By Rick Wolcott*
“On behalf of CCYM I want to welcome you all to Youth Annual Conference 2022,” said Lexi Salkovick, chair of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. “We are so happy to be back to face-to-face after two years of virtual events.”
The campus of Walsh University in North Canton was the site of YAC 2022 where approximately 80 youth and 40 adult leaders gathered June 17-19 to worship, fellowship, witness, and grow in their faith. Following two years of YAC being held virtually for two hours on a single day, using Facebook in 2020 and the interactive platform HopIn last year, there was energy across the campus all weekend as participants rekindled old friendships and made new ones. Over three days youth and their leaders heard inspirational messages, enjoyed live music, worked together in breakout sessions, relaxed during recreation time, engaged with and laughed at an improv group, worshipped and took communion, and walked together in prayer.
Keynote Speaker: Rev. Dr. Stephanie Hand
“I want you to write on this little piece of paper the thing or things that may be hindering you from becoming the fullness of who God created you to be, whatever it may be that is concerning you. This is between you and God. Give the paper back to God during the walk,” instructed the Rev. Dr. Stephanie Hand during the Saturday night service before the prayer walk. “Here’s my hope, when you give it back to God tonight that you leave it in God’s hands and I’m going to ask you to have great expectation to believe that God’s word is true. You may be holding onto some things that you think is too hard for God, but, my friends, God is beckoning us today to bring it to God and trust with great anticipation that God will answer our prayers.”
Throughout the weekend the Rev. Dr. Hand, a Deacon serving as Vitality strategist in the Metro District of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, repeated her messages to the youth and their youth leaders that as Christians we must show up for God and that we can win with what we’ve got.
“Do you know why we have to show up?” she asked during Friday’s opening night session. “Because God, through Jesus Christ, got off the cross for you and for me so therefore we too on a day-to-day basis we, too, must show up. When people bully us in school we still have to show up. When we bully other people and we go home and can’t sleep at night because the Holy Spirit is agitating our spirit we still have to show up and apologize, Amen? When someone is struggling, and you know they’re struggling, when they’re in your community and they don’t have all the things they need, and you can see it, instead of walking by we have to show up.”
She then reminded the youth that they are not walking their faith journey alone.
“Your youth leaders showed up today when they picked you up to bring you to this great place. They show up for you every single time. They show up when you are in need. So, therefore, my young friends, this weekend I want you to show up in the fullness of who God created you to be.”
Rev. Dr. Hand concluded Friday’s message by encouraging YAC participants to believe in themselves because God has gifted them with all that they need to succeed.
“You can win with what you’ve got. You can win with the package God has already created for you to have. You’re tall enough. You’re short enough. You’re wide enough. You’re thin enough. Your hair is enough. Your eyes are enough. Your hands are enough. Your smile is enough. You are good just the way you are. Don’t let nobody tell you anything differently,” she said. “God is here waiting on us. The question is will we get out of the way and stop being afraid to witness and be with God?”
On Saturday, she continued encouraging youth and their leaders to step out in faith.
“Get out of your tribe and join the greater tribe because the world is waiting on you in this space and place. Introduce yourself to somebody who you don’t know. You have no idea the impact you will have on their lives and the impact they could have on yours. Be a part of the body of Christ because we need each other,” she said. “You’ve been marked by Christ so live as little Jesus’ walking around on this earth. Live as Christians and be an example so that the world will see the light of Christ in each and every one of you and somebody today might draw nigh to you and ask you why are you so excited and it will give you an opportunity, my young friends, to tell them about a savior that you love and you serve and that you’re not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sunday’s closing worship service message was for participants to be emboldened to continue learning and sharing about God as they left the comfort of their YAC group and returned home.
“I hope that you can stand firm on the things that have been poured into you this weekend. I hope that you can stand firm on what your counselors and your ministry leaders have been pouring into you ever since you stepped into ministry in your local church. I hope that when you leave these sacred places that you’re worshipping as one mind, one spirit, and one body and that you can leave these places and spaces and go out into the world and go out into your space and place where you hang out and that you are able to stand firm and say, ‘I am a child of God and because I’m a child of God I am good enough.’ And if you’re nervous, pray, and if you’re uncomfortable, pray. Pray without ceasing,” she said.
CCYM Chairperson Testimony: Lexi Salkovick
After watching chairpersons over the past four years share their testimonies, CCYM chairperson Lexi Salkovick of Utica UMC (Three Rivers District) had her opportunity to share on Saturday night. She offered that preparing her message was an eye-opening experience because it made her realize that she hasn’t always been relentless in her faith – and she told those in the room that she realized that is ok.
“Where we struggle, God thrives. Where we fail, God succeeds. When we stumble and fall, God is there to pick us right back up. We serve a relentless God. A God who is never ending, never changing, and perfect. We serve a God who loves each and every one of us unconditionally and relentlessly,” Salkovick said. “The next time you feel hopeless, turn to God. The next time you feel scared, turn to God. The next time you feel like the world is crashing down around you, turn to God because I promise you, He will be waiting for you. I challenge you to go out of this place and be relentless, not just here, not just in your church, not just in your youth groups. I challenge you to be relentless and pray in all aspects of your life. And when you feel like you’ve failed, when you feel like you’ve disappointed God, when you feel like you’ve gone too far away from God, when you feel like you don’t even deserve Him, when you feel like He won’t even want you back, just turn around. I promise He will be waiting for you with outstretched arms because our God’s love is relentless.”
