Over three weekends in January, almost 13,000 people attended signature Holston Conference events that call youth and young adults to the Great Smoky Mountains to encounter God in new ways.
Resurrection, held Jan. 13-15 and Jan. 20-22 at Gatlinburg Convention Center, logged about 12,000 participants including middle- and high school students, adult mentors, volunteers, exhibitors, staff, and musicians, according to the conference youth office. About 500 groups attended from Holston’s 897 churches as well as from other United Methodist conferences and denominations. (See group photos!)
A record 563 youth and adults answered Resurrection’s invitation for the call to ministry – a number for which Bishop James Swanson said he was thankful.
More than 600 attended Divine Rhythm, Resurrection's spin-off spiritual gathering for adults ages 18-35. The event was held Jan. 27-29 at the Ramada Inn's Smoky Mountain Convention Center in Pigeon Forge. On Saturday afternoon, about 100 participants joined in a Stop Hunger Now missions project, packaging 10,680 dehydrated, high-protein meals for international distribution. (See video.)
This year’s Resurrection speaker, Reggie Dabbs, used stories about his Knoxville childhood, tenor saxophone solos, and musical drama (performed by his own traveling youth team) to emphasize the loving concern of God and his Christian communities for troubled and lonely teen-agers.
“I can, you can, we can, I got yo’ back,” Dabbs led his listeners to chant. He told them about how he, the biological child of a teenage prostitute, was eventually adopted by his foster family. The moral teachings of his new family and a relationship with Jesus Christ helped him overcome his broken beginning, Dabbs said.
“I don’t have to live like this. I don’t have to be lonely. I don’t have to be sad,” the speaker said, recalling his childhood pain and struggle. “I just have to make a choice."
Today, Dabbs is a motivational speaker living in Fort Meyers, Fla., and speaking in schools all over the nation.
Youth from First Sweetwater United Methodist Church had previously heard Dabbs speak at their high school, the Rev. Tony Collins said. “When they heard who the speaker was, they cheered." Led by Youth Ministry Director Isaac Collins, the Sweetwater group included 25 youth and seven adults.
Music was led by Wayne Kerr, a Christian artist from Houston, Texas, who also led worship for Divine Rhythm in years past.
The speaker for Divine Rhythm was Matthew Paul Turner, author of books including “Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess,” “Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost,” and the blog, “Jesus Needs New PR.” ”
Turner read passages from his “Churched” book about wacky childhood experiences in a fundamentalist church and told the story of an online friend whose relentless faith and joy – despite a debilitating and ultimately fatal disease – had enriched his family’s life with Christian example.
Stacey Rogers, member at Black Fox UMC, Cleveland District, said she appreciated Turner’s question, “What does your picture of God look like?”
“When we were talking about it later, we realized the answer is, 'I don’t know,’” said Rogers. “But that’s the point. It got us to thinking about that. That’s what we love about Divine Rhythm. We talk about it from the time we leave until the time we come back.”
The Casey Darnell Band from Atlanta returned to Pigeon Forge to lead worship. In addition to the Saturday afternoon Stop Hunger Now project, participants gave to an offering for Stop Hunger Now, joined in a Medic Blood Center drive, and donated peanut butter and winter coats for the needy.
Holy Communion was celebrated at the conclusion of both events, with Bishop Swanson present at two of the three weekends.
* More Resurrection photos
* Resurrection Facebook page
* Divine Rhythm Facebook page (with photos, survey)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.