PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. -- Like many students attending Resurrection last weekend, Israel Niehaus was not a fan of virus-conscious rules prohibiting him and fellow worshipers from rushing to the stage inside LeConte Center.
He preferred the days before COVID-19, when Resurrection participants could crowd shoulder-to-shoulder around the musicians on stage. “I felt like we could get into the music and worship more. It helped us focus,” said Niehaus, 18, a member of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Tenn.
Like many youth leaders attending Resurrection last weekend, Mary Hatmaker was a fan of the assigned seating, which kept groups socially distanced and eliminated the lines to get the best seats.
“Assigned seats, why not? It was kind of nice to have it already decided for us,” said Hatmaker, who accompanied the youth from Memorial United Methodist Church in Clinton, Tenn.
Amid concerns of exposure to COVID-19 and disapproval from some who felt the show shouldn’t go on, Resurrection 2022 went forward Jan. 21-23 with face masks and other requirements to keep participants as safe as possible from virus spread.
The theme was “Together Again,” with about 3,800 showing up to experience an in-person Resurrection, after the pandemic forced an online-only gathering in 2021. At the last in-person Resurrection in January 2020, attendance was 8,322.
This year’s speaker was Paul Epperson of Forge Kingdom Building Ministries, who shared stories from his Mississippi childhood (riding a tractor, picking blueberries) to encourage listeners to serve Christ.
"This is the big picture of the North American church today,” said Epperson, preaching on Matthew 9:37. “Everybody and their mamma wants to sit on the porch and wait for the cobbler. But there are very few people who want to put their ‘yes’ and their willingness and all they have on the table with Jesus and join him out in the fields and the patches of people’s lives.”
Roger Williams and the All Mixed-up Quartet led worship with gospel standards like “I’ll Fly Away” as well as original music like “I’ll Keep Pressing on.” Williams, a pastor at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tenn., said he wrote the song by request for a funeral. By the end of the four worship sessions throughout the weekend, youth were singing along:
“I’ll keep pressing, pressing on. I’ll keep pressing on. For the Lord hasn’t put any quit in my bones. I’ll keep pressing on.”
A member of the praise band, Evan McCrady, shared his emotional testimony of a near-death bout with kidney disease and sang “All I Have is Christ.”
“My entire attitude throughout all of it is -- it’s not about me. I am put on this earth to share the gospel,” said McCrady. “If you have anything health-wise or anything else going on in your life and you don’t know the Lord, it gives you a peace like nothing I have ever known.”
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, resident bishop of Holston Conference, was introduced at Resurrection for her first time and interviewed by emcee Josh French. After Wallace-Padgett said she was a physical education major and former basketball player at Berea College, French invited her to a shooting competition.
Laughing, Wallace-Padgett quickly sunk three hoops to defeat French (who shot with one hand while holding a microphone in the other).
“Game over,” she said, reaching up to high-five French. “Don’t patronize me,” he joked, as the audience cheered.
On Sunday morning, Wallace-Padgett returned to the stage to celebrate Holy Communion with the Rev. Sarah Varnell. Participants used pre-filled, disposable communion cups that kept them in their seats and reduced opportunities for virus exposure.
An offering of $3,363 was taken to help youth groups with challenges imposed by the pandemic. Applications for grants will be available at holstonyouth.com on Feb. 1, said Laura McLean, Holston associate director of connectional ministries. The Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) will review applications and award grants in March.
Youth soloists and groups also shared on stage as part of Resurrection’s traditional “Festival of Gifts and Talents.” Presenters included six members of Mary’s Chapel United Methodist Church (Bristol, Va.) singing “Trust in You,” as well as musical groups from Hixson United Methodist Church and Concord United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Jason Roe, Resurrection Design Team leader, introduced organizers of Resurrection in Costa Rica. The third annual event in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is scheduled for Oct. 7-9, 2022, and Roe said mission team members are being recruited. Proceeds from Resurrection T-shirt sales help support missions like the worship festival for youth and young adults in La Fortuna, he added.
The exhibition hall included far fewer displayers (12) than in recent years, and included Jubilee Project, Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, Tennessee Wesleyan College, and Emory & Henry College.
Annabel Hines, an exhibitor from Mountain TOP (Tennessee Outreach Project), a home-repair ministry based in Coalmont, Tenn., said the smaller attendance turned out to be an advantage.
“It worked in our favor, because it allowed us to spend more time with the people who came to our table,” Hines said, adding that Bishop Wallace-Padgett was one of several who dropped by to chat.
While many participants praised the opportunity to gather again in person (“We watched online last year, and it just wasn’t the same,” said Jody Boggess of Allen Memorial United Methodist Church, Athens, Tenn.), others made the choice to stay safer by staying home.
Leaders of the youth group at First United Methodist Church in Dandridge, Tenn., decided to withdraw from their original plan of traveling to Pigeon Forge on Saturday only. Instead, youth met at the church to watch online, while church members provided individually wrapped dinner items and socially distanced games.
“Our church and local county schools were affected by COVID and Flu-A cases that week, and it felt like the best choice to keep our kids well but also to prevent any further spreading at the in-person event,” said Kate Doyle Miller, director of youth and young adult ministries.
Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church also stayed home as COVID-19 cases peaked in Johnson City, Tenn. “We are so sad to cancel our time together at Resurrection, but … we do not have enough chaperones to go ahead with our plans,” Munsey leaders announced Jan. 19 on Facebook.
Amanda Onks, long-time Resurrection co-host, tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the weekend, leaving her at home in Johnson City while her partner Josh French emceed the event solo on the LeConte Center stage.
Of 206 initial groups registering for the Pigeon Forge weekend, 18 canceled, said Amy Gattis, registrar. Of 250 tickets that were suddenly available, “all but about 50, we were able to sell to other groups.”
All nine of Holston Conference’s districts were represented, plus 26 groups from other United Methodist conferences or groups, including Baptist, Church of God, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, and non-denominational, Gattis said.
Other than Holston’s own states (Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia), other states represented by participants included Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, and Vermont.
“It was definitely a different year, but good to be back,” Gattis said. “Churches showed much patience and grace, and for that, we were grateful.”
Watch Resurrection 2022 stream.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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