Guest Artists: Sarah Reeves and 321 Improv
“How many of you know that God is in the details?” asked Christian artist Sarah Reeves on the opening night of YAC. “God is always working for good and not for harm. We have an amazing Father.”
Reeves and her band offered testimonies through their words and music all weekend and interacted with the youth when not on stage.
“We’re not here to just put on a concert, we’re not here to go through the motions. I want you to know that Jesus sees you and He loves you. He sees you in your darkest moments. He’s knocking on the door of your heart and all you need to do is open the door and let Him into your life,” Reeves shared during the closing worship service on Sunday morning.
The weekend’s other guest artists were 321 Improv, a three-person comedy ministry that has been delighting groups across the country since 2004. Youth and their leaders laughed together at the antics of Carl Crispin, Jeremy Schofield, and Mike Domeny and they even got in on the fun by offering words, phrases, and scenarios for the team to include in their improv scenes.
Resourcing Youth Leaders
During the opening session of YAC on Friday night Director of Young People’s Ministries Kaye Wolfinger introduced the seven regional coordinators who assist in encouraging local youth ministries in their respective areas of the East Ohio Conference.
“These regional coordinators like to connect youth leaders, resourcing each other, and they even plan events from the grassroots,” Wolfinger shared from the stage before providing the names of two adults who were not in the room who serve on Conference Council on Youth Ministries.
Small Group and Breakout Sessions
YAC 2022 featured four small group times and one breakout session in place of the business sessions and district gatherings of year’s past. The small group times offered opportunities for the youth to reflect on their experience and have deeper conversation with one another. One of the small group sessions on Saturday was dubbed by CCYM as Tx3 (Turning the Tables), which began with a devotion about Jesus turning tables followed by discussion about social issues that matter to teens.
Youth were able to select, from these five opportunities, the one breakout session in which they would participate: Seek God in All Things, a prayer walk around campus; Prayer Keychain, creating their own macrame keychain; Let it Grow, painting a flower pot in which they then planted a succulent while talking about growing through prayer; Blessings Bags created by participants that included a handmade card and personal items to be distributed to those in need in the Canton area; and Yoga and Prayer, combining body movement and breathing to uncover the peace and calm of God within each of us.
There was also small group time designed specifically for youth leaders to talk about joys and challenges of connecting with youth and one another, and the importance of creating a culture of call.
Encouraging and Recognizing a Culture of Call
During the youth leaders’ small group, the Rev. Cindy Patterson, a Deacon serving as administrative coordinator for the East Ohio Conference Board of Ministry, shared that much of her ministry has been in youth ministry and Christian education. She was a member of CCYM during the first three Youth Annual Conference sessions in 1976, 1977, and 1978, has served in the local church, and now is a member of the Board helping people discern their calls in life.
“God calls all of us into whatever career we are called to do. So, whether you are a firefighter, an accountant, an entrepreneur, a teacher, whatever it is you are doing for pay God has called you into that and you are called to do that work for the Lord,” Patterson told the youth leaders. “We don’t tend to talk about that. I know when I was a youth and I was very active in my church nobody ever said, ‘Oh you’re going to be a teacher. You know God’s calling you to do that and you can be God’s person in that space.’ Nobody ever said that to me, and I think we missed that opportunity to really stress with young people that whatever it is God is calling you to do to get paid for your career it’s still part of your call.”
The Importance and Power of Prayer: Rev. Abby Auman
On Sunday, the Rev. Abby Auman, superintendent of the Mahoning Valley District and dean of the Cabinet, brought greetings from Bishop Tracy S. Malone, resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference. The bishop was unable to be at YAC because she was a guest speaker at the Annual Conference session for the Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church that was meeting in Baton Rouge. As part of the closing worship service, Auman explained the importance of prayer in the sacrament of communion while leading the youth and their leaders through the communion liturgy. After CCYM members served communion, Auman led YAC participants in using the prayer labyrinth sticker they had each received earlier in the service. She explained that while labyrinths can look like mazes, they are in fact two very different things.
“Mazes are designed to confuse you. Mazes are designed to trick you,” she said. “Labyrinths are a prayer tool that have been used for centuries, millennia.”
Auman told the group there is only one path in a labyrinth, which has three parts: entering, the center, and leaving.
“You cannot get lost in a labyrinth. Just like you can’t go away from God’s presence you cannot get lost if you follow the path. It will lead you to the center, and you can stay there and talk with God as long as you need to. You can say prayers with words, you can say prayers just by breathing deeply and inviting God to share whatever God has to share with you. When you are ready, you use your finger and trace your way back out of the labyrinth. There are no tricks to this just like there are no tricks with God,” said Auman.
Youth Annual Conference 2023
Planning will begin shortly for next year’s Youth Annual Conference. Details and registration information will be made available once they are finalized.
*Rick Wolcott is executive director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.