By Debby Kirk
I remember my first National Youth Event in 2008. I was working as a youth leader at a local church and had gathered a group to go to University of Tennessee. After an overnight bus ride from CT, checking into dormitories, we walked across campus along Pat Summit Street and Chamique Holdsclaw Drive into the Vols arena. Over 3000 youth in colorful t-shirts were taking their seats. The house band was filling the space with upbeat music and the vocalist was calling us to be salt and light in the world. As the event progressed, we lifted voices in prayer and song, we heard Eboo Patel speak about interfaith dialogue, and we were inspired by the stories of Global Mission interns. For me, this time of joyful worship and learning was an exciting new connection to my faith, to other congregations in CT, and to the wider church.
Since then I have taken groups to Regional Youth Events, Youth @ Synod, and NYE programs in both Indiana and Orlando. As I looked back through comments made by youth who attended the 2016 NYE, I was struck by the impact of this event. Youth were asked to name and intention that came out of that experience, and their comments are impressive. Here’s what they said:
I want to …
help my church become Open and Affirming
learn more about Syria and how we can help refugees
work for God!
maintain friendships- with people in my group, with the Germans
learn more about Black Lives Matter, Racial Justice and White Privilege
pray more and go to church more often
go to Silver Lake!
learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to build peace
work in youth ministry
love, respect, and care for others despite differences and beliefs
Many of those young people have gone on realize these intentions in the last four years. They are leaders in their local churches, their schools, and in the conferences. They have been Thinking About Working for God Apprentices, counselors or summer staff at Silver Lake. They have gone on to serve as delegates to Synod. They have started youth groups. These young disciples are truly living God’s love and justice!
Now I find myself anticipating NYE 2020 to be held at Purdue University on July 22-25. I am excited about the impressive outline of speakers, preachers, and musicians (including Rev. Edwin Perez, Jr of CT and Rev. Brendan Curran of RI). The theme UNITE! will help youth grow in faith and connect to many of the youth-led movements related to justice and earth care.
Make an impact and give a young person a faith-forming, life-changing experience!
Send a group from your church, or encourage a youth to join our conference group. Pre-register your group for one of the Southern New England Buses and get information about our service/learning component.
Debby Kirk is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ. She and her SNE colleagues, Kristin Putney (RI) and Debbie Gline Allen (MA) are collaborating on transportation and planning for NYE.
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