; every single one of you. This was your event and you helped us all feel extravagantly welcomed into it."
Beyond gratitude, they wrote, they appreciated what the young people had taught to all the Church: that as stated in the preamble to the UCC's Constitution, it is the responsibility of Christians to always find their distinct voice in their place and time. "You taught us that the deep beats of God's activity live in hip hop rhyme, flow easy in laughter, and rattle in roars of sustained ovation and praise. All, we passionately believe, are sounds of a new Pentecost opening the church to new realities, new days of vitality, inclusivity and engagement."
Friday afternoon brought a "Faith, Fun, and Fitness Extravaganza" on Purdue's "Hello Walk," where activities ranged from badminton to karaoke, from outdoor ministry games to small conversations on serious issues. Hundreds of youth provided thousands of volunteer service hours during the event, which also included dozens of workshops and learning opportunities.
Seventy-four young people and advisers made the journey from Connecticut. Many joined with others from around New England to fill four buses; the red T-shirts of the New Englanders made a grand block of color at the front of the hall on opening night.
The National Youth Event also meant the launch of a new CTUCC YouTube channel for the CTUCC Youth, with the first video posted during NYE. T-shirts worn by Connecticut participants on Thursday bore a QR code that links to the new channel.
By Sunday evening, all the New England participants were back safe and sound, and already dreaming of the next grand gathering of young people.
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.
|Faith, Fit, Fun, and Farewell|
|J. R. Martinez|
|Imagining Healthy People in a Healthy World|
|New England in the House|
|New England Serves in Cleveland|
|New England Service Trip to Cleveland|