Where did I leave off?
Michael and I were playing on our computers waiting for dinner! The meals did leave a bit to be desired but since they were included in our conference fee, we weren’t complaining. After dinner on Day 2 we made the long trek for the millionth time to the Elliot Music Hall for worship. The best part was that Anna and Madelyn were singing! The musical workshop they participated in was led by the Gospel for Teens group out of Harlem-taught by Vy Higginsen. The girls were FANTASTIC, as were the rest of the teens. You can catch a video of their performance here: Gospel for Teens and scroll to the 25 minute mark. It was so great to hear the young voices of the UCC, trained for just 2 hours earlier that day. After the beautiful music, our keynote was a young woman named Lolisa. She told us about finding out when she was 18 that she was HIV+ and had been from birth most likely. Her message was to take care of our bodies and be aware of what’s going on around us.
Day 3 started with breakfast and morning worship. We learned about the global ministries of the UCC and partnerships with other churches. The highlight of the morning was JR Martinez who gained fame on All My Children and Dancing with the Stars. He spoke on the need to adapt and overcome all the obstacles that come in our way. He suffered injuries in Iraq and came home with many obstacles to overcome such as relearning basic motor skills. We were all mesmerized as we listened to him tell us how it is being out in the world as an outsider. We attended workshops in the mid-day and returned to worship that evening. This time we had drum circle and a message of everyone has their own rhythm. We can’t all be like one another, we don’t have to conform or fall in line. We make the world beautiful by being different! We were also blessed with the music of several dozen UCC youth on their stringed instruments. They were providing the music for “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga and vocals were provided by the gospel choir. It was beautiful music! You can catch a glimpse of the band here: All Strings scroll to 32 minutes. Music was a central theme in our worship services, if you haven’t noticed. After worship there was an outside concert featuring a techno band Rhema Soul and a spoken word poet duo Climbing Poetree.
Day 4, our final day at NYE, was the same format as the other days except instead of many mini-workshops there were events hosted by various conference ministers. Twenty-two conference ministers were gracious enough to host these workshops. Maia Yager said “I have learned how to commit to something bigger than me.” She is a young lady with Downs Syndrome and she spoke to us about being inclusive and supporting one another. She spoke directly to the youth about why it’s important to be a part of church and how that has changed her. This was the most moving part of the National Youth Event. She was followed by Geoffrey Black, UCC president, who led a Twitter Townhall. Maia was a hard act to follow but he was equally awesome and answered all questions with enthusiasm. People were curious about if he had played in the Purdue fountain, his favorite part of NYE and how can the youth take what they’ve learned back to their communities. The evening service offered communion and a few small speeches to close out the week of worship. It was a great end to a long week. We all went our separate ways to say good-byes and get a good night’s sleep.
Our trip home started with a flat tire about fifteen minutes into the drive. This caused a forty-five minute delay in getting on the road. Once we were back on the road, it was full speed ahead and we got home, exhausted but energized about bringing these ideas back to Old First and the Penn Southeast Conference.