When I was approached about being a conference pastor at PYT, I was enlightened to a whole new perspective on the promise and power of being a connectional church beyond our denomination. Thanks be to God for the PC(USA) partnership with Cumberland Presbyterian Church that nurtures the faith of more than 4,500 youth and adults by way of PYT. From my experience as one of six chaplains to the attendees, I will convey a small sample of the ways I learned more about God, God’s people and myself.
- The church is NOT dead. The body of Christ is alive and well as evidenced by the worship, acts of service, sharing of heart and faith I witnessed at PYT. When I asked the youth about their favorite aspect of PYT, worship was the number one answer! YOUTH. LOVED. WORSHIP. In addition, during the time I staffed the prayer center, I watched many young people fully engage in the prayer stations, even sitting in the rocking chairs listening to “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” on repeat. The church is NOT dead.
- God is still speaking. On the second day of PYT after worship, I was standing outside the exit doors in my designated chaplain spot. I was hoping for an opportunity to meet someone new or have the chance to encourage someone. God provided both. A young lady walked decisively toward me with a big smile on her face. She shared that in worship she clearly heard God calling her to service and she felt drawn to me to be the first to hear the news. What a privilege! I rejoiced with her and prayed with her. God is still speaking!
- I dare not pretend that all of my lessons were of a positive nature. I learned anew that our teens are hurting. Conflict resolution, self esteem, and mental illness are among the many issues they wrestle with. They need to constantly be reminded of God’s love, shown our love, and provided with firm, gracious guidance. We have work to do in the kingdom here on earth, and there is enough for us all.
My colleague, Steve Lindsley, was also PYT leadership. He was in the worship band named “The NETTLETONs”. He had this to say about his experience: “One of the great joys of leading music for a group of people is reaching that point when the song is no longer ‘yours’ but becomes ‘theirs’, where, if you wanted, you could step back from the mic, put down your instrument and walk off-stage, and the song would keep going. From day one, the 4500 folks gathered in the Hall of Music were 100% dialed in this way. We challenged them on the last day to take the music home with them—not just in a Spotify playlist or chord sheets to share in their churches, but to live out the message of one song in particular: “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it.” What a humbling privilege it was to be part of this amazing gathering!”