One of the frequent topics of conversation in small groups and back home groups at the Montreat Youth Conference is what people are thinking about the keynote times and worship services. On the one hand, I really like hearing what the youth participants are thinking about these gatherings. On the other hand, it encourages a potentially critical attitude that partakes too much in the consumer mentality of our wider culture—in other words, worship is only good if it conforms to my particular tastes. (Of course, the other night our preacher essentially said that worship is for us to receive love and grace from God, which makes the medium of communication important. I agree with her on this—which may prompt a blog post that’s been in my head for some time.)
Some people connect more with the keynotes and some more with the sermons. Some people don’t like the music; some think it is just right. For some there are too many energizers; for some, not enough. Some people think the sermons are too long; others are hanging on every word.
When you gather together 1000 people from around the country for events like this, you can never please everyone. Some people will connect and some won’t. Hopefully, over the course of a week—five keynotes and five worship services—each person will connect with something.
Like everyone else, I could come up with a list of things that I like and don’t like about the keynotes and worships. As a youth ministry professional and worship leader, there are things that I would do differently if I was on the planning team. But, I must say that the worship services have probably been my favorite part of this week at Montreat.
I mentioned at the beginning of the week that I was surprised at how traditional the worship services are, especially compared to my experience at last year’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium. By this I certainly don’t mean to imply that worship has not been creative. Neither do I mean that worship here is like it is at Fourth Church, perhaps the paradigm example of traditional Presbyterian worship. Rather, what I mean is that worship here follows the traditional flow of Reformed worship—gathering, confession, service of the word, and response. This is most definitely a Presbyterian worship service.
What sets it apart from standard forms of Presbyterian worship is the consistent presence of youth leadership. Youth have been involved in pretty much all aspects of the liturgies. More impressively, youth have offered powerful personal testimonies that relate to the sermons and themes of each day. Many of these youth could easily carry services with sermons of their own.
And, you can’t ignore or discount the significance of 1000 youth worshiping together in one place. For all of the signs of decline in mainline Christianity, these six weeks of Presbyterian youth conferences at Montreat are vital signs of life. When I think about all of these young people learning what it means to be Presbyterian—to think critically about life and faith; to worship with integrity; to envision a better world transformed by the emergence of God’s kingdom—I am filled with profound hope for our church.
I am very grateful that my two and a half year old son was able to be here this week. He may not remember much more than the frogs and the swan in the lake, but it is good for him to be here. It will be good for him to return. As the youth at this conference become young adults, I am thankful that the church my son will grow up in will be in good hands.