By Brett Hetherington*
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” – Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)
“I have been on CCYM for six full years and I have seen many variations of Youth Annual Conference, but this year was something no one had expected,” Blair Porter, 2020-21 Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) chair, said about YAC 2020 being livestreamed on YouTube instead of meeting in person at Lakeside Chautauqua.
“As a senior it was incredibly challenging to hear that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Youth Annual Conference 2020 would have to take place online,” added 2019-2020 CCYM Chair Gwen Avery.
“Youth Annual Conference 2020 was nothing like what we expected it to be when we began planning it back in August of 2019; however, we all learned that even a quarantine can’t stop the Spirit from moving! We had a great time in worship even though we were gathered from all around the state,” shared EOC Director of Young People’s Ministries Kaye Wolfinger.
Originally scheduled for a three-day in-person gathering in Hoover Auditorium June 12-14, CCYM leaders shifted their focus to hosting a two-hour online conference the evening of June 14 because the coronavirus made it impossible for more than 1,000 people to be together in one place. Thankfully the scheduled featured speakers and worship leaders all agreed to pre-record their segments to be included in the livestream, and keynote speaker Shane Claiborne was able to chat live with youth and their leaders during the event to further the conversation on this year’s theme, Hope.
“It was wonderful to be able to have our speaker, Shane Claiborne, the band Tribe Collective, and our spoken word artist Egypt Speaks prerecorded,” Wolfinger said of the event, which also featured Bishop Tracy S. Malone sharing a message offering encouragement to all who missed out on milestones during the pandemic and a CCYM-produced tribute to graduating seniors.
“Although part of me still wishes we could have had a traditional YAC, another part of me is so grateful to have faced this challenge and have been able to overcome it so strongly. This setback made us stronger and produced something beautiful,” Avery said.
During her testimony, Avery shared that, “God knows you will feel hopeless at times, that you will feel pushed down into the deepest darkness at times. But He is a beacon of hope.”
Porter watched the testimony on a large screen with seven other youth socially distanced inside Memorial Hall at their church.
“The highest youth attendance my church has ever had go to YAC before this year was two, but this year our church had eight youth watching YAC! Sometimes the cost of traveling and staying at YAC is too high for the smaller youth groups to pay for, but this year YAC was free to watch, so everyone had the opportunity to virtually participate in Youth Annual Conference!” she said. “YAC was certainly different this year and it wasn’t what we had expected, but God moved through YAC ‘at home.’ I love Lakeside and the community of YAC, but I would exchange three super fun days at YAC for new youth getting the opportunity to watch YAC and getting to know Jesus and The United Methodist Church any day.”
“I look back on YAC 2020 and feel nothing but pride and love. Pride for all those who worked strenuously to make our event the best it could be and love for everyone who adapted and accepted YAC in its final form. I wholeheartedly believe that God was moving fiercely through every single person who participated in YAC this year. Despite the major changes, the point remained the same and our goal of reaching people and spreading God’s word was met. I can tell you without a doubt that God was working through me when He guided me through my testimony and I hope that through me, others heard God,” said Avery.
View and download video of YAC 2020 on the Conference Vimeo page.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us – like our youth – is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.