"We literally laid hands on the mailbox": Piney Flats youth rejoice in Resurrection victories

"We literally laid hands on the mailbox": Piney Flats youth rejoice in Resurrection victories

The youth at Piney Flats United Methodist Church desperately wanted to win the Resurrection T-shirt contest for several years -- but each time they entered, they lost.

When the contest deadline rolled around again in May 2010, the Johnson City District youth group was on a mission trip to Dulac, La. But they still wanted to win, so they got their T-shirt entry together and took it to the town's tiny post office.

Never mind that the postmaster was gone when they got there. They just came back a couple of hours later.

"We literally laid hands on the mailbox and prayed before we dropped it in," says Youth Director Angie Gilmer. Their original design was a bright tie-dye style that betrays the dark, grungier shirt shades of recent Resurrections.

A few months later, Gilmer was concerned when she received an urgent voicemail from her pastor, the Rev. Joey Manis. He said to call him back immediately. Gilmer thought the worst had happened, but the good news was the Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) had finally selected their shirt design as a winner.

At Resurrection, the T-shirts were a hit, based on Resurrection's John 3:30 theme. ("He must be greater. I must be less.") Piney Flats youth helped market the shirts by donning neon wigs and star-shaped sunglasses and standing on the sales table. The group expected to sell 6,000 shirts for about $25,000-$30,000 in profit. Ten percent of the profits are designated for Youth Service Fund, but the goal is to use the rest to buy a church van, Gilmer said.

Winning the shirt contest was the icing on the cake after a spectacular year for Piney Flats youth ministry, she added.

"There was a handful of kids -- about eight -- when I started 10 years ago," she said. This year, Piney Flats brought 30 youth to Resurrection. About 25 are active in the youth ministry.

Other bright moments in Piney Flats' recent history: Devon Wade, age 15, and Maddie Gilmer, age 17, won the Johnson City District's Festival of Gifts and Talents contest and the opportunity to perform on the Resurrection stage at Gatlinburg Convention Center. Gilmer sang and Wade played guitar to "Let It Go" by Tenth Avenue North.

"It was nerve-wracking. I've never been in front of a crowd like that," said Wade of the 7,300-strong audience on the first Resurrection weekend. 'But after the first few seconds, it was OK."

Other youth members have found success and support through the youth ministry as well, including Jordan Frye, age 17, who won the Niswonger Scholarship and plans to study social work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and Cory Counts, age 19, who serves his former youth group as a young adult assistant.

Gilmer said the secrets behind the success are supportive clergy (including Manis and former pastors Laura Rasor and Carol Wilson), an active children's ministry that feeds into the youth ministry; and dedicated students.

"My schedule is crazy, but I need that soul food and friendship that I get from being at church twice each week," said Frye.

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