PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Jan. 31, 2019) -- The stage was dark, a slight mumbling from the crowd could be heard, and then the spotlight lit up a teenage girl holding a guitar. She stepped up to the microphone and began the first notes of her song.
At first, the crowd was watching only her, but then the words of the song and the notes of the music began to stir their souls. The Holy Spirit was present.
Carly Riggs, a junior at Bland County High School in Virginia, was one of nine district representatives at Resurrection 2019 from the Festival of Gifts and Talents. The annual weekend event, held Jan. 25-27, was attended by about 9,000 youth and leaders at LeConte Center.
Laura McLean, associate director of connectional ministries for youth and young adults in Holston Conference since 2008, said that the festival used to include 13 representatives but it dropped to 10 this year.
“Holston went from 12 districts to nine districts. Each district has a festival of gifts and talents and chooses who will represent their district through those festivals,” she said in a recent e-mail. “We also have a youth talent from a group that attends from outside of Holston. A group from the Resurrection design team chooses that one from video submissions.”
Riggs found out about Festival of Gifts and Talents from her Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) mentors. They told her it was okay if she didn’t win but she needed to try.
“They said to just go out there and spread the Word,” said Riggs, who was ultimately selected to represent the New River District. “I went and there was so much great talent. I had no idea that I was going to win. It was amazing that I did. I was truly blessed with it, and I am so happy to share with how many people are here.”
Finding the special song to play at Resurrection wasn’t easy for her. Riggs first heard a song from Hillsong Worship while at the movie theater.
“I started bawling because it was so beautiful, but I couldn’t find the name of it. It’s called ‘Oceans,’ but it doesn’t say oceans in the song,” she said. “Then I heard it one day on the radio and I immediately wrote it down, went home and taught myself the song on the guitar.”
The Rev. Kevin Richardson was one of the leaders from the Bland Circuit who attended with Riggs. He says he met her through Kevin “Curley” Pauley who is active with FCA.
“He was the one who prompted her into doing it,” he said. “Once I heard her sing, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, she has got to do this.’ Our charge has not won the Gifts and Talents for about 10 years. We are kind of up there. There’s no red light, no railroad. There’s 4,500 people, 15,000 cows, 17 United Methodist churches. We are really small so to have one of our own on stage up there ... it does a lot for our youth. It just shows them that God uses us, too.”
McLean believes that the talent presentations are a big part of the Resurrection experience. She says it gives students a chance to share their God-given gifts with their peers.
“I’ve heard countless stories of youth who have been in the audience and have been inspired by seeing other youth on stage,” she said. “Many of these who have been inspired go home and share gifts and talents with their local churches. It is so important to involve young people in the life and leadership of our churches and worship services and sharing their talents is one perfect way to do that.”
Abby Simpson, 15, attends McFerrin United Methodist in Church Hill, Tennessee. She was part of a team that used black lights and white gloves to tell a story. They got the idea from another church in the Appalachian District. When they approached the other group about their interest, that team went to McFerrin to teach them how to perform using black lights. McFerrin’s group of 10 spent several hours over the past three weeks learning their routine.
Their youth leader chose a song that would relay a special message to students attending Resurrection.
“It communicates that God sent his son to earth to die on the cross for us so we could be born again one day,” said Simpson. “When you are in the audience you are being spoken to. But when you are on stage people are trying to get the message from you. You are relaying the message.”
Malia McAmi, 13, also performed with the McFerrin group. She said although it was her first time at Resurrection, she wasn’t nervous to perform.
“While we are up there we can’t see anyone, and we don’t know what they are thinking. It’s pretty intense,” she said.
Riggs agrees. Although she has a lot of experience on stage, she says the experience is powerful.
“Resurrection is amazing. Everybody is your age. There are songs you like, with messages you can understand. It’s just awesome,” Riggs said.
Here are the district talent groups that appeared at Resurrection 2019:
Scenic South: Youth band, Hixson UMC
Hiwassee: Ella, soloist, First UMC in Cleveland
Smoky Mountain: Reagan, soloist, Fairview UMC in Maryville
Tennessee Valley: Youth band, Middlebrook Pike UMC
Mountain View: Ainsley, soloist, First UMC in Morristown
Appalachian: Black-light presentation group, McFerrin UMC
Three Rivers: Stephen and Kelsey, singers, First UMC, Johnson City / Eden UMC
Clinch Mountain: Samarah, soloist, Addilynn Memorial UMC
New River: Carly, soloist, Bland Charge
Outside Holston Conference: Youth band, First UMC in Crossville, Tenn.
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a Deaconess Home-Missioner. Her home church is Wesley Memorial UMC in the Three Rivers District.