NASHVILLE – Energy. Action. Change. These three words were heavily used by the former Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) gathered here June 20-23 for a Reunite, Renew, Respond weekend.
This first-time reunion gathering, held the year between General Assembly gatherings, is the brainchild of the Rev. Neal Presa, moderator of the 220th General Assembly. At 2012’s Assembly, Presa was inspired by the young adults he met.
“These young people take their Reformed faith seriously. At the same time, they want to be part of transforming the world,” he said. “The energy of their faith is around action.”
Presa spent the weekend with former YAADs in Nashville, worshipping, performing service and playing.
Of the 160 YAADs who attended the last year’s Assembly, 15 participated in the reunion weekend. Their churches and presbyteries helped offset the costs of attending but many contributed to the weekend from their own pockets.
While in town, they did service work at one of Nashville’s most established non-profits, Room in the Inn. Founded in Nashville in 1986, the organization now has more than 180 congregations serving the homeless. 2012 YAAD Jeff Moles is an employee at Room in the Inn and helped organize the weekend.
Room in the Inn hosts a foot clinic on Fridays, and the former YAADs spent time washing the blistered and calloused feet of homeless clients. For the young Presbyterians, the work was eye-opening, but it wasn’t the big blisters or thick toenails that made the greatest impression — it was the stories from the streets.
“People really opened up about their lives. I felt they were really able to connect with us,” said Rachael Herriman, from First Presbyterian Church in Warren, Ohio. Herriman related the story of a homeless woman who had been hit by a car the day before. “I listened to her and felt I was able to help her through it. I also realized that the homeless face potential death every day.”
Other opportunities for the homeless provided by Room in the Inn include a 12-step group for those in recovery, a songwriting class (this is Music City, after all) and an art class. The YAADs sat in on each of these last Friday.
Jeremy Glidden, from Central Presbyterian Church in Genesco, N.Y., sat in on the songwriting class. Inspired by a work of art, those in attendance were asked to each write, in a free-flowing manner, about what they saw. They then connected their ideas to create an original song, including the tune. “It was cool to see their creativity,” Glidden said. “They wrote about nostalgic things.”
The weekend also included plenty of time for worship and Bible study. The group stayed at the Scarritt-Bennett Center, which has lush lawns and gardens and a large labyrinth. Saturday morning devotion time found the group sharing scripture, music and a meditative walk through the labyrinth, accompanied by former YAAD advisor Kevin Hay playing a lone drum. A profound sense of tranquility permeated the gathered friends as they connected with God under a sunny sky, a gentle breeze moving around them.
Former YAAD co-moderator Brandt Shields concluded the devotional time, reminding those gathered of the theme of their weekend: They gathered to “reunite.” They worship together to “renew.” And they “respond” in service work at Room in the Inn. Their greatest response, however, “is found in focusing on our spiritual life,” he said.
After two days of service work at Room in the Inn, the YAADs enjoyed a pool party hosted by Nashville’s First Presbyterian Church. Young adults from around the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee joined them for swimming and barbeque.
The weekend concluded with the YAADs worshipping at First, where Presa preached.
JANET TUCK is a freelance writer and communications consultant in Nashville and a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.