This week, high school students from around not only the country but the world descended upon Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind for Triennium. And there is a fire in the air.
Groups of participants wearing like-colored T-shirts representing their home presbyteries traveled in swarms down the street, many chatting, one plucking a ukulele, and usually at least one studiously consulting the campus map. As they passed each other, someone would inevitably call out, “Hello! Where are you from?” and excited greetings were exchanged between groups – New Jersey and Texas, Iowa and Oregon. Presbyterians have truly come from North and South, East and West.
Three years of planning have gone into this event that welcomed over 5,200 youth, adult leaders and volunteers on Tuesday. As groups checked in, recreational events took place in the 99-degree Midwest heat. Groups kicked back, playing games of cornhole or cooling off in the fountain. Others added their thumbprints to a tree of life sculpture or explored the biblical family tree.
Monday night, Mark Yaconelli, author of “Contemplative Youth Ministry,” encouraged the small-group leaders to foster “holy mischief.” His guidance was to help kids be free and to remind leaders, “you’re here because someone loved you into the faith.”
On Tuesday night, that same energy was manifested in opening worship that centered on the theme of God’s very name being “I AM.” Michelle Thomas-Bush, associate pastor of youth and their families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., gave the opening sermon, noting that Jesus formed the church on Peter’s testimony and challenging the youths to remember that their actions speak loudly, but that there are times when they have to proclaim their answers to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” She noted that although people say the church is dying, as these thousands of youths entered the auditorium to worship tonight, “you gave us hope!”
Following worship, participants enjoyed a late evening of outdoor games and music before meeting with their presbytery groups. On Wednesday, small groups begin, worship continues, and the holy mischief carries on.
JANA BLAZEK is the associate editor for connection and online content manager for the Presbyterian Outlook.