GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- From east Tennessee, southwest Virginia and beyond, 10,700 teenagers, counselors, and workers attended the 29th annual "Resurrection" spiritual event for youth held Jan. 17-19 and Jan. 24-26 at Gatlinburg Convention Center.
Organized by the Holston Conference and led by a group of elected students representing each of Holston's 12 districts, Resurrection is attended primarily by United Methodist youth but also attracts church groups from other denominations and regions.
The gathering features a spiritual message by a guest preacher and worship music by a Christian rock band. This year, the message was provided by the Rev. Andy Nixon, lead pastor of the Loft, a campus of Woodlands United Methodist Church in Woodlands, Texas.
Through personal stories and video, Nixon spoke to youth about accepting their own blessedness and brokenness and loving the mix in other people.
"There should be part of us that flat-out rocks," said Nixon. "There is also part of us that is busted-out broken ... You've got to love both, because that's what Jesus has done with you."
For the second year, the featured band was The City Harmonic, originally from Ontario, Canada, inspiring youth to rush to the stage, pump their fists and sing aloud to anthems such as "Manifesto" and "Mountaintop."
On Saturday evening, youth waited in line to buy the musicians' merchandise or to get autographs and fan photos. (See photo.)
"The City Harmonic is by far the most popular band we've had at Resurrection," said Andrew McElroy, comparing it to Starfield (2007-2009), Kristian Stanfill (2010), and Wayne Kerr (2011-2012). McElroy, age 18, is president of the Council on Youth Ministries and member at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tenn.
"They use a lot of common liturgy in their songs, so Christians are able to connect," McElroy said. "The youth hear it in their churches but they've never seen it in this type of forum."
Additional music and drama were provided by youth groups from Holston districts, each winning a chance to display their talents before thousands in contests conducted during the previous fall. (See photo.)
Youth groups arrive on Friday afternoon or evening, lodging in hotels or cabins and enjoying the restaurants and tourist attractions of the Smoky Mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
In addition to the spiritual message provided by the speaker, youth are encouraged to participate in their own devotions after the convention-center sessions on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday morning.
"We came closer at Resurrection because of our devotional time," said Spencer, age 17, of St. Elmo United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn. "Our youth group was kind of distance the last few months. This was like a family reunion."
The Saturday evening session traditionally features an emotional "altar call" when participants are invited to come near the stage pray, hug, commit or re-commit their lives to Jesus Christ, or consider a lifetime career in the church.
The Sunday morning session features Holy Communion, celebrated by Holston pastors and the resident bishop. (See photo.) The groups depart for home after Sunday-morning worship.
Over two weekends, participants gave a total of about $12,100 for education in South Sudan and about $25,500 for Youth Service Fund. (See photo.)
See also: Andy Nixon blog, "I have seen the future at Resurrection 2014"