PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Jan. 27, 2016) -- The struggle was real for youth leaders.
All over Holston Conference, ministry leaders were faced with a courageous decision in the hours leading up to the Friday lift-off for Resurrection, the annual spiritual retreat for junior- and senior-high students.
Should they ... (A) strike out for Pigeon Forge despite massive snow and treacherous roads? Or ... (B) stay safe at home despite financial loss and massive disappointment of youth who worked and anticipated all year?
Snow didn’t stop the show at Resurrection 2016, although attendance was at least 4,500 fewer than expected. At the conclusion of the Jan. 22-24 event at LeConte Center – a new city and venue for the 31-year-old gathering – organizers recorded a total attendance of 6,008.
“So, who else has spent the entire day watching weather forecasts, advisories, and warnings while trying to make decisions about going to Resurrection?” the Rev. Jonathan Jonas asked via Facebook on Jan. 21.
Jonas later said his 35-member group from State Street United Methodist Church decided to stay home in Bristol, Va., because they were concerned about traveling between LeConte Center and their reserved mountain cabins.
“We lost about $1,400 on the cabins, plus about $1,000 in Resurrection registrations,” Jonas said.
Admission to Resurrection is $40 if pre-paid, $50 at the door.The Resurrection Design Team said they could not offer refunds, as did many hotel owners who had booked the youth groups.
Several snowbound groups made the best of the situation by hosting church lock-ins or parties to encourage youth to watch one or all four Resurrection sessions via live stream. Some made the trip to Pigeon Forge only to pull up the live stream when they were snowbound in their cabins. (See related story.)
Live-stream participation was “higher than any we have ever had before,” said Laura Lambert McLean, Holston Conference youth ministries director, with 24,081 total views and 15,806 unique views.
MUSIC & MESSAGE
Youth groups arriving onsite at LeConte Center discovered a revised Resurrection schedule that combined two sessions into one and adjusted for projected snowfall.
They also encountered a Resurrection that included, not just one praise band, but four Christian recording artists.
Bellarive made its inaugural appearance at Resurrection on Friday night, Saturday morning and Saturday night. On Saturday night, headliner Chris Tomlin performed, and on Sunday morning, The City Harmonic made a surprise appearance. Both Tomlin and City Harmonic have played for Resurrections past. Rapper B-Shoc opened each session.
“Amazing worship at #Rez16 with Chris Tomlin,” the Facebook page for Emerald Youth Foundation announced after the concert. “We're praying our high school youth know he is a ‘good good father.’”
“Good Good Father” is the name of Tomlin’s new single.
The speaker was Fred Lynch, a former gospel rapper currently with the nondenominational firm, Kingdom Building Ministries. He preached that “Jesus pimp-slapped death.” He pressed youth to “get strong,” make a decision for Christ, and take their belief beyond the mountaintop experience at Resurrection.
“Everybody is saying ‘doom, doom, doom,’” Lynch said. “But I think it’s the perfect set-up for God to show up in your life.”
On social media, some raised concerns about theology, scheduling and the no-refund policy. Others praised Lynch and the bands.
“Fred Lynch touched so many more lives again tonight,” said Whitney Boyd, a leader from Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Pulaski, Va. “He is so powerful. Bellarive is my new favorite band.”
Following tradition, each of Holston’s 12 districts was represented by a talent act which had won the honor in earlier competitions. The youth offerings included Red Oak UMC’s liturgical dance to “Blessings” (Tazewell); Washington Chapel UMC’s five-piece band/ three-singer cover of “Soul on Fire” (Abingdon); and Trinity UMC’s interpretative drama to “He Knows My Name” (Cleveland).
"Concord youth band lights it up at Rez16!” Rev. Wil Cantrell of Concord United Methodist Church wrote on his Facebook page, referring to the group's original song, “Future/Past" by John Mark McMillan. Concord is located in the Oak Ridge District.
The three-day gathering concluded on Sunday following Holy Communion. As youth groups made their way home from Pigeon Forge’s festive lights and tourist paradise, social media was flooded with their photos and gratitude.
“It's been loud. We haven't had a lot of sleep. I was certain we were going to slide off the mountain a few times, but I'm so glad I got to spend the weekend with the best youth and youth leaders around,” wrote Joybella McCray, First United Methodist Church of Elizabethton, Tenn. “I'm excited to see God work in our lives.”
“I want to thank all the youth leaders who took the time to go with us as well grow closer to God,” Hannah Davis, a student from Grainger County, Tenn., wrote. “The trip wasn’t possible without you all.”
> RezKidz, the coinciding family event held in LeConte Center on Jan. 23-24, was boosted by an invitation to join the Chris Tomlin concert, causing pre-registrations to grow from 540 to more than 1,000 within one week before the event, organizers said. Final attendance, also hampered by snow, was about 400.
> Youth Service Fund: The Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) asked participants to give at least $10 per person for a fund supporting both domestic and international youth ministries through the awarding of grants. Total Youth Service Fund offering was $8,412, according to JaNae’ Swanson-Brown, registrar.
> T-shirts were sold this year by Signal Crest United Methodist Church of Signal Mountain, Tenn., after they won the annual design contest back in the summer. T-shirts are still available to buy online, with shipping costs added. Ten percent of Signal Crest’s profits will be donated to Youth Service Fund.
> Survey: Share your thoughts with the Design Team.
> Next year, Resurrection will be held Jan. 20-22, 2017, at LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.