I have always wondered who put together the magic that is a youth conference. Who picked the leadership on the stage, the theme, the games, who made it work? Well, in 2017 I learned a little about how a conference comes together when I was asked to be on the 2017 Montreat Youth Conference Planning Team. What began with a phone call from a Co-Director, led to a theme development meeting, which led to weeks of preparation, and then the big day arrived where we went to Montreat to put on the conference. That summer was amazing! I thought- WOW I have hit my peak at Montreat, I helped plan A Missing Peace, a conference that was fun, funny and all around great. Fast forward to 2018 when I received another phone call, this time asking ME to be the 2020 Co-Director for Montreat. If you know me, you know that Montreat is a place that I love. It is where I met Andrew, where I realized my love for working with youth, and ultimately, I discovered my calling from God to go to seminary and become a pastor.
Co-Directing began like it should in 2018. We were excited and ready to host the “We ARE” conference in 2020, but, sadly, Covid put these plans to a screeching halt. There would be no summer conference that year. BUT God would not let Covid be the end of the story. Montreat Youth Conference extended their request, wanting me to co-direct the 2022 conference.
So I found myself again planning but this time for 2022! “More Than Enough” was born out of the fear and anxiety so many felt after Covid. We, as humans, are more than enough, we have more than enough love, more than enough fear, and in all honesty, sometimes, we have to say when enough is enough.
I arrived at Montreat a week before the conference began, a day before the planning team arrived, and two days before our stage leadership arrived. “More Than Enough” had been months of planning, hours upon hours of zoom calls, and years in the making. Every word, image, song that would come from the Auditorium would be filtered through me. I spent hours trying to understand the ideas behind something so simple as the word “resist” and how that may be understood by every single person. The anxiety of, “what if they hate it?” “what if this was stupid” “am I actually smart enough to do this” “what if the fire doesn’t work?” Oh, I had more than enough questions. With thousands of people counting on me, was I truly ENOUGH?
The scriptures and themes used for the week were compiled together by the stage leaders of all 6 weeks of conferences. They met together just once and spent hours filling in a theme grid that developed into 5 keynotes, 5 sermons/ worship services, 9 small group lessons, 9 connecting groups and recreation ideas, and one opening night skit. For my two weeks of conferences, I led weeks 3 and 4, the theta weeks which were the middle and the largest grouping of conferences. My two amazing and talented musicians knew each other, but lived in different parts of the country, and my preacher had never been to a Montreat Youth Conference. Two amazing recreation leaders joined us who truly understood and could teach the theology behind play and lastly, the newest to the team, a keynoter who had been to Montreat as an adult, but never as a youth. Of this team, only 1 had ever led from the Anderson Auditorium stage. Let’s add in a few short summer staffers because, Covid was still around, and my “what ifs” changed, BUT I was ready to go. My team needed a leader, and I was perfectly prepared to be that for them. God knew that I was more than enough and that my team, though we had hurdles and challenges, were more than enough too. The questions still nagged me, but I was ready to lean into the weeks resting in God’s wisdom and provision.
I was so excited that Trinity’s Youth would be there for the first week, but was sad that my time would not be spent with them. I was excited for them to hear the daily themes and hoped that when we would return home, I would hear their thoughts and see how it might have impacted them in the long run versus the there-and-now. Like every camp, there are always hiccups along the way and I am grateful to those that went as adults to help guide the path that these youth would walk.
Programming began on Sunday evening. As I waited for the week to begin, the nerves hit me. But as the night progressed, I heard the youth laugh (mainly at our bad jokes on stage) and a skit that I wrote just days before had morphed into this funny, easy going, informative skit about what’s what in Montreat. I felt the excitement flowing from the hype video to the very last word said on stage. We energized, we laughed, and we prepared to worship God. I could breathe a sigh of relief. One done, 10 more to do.
On Monday, the theme of the day was “Recognize”. We recognize that without God, we are not enough. Our keynote would cover the feeding of the 5000 passage from Mark, where we would take apart this story into its two parts, the feeding and the resting. Which of these is more important? Can that answer ever really be given? The Keynote left us opened to go and discuss the questions in small groups. Recreation time, known as Connecting Groups, gives us time to decompress the hard stuff and laugh together- because laughing together leads to better conversations together. That evening in worship, we talked about the mask of Esther and her role in “for such a time as this”- the time is now, the time is today- the time is that we will never be in this place together again at this time. The mask we wear today, the mask of fear, the mask of not being good enough, was discussed in small groups and flowed to the stage throughout worship.
On Tuesday, the theme of the day was “Receive”. Because of God’s love, we are more than enough. The keynote stated things that were not easy to hear- that God does not make mistakes. We talked about Genesis 1:26-31, that we are created in the image of God. That “they” tell us we are not…enough. We debriefed the quote “I will never fit in because I was not meant to” by Cher Lloyd and of course Christmas in July, the old cartoon about misfit toys. We also looked at all the “misfits” in the Bible, Moses, Paul, David, Peter, Bathsheba, Mary, and even Jesus. We left reminded that we are created IN God’s image, God is not created in our image. That night at worship, we looked at Romans and talked about how there is NOTHING that can separate us from God’s love. That we love things so much in this world and can screw up, sometimes so badly, but no matter what it is, God still loves us.
On Wednesday, the theme of the day was “Rely”. In God’s hands, we have more than enough. Like in the story of Exodus, the Israelites had more than enough given to them each day, we have enough if we rely on God. Our Keynote reminded us that God might not give us what we want but will always give us what we need. In worship, we looked at two stories in the Bible about the same community, the parable of the rich fool and the widow who gave a coin, which was all she had. We talked about the worship leader’s experience at a church in San Antonio, the same community having fast amounts of poverty and extreme wealth side by side and how they chose to help others looks very different. As a community, we took communion, a reminder that we are always enough to partake of the bread and juice given to us through God.
On Thursday, the theme of the day was “Resist”. Enough is enough and by God’s power we can do more than enough. Our Keynote started the day off full of emotions. He flipped a table full of dishes, the bread and grapes used at last night’s communion table set up, and the tablecloth from the table. God gives us what we need in communion, but sometimes enough really is enough. We looked at the scripture of Jesus flipping tables. We were given permission to be angry, mad, and upset with whatever we needed to be and at whoever it needed to be at whether that is the church, at racism, at any injustice in the world, or even how you are seen by others because of their misconceived predispositions. We learned about images that are used in both good and bad ways and what they truly mean. The example used was the raised fist. This fist today is believed to be a “bad” symbol of power, but it’s just a symbol of resistance. The raised fist has been used all over the world by so many organizations that the true meaning of it has disappeared. We left keynote feeling empowered to feel the feelings whether they may be, anger, sadness, or even confusion. This flowed right into evening worship, where we continued to feel the emotions from the morning. We talked about Shiphrah and Puah and how they stood up to a king, they resisted the human king in fear and belief in God. As co-directors, we discussed a cause that fit our theme of More Than Enough, and this night, we took an offering for Heifer International, because in 2022- poverty and hunger in a world where there is enough food for all truly is an ENOUGH IS ENOUGH type of situation! We ended worship singing This Little Light of Mine, which was written as a resistance song from the Civil Rights Movement and on this night, it was a celebration song that reminded us that we are the light of Jesus.
Friday was the last day and the theme of the day was “Realize”. Filled with God’s Spirit, together, we are more than enough. Will these dry bones rise? This was the start of the keynote. We are a community, the body of Christ! We matter, we matter to God, and we matter to someone! We might not ever know the impact we have and who it may be at, but we will impact someone in the community. God is calling, are you going to answer? During worship that evening we celebrated Pentecost. Will these dry bones rise to what God is calling us to do? We are commissioned and anointed with the love of Jesus to go out in a fiery love to spread God’s love to the world. From the fire in the baptismal font, we bought candles around Lake Susan and had our benediction while everyone held a lit candle. Slowly, we would blow out those candles, starting with summer staff and recreation crew, back home leaders, stage leadership and planning team, all the way until our graduated seniors. We left knowing that we are enough and to let our light shine in the world!
These three weeks at Montreat, though each week had its own setbacks, joys, and stresses, were some of the most powerful weeks I have ever had in my faith journey. To know that I may have been a part of impacting just one person means more to me than I can ever express in words. God placed more on my heart and more for me to think about as I begin my walk in seminary in the fall. Conference ministry is so powerful, a true mountain top experience that travels with me even in the valleys of the hard times. These are times that I know God is holding my hand and saying Miriam- you got this! You are called, you are loved, and you are MORE THAN ENOUGH!
Tim Blair says
WOW! Thank you for sharing this amazing journey.
Marylin Kelly says
I’m so glad you shared this experience. I feel I know you a little better.