Guest Outpost blog and photos by Christopher De La Cruz
On the first day of the 2016 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, the general vibe was like a family reunion – even though many of these siblings just met.
Over 4,000 youth from across the country and around the world flooded into the sprawling Purdue University campus – imagine a chaotic church lock-in, only spanning an entire college. Some who had come to previous Trienniums (which meets every three years) exchanged hugs and memories, reenergizing existing bonds. Many first-time teen attendees, normally accustomed to mingling with their own tribes, however, were suddenly rushing up to other youth greeting strangers like kin.
The point of conversation? Pins.
Each delegation, usually grouped together by presbytery, created a pin that would capture the distinct qualities of their region. After the initial orientation, teenagers then could trade their own pins with other youth, forming instant conversation starters.
Although seemingly inconsequential, the atmosphere of pin trading, a tradition going back many years, immediately set a culture of Christians from different places coming together as one family in Christ.
That… and bragging rights.
“I want to see how many pins I can rack up,” Mason Braun, 15 with First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, Nebraska, said.
The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina pin graced an anchor. A New Jersey delegation had fabric hot dogs and grilled cheese on top of their buttons showcasing their diner-heavy state. The entire Baltimore Presbytery, in addition to their crab shaped pin, wore crab hats, forming a sea of red claws wherever they wandered.
I’m at Triennium as a church leader of the “Sent By Love” delegation, a group consisting of youth from New York City (Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church) and Iowa (First Presbyterian Church of Spirit Lake and First Presbyterian Church Lake Park). The Iowa churches came to New York City to help with Hurricane Sandy relief two years ago, and last year New York City went to Iowa to work in areas of rural poverty.
Our group of New Yorkers and Iowans have gotten our hands dirty together serving those in need. We have also formed genuine, loyal and unapologetically messy fellowship with one another. Our New York teens have learned that, yes, cow tipping and mud racing are real things. We’ve also experienced firsthand how heartwarming and life-giving real Midwestern hospitality can be. Iowans have learned that we fold our pizza in half for support and live in apartments the size of closets for thousands of dollars. They, I hope, have also seen the warmth beneath our tough New York exterior.
For our third year, we decided that coming together to Triennium would cement a relationship from halfway across the country, knowing that our own kinship is really just a small version of the familial bond that exists among all people gathered in Christ. In small groups, around dinner tables and in our first worship services, conversations around our differences and our unity in those differences have already permeated through the air.
Our Sent By Love pin, by the way, has the Statue of Liberty standing next to the glowing cornfields of Iowa.
Before evening worship started, young people were counting through their collection, proudly admiring and showing off all the pins adorning their name badges. I would like to think that these tin-clanging necklaces lacing together artifacts from Detroit, Sacramento, Missouri, West Virginia, Texas and other places were ordinary, sacramental signs of what Triennium is truly about: young Christians coming together in Christ as one family.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and getting closer to God,” said Rob Quaye, 15, from Albany Presbytery in New York.
After getting our Sent By Love pin for his collection, of course.
CHRISTOPHER DE LA CRUZ is the director of Christian formation at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.