Sunday, July 25, 2010

PYT 2010: For Such a Time as This

This September will mark my third anniversary as a Presbyterian. I am not sure if God landed me in this denomination because of some divine sense of humor or because God knew that I was already a quasi-Presby who had yet to discover that this is where I belonged. Either way, this past week’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium  was yet another strong affirmation that the PCUSA denomination and the Reformed Tradition are where I have been called to serve, to minister, to dialogue, and to swim in life and faith as a (yet-to-be) ordained pastor.

I was not quite sure what to expect, as all of my previous experiences with youth conferences were with hyper-evangelicals and unaffiliated para-church ministries. While I appreciate their role in the body and their contribution to youth ministry, I had grown weary of packaged preachers and programs that emphasized individual salvation and escapist theology at the expense of ecclesial connection and missional vocation. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this new venue and context- and I was mostly impressed and refreshed. Here are a few highlights from the week:

For Such a Time as This: The emphasis for the week was the book of Esther. This was an excellent choice as the protagonist of this biblical narrative is a young woman who liberates her people from pending genocide at the hands of the Persian King. The conference explored the context of the narrative with a prophetic imagination that underscored the horrors of genocide (ancient and modern), missional vocation, ministries of compassion, temptation, hope for change and resurrection, and even the need for community as the people of God continue to strive towards kingdom life in the here and now. In other words, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” was communicated with clarity and creativity that inspired even a cynic like me.

Christocentric Emphasis: I love the story of Esther, yet had not heard it explored in the way it was this week:
  • Call of Esther as Queen || Call of Jesus in Baptism
  • Manipulation of Xerxes by Haman || Temptation of Jesus in the Desert
  • Fasting and Prayer of Mordecai and Esther and Prophetic Vocation || Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and His Messianic Vocation
  • Esther’s Liberation of the Jewish People; Feast of Purim || Road to Emmaus, “We had Hoped Jesus would deliver”;The Resurrection
Emphasis on Vocation: This is not talked about with youth very often. We discussed it last year as a part of our Missional Experience with the Potter’s House and Church of the Saviour in D.C.; however, it is rare to explore vocation with youth ministry without minimizing God’s call to either evangelism or to professional ministry. I was grateful for how Rev. Dr. Mitzi Moore reminded the youth (and their youth pastor) that “our vocation is not how we get a paycheck…our vocation is God’s people living out their conviction that God is love.” This does not happen only when you get older, adorn the stole, or are employed in a particular field. Our vocation happens every day in the way we love and bless others, especially the poor and marginalized of our communities and world, in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Rev. Dr. Moore continued in an emphasis that our vocation is to be pursued even though we will not necessarily be vilified should we choose to remain silent in the wake of human suffering or elevated as heroes should we act and move in rhythm with the gospel.

Great Beginning and Ending Speakers: Bruce Reyes-Chow and Tony Campolo delivered incredible opening and closing sermons to the youth that spoke their language and challenged them to be the church in the world. Bruce was able to remind youth that God’s people are a diverse group of people who must remain in dialogue as we pursue love and grace, especially for the sake of the poor. Our students especially loved his benediction: Go forth into the world/ with compassion and justice in your heart/ give voice to the silent/ give strength to the weak/ serve one another/ hear one another/ care for one another/ and love one another/ it’s all that easy/ and it’s all that hard…” Tony’s sermon was provocative and convicting as usual. He addressed poverty, injustice, racism, homophobia, revolutionary living, and many plugs for the greatest Christian University in the U.S- Eastern University ;) However, he was most poignant when he declared that the youth were the “generation he had been waiting for.” He called them not to waste their God-given gifts on consumer America, cultural-forms of idolatry, and professions that exploit versus dignify and liberate humanity and the creation. This was a hard, yet significant message to the students. One of my youth said it was the best sermon he had ever heard ;)

Hope of and for the Church: At most youth conferences the youth are affirmed in their distaste for their churches, especially for the older generation and traditions. However, this was not the case here. Students cheered for their denomination (and others), were exposed to the diverse work and witness to the resurrection through the social action of the PCUSA, encouraged to participate in the life of their faith communities, and moved to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear how Jesus is alive and well in the church locally and globally. In other words, students left aware the church is to be both critiqued and celebrated. Unfortunately, my experiences with youth conferences is that it is rare to move beyond the former and rejoice in the latter. Thanks PYT for going deeper…

Passion of the Youth: From the cheers after creatively crafted liturgies, especially the calls to worship, to the constant embrace of would-be strangers, the students became a diverse and eccentric community of 5000 that was contagious. My hope and prayer is that their zeal for their faith and their hope for God’s kingdom of justice and peace would continue even as they return home, some to circumstances of suffering and experiences of pain and heartache.

However, by far the best part of the week was the time spent with five incredible students from Westminster (and one from soon-to be Lancaster), and one self-less adult volunteer, all who continually amaze me in how much God continues to move through young and old(er) lives by God's Spirit and for the sake of the world.  Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your faith stories.