Guest commentary by Christopher H. Edmonston and J. Patrick Edmonston
Started several years ago, Faith in 3D is a collaborative youth conference experience shared with youth ministries from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Each year, it’s held at Disney World over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. This year, we (a pastor-father and a ninth-grade son) traveled with our friends from White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, to consider our dreams at Faith in 3D.
After all, Disney is a place where lots of childhood dreams can come “true.” And, Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher and a leader who dreamed big dreams. As his dreams are still unfolding and struggling to be fully realized, we were encouraged by the conference leadership to share our dreams, consider them in light of the gospel and be confronted by one of MLK’s most important observations: “Life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
So, what happens when you put together a 20-hour round-trip drive, a full church bus, a intra-group bipartisan barbecue vote, