Early this morning (Sunday, July 24) at 3:31 a.m. the bus carrying the Presbytery of New Hope delegation of youth and adults returned home from a long ride from the 2016 Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University (PYT) in West Lafayette, IN. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Triennium, it is our denomination's national youth conference which is held every three years (hence "Triennium"). I am excited for this event every three years but definitely more so this year because my son made this bus trip as a first-time participant, as well as the majority of the almost 5,000 youth and adults in attendance.
The Presbyterian Youth Triennium is and always has been very important and near and dear to my heart. Like my son, I was a first time participant in the very first Triennium held back in the summer of 1980 at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. It was that event that began my journey in ministry. I almost did not go because that summer I was hired for my first job working at a local McDonald's. I had missed the first gathering of the youth who were going from the Presbytery of the Pacific and I had received a phone call from one of the presbytery youth leaders asking me if I was going to attend. I had told her "No, because I just got a job." For some reason, she asked me if I was sure I wasn't going to go. I told her to wait a minute and let me ask my mom - she is my "go-to" person. So I put the phone and asked my mom what should I do. My mom replied that I should go and said "Your job will be there. They will understand" (NOTE: I had not even started yet!). I picked up the phone receiver and told the youth leader that my mom said it was ok for me to go. I had such a good time, beginning with the all the presbytery youth from the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii boarding an Amtrak train in Los Angeles for a epic two-day ride to Chicago and drove to Bloomington. I met people who were my age from all over the world. Worship was wonderful with music led by the late Rev. Dr. Isaiah Jones, Jr. Small groups and workshops (yes, we had those!) were great! Most of all, it was a place that has been and I still consider the closest thing to the Kingdom of Heaven. It was also where I decided to follow God's call on my life and became very active the the Presbyterian Church. I have been to many Trienniums since then - 1983, 1986, 1989 (Adult Advisor), 1992 (Design Team), 1995, 1998 (Adult Advisor), and 2007 (Conference Dean). Each of them have been great but it was the first one in which I had the "mountain top" experience.
The few times I heard from my son the only thing he could say was, "I am having an AWESOME time!" He described the experience as one in which was very friendly. He exchanged pins, met people from all over, showed me some of the energizers they did, and said worship was great! He did not know anyone in the New Hope delegation before but knows all of them and they became good friends. Now he really wants to attend a Montreat Youth Conference next summer and return to Purdue for the 2019 Triennium. You can see the spark in his eyes as he too have been to the "mountain top". As the theme for this year's event was "Go!", all 5,000 participants will have to come off the mountain and re-enter the world, a beautiful and problematic place at the same time. Their questions will be "How can I live out this wonderful experience and share it with others?" "What is God calling me to be and do?" "What does this experience mean for me and others around me?" Basically the main question is "Now what?"
What is my son going to do now? Here is what I plan to do:
- Give him space to speak - I will not force him to tell about his experience. It could be overwhelming to speak about everything at one time. I will let him speak and share with me when he is ready to do so.
- Give time for processing - Like above, he will need time to process and get his thoughts together.
- Don't compare experiences - His experience this year is different in a lot of ways from mine in 1980 and even 2007. It will be helpful to hear what has happened in the present time and not compare. Acknowledge his and not let yours interfere.
- Walk along with him - Oftentimes participants have been exposed to different areas of ministry and life at the PYT. Whether it is learning about Presbyterian schools and colleges, LGBT issues, the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, Human Trafficking, etc. There may be a calling or interest he might want to follow up on. Or for some participants they may hear a call from God to serve the church and the world. It is important as questions and issues come from their experience to be a presence and guide to help them navigate where and who God is calling them to become.
The Presbyterian Youth Triennium is a wonderful experience that I would not trade for the world. However we are not called to just have a good time; we are called as God's people to go out and spread God's word and love to all. And I hope that we will give all the participants the time, space and presence to learn from what they experienced. AMEN!