ATHENS, Tenn. -- What’s the best part about Assembly? When you ask that question of youth participants or adult counselors, they often say, “family groups.”
Junior High Assembly and Senior High Assembly are youth ministry traditions in Holston Conference: a summertime, week-long spiritual gathering at one of the three conference-related colleges. This year, Assembly happened June 25-29 at Tennessee Wesleyan College with 152 youth and 31 adults.
In addition to worship (led by the Rev. Chris Brown), concerts (with music by Concord UMC’s OnTheBrightSide), and free time (four square, Frisbee golf, ping pong), youth could join in worship arts “interest groups”: dance, visual arts, multimedia, and praise music.
See Assembly photos on Facebook
However for many, the most appreciated sessions during the Monday-to-Friday schedule seems to be family time. Each male counselor and the boys in his care are paired with a female counselor and the girls in her care to comprise a "family." Each family group gathers a few times daily to share what’s on their minds. By the end of the week, the groups are pretty tight.
“This is a good place for youth to be themselves and to be Christian,” said Cody Quillen, adult counselor and youth director at Abingdon UMC. Quillen's Assembly "wife" was Allison Howard, youth counselor at Central UMC in Lenoir City.
"They’re pushed out of their comfort zones by being with new people, away from Mom and Dad and with new freedoms," Quillen said, "but they're still in a safe place to share what they're feeling or thinking."
“There’s just something about it. It’s moving. I don’t know how to explain,” said Ben Cooper, age 14, who also said family time was his favorite part of Assembly.
“They treat us like adults, and even though we have a schedule, we have a lot of free time to do what we like,” said Kendall Mehling, age 13, explaining how the counselors and schedule add to the Assembly experience.
The brochure that invited youth to attend Assembly this year explained it this way:
“Each assembly is a week of discipleship featuring awesome worship, awesome people and one awesome God. It's joining together with others your age to learn, grow, and laugh. It's waking up and worshipping through word and song. It's coming to an event and leaving with a 'family.' It's an opportunity to open up, to get real, to focus. It's a chance to shift your thoughts, your actions, and your life from things of this world to the heart of Jesus. After all, true worship takes place when all people within a community seek the presence of God and are accepting of each other. That's the biggest part of Assembly.”
“It was a really great week and the youth and adults learned a lot about being transformed and going home to be transformers,” said Laura Lambert, Holston associate director of connectional ministries.
- Remy on Assembly: The truth about Holston's summer retreat for youth (The Call, 7-17-09)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.