It wasn't exactly a day with the bishop, since Bishop James Swanson wasn't scheduled to appear until closing worship.
But that was enough to attract 120 youth and mentors from both large and small churches to Holston's first-ever "Confirmation Day with the Bishop." The event was held at Cokesbury Center in Knoxville on Saturday, May 21.
What is confirmation? See UMC.org.
Morning workshops -- led by the Rev. David Graybeal, the Rev. Leah Burns, and the Rev. Sarah Varnell --received high praise from several participants.
"I'm impressed with the leaders," said Steve Cates, who attended with youth from Kern Memorial UMC, Oak Ridge District. "They were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and in every way present with the kids. They really connected with them."
Cates said his group chose to attend "Confirmation Day" because they wanted a retreat, but the confirmation retreat they usually attend at Lake Junaluska was "too expensive this year." The cost for Holston's event was $16 per person.
Twelve-year-old Dean from Kern Memorial UMC also bragged on the morning workshops. "This is a really good experience for all of us," he said. "The classes were taught well by all the pastors."
Dean and his Kern Memorial cohort, Aaron, ate their boxed lunches on a bench outside Cokesbury Center with a newfound friend, Diante. (See photo.)
"I had to get up at 5 a.m. to get here," complained Diante, who arrived from John Wesley UMC in Abingdon District.
The three 12-year-old boys ate their sandwiches and talked about the indicators behind the blue-dot stickers that conspicuously covered Aaron's head. Aaron said that each dot represented personal "brokenness," as discussed in the workshop led by Burns.
"Yeah, he's really messed up," Diante teased.
Following lunch, participants gathered for a workshop on service led by Anna Lee, outreach director at Cokesbury UMC. She invited youth to call out their personal gifts, which she linked to a possible way to serve God. For a guitar player, she suggested playing in a praise band. For the youth who liked working on a computer, she suggested offering to maintain a church website.
"Friends, there is a lot of pain and hurt in our world," Lee said. "I really believe that God has given us the talent to meet every need there is in the world." (See photo.)
After Lee's presentation, youth and mentors scattered into classrooms to make cards and write notes for tornado victims. The cards would later be inserted into care kits, organizers explained.
Eddie, 12, from First Sevierville UMC, wrote a card that said, "Keep your head up and God will show you the way."
Hope, 15, from Piney Flats UMC, illustrated a picture that said, "Good luck in the future." (See photo.)
Worship began with praise music from Roger Williams. Then Bishop James Swanson told a story from his boyhood.
As an eight-year-old at an A.M.E. Zion church in Texas, young Swanson had to take his turn at summarizing a Bible story on Sunday morning. He was subsequently encircled by three church ladies who touched his head and affirmed, "Oh yeah. That's a preacher head, alright." (See photo.)
"Those three ladies took it on themselves to help me learn the meaning of community," Swanson said. "It is my prayer that we've laid hands on you, too, so that you can be molded and shaped into the image of Christ."
Assisted by the Rev. Eric Doolittle, Swanson celebrated Holy Communion with youth and mentors, after they had reaffirmed their baptismal vows. (See photo.)
"Some of our youth had never seen a bishop," said the Rev. Joey Manes, who brought three teens from Piney Flats UMC in Johnson City District. "I wanted them to hang out with our bishop, and I also wanted them to hear it from someone else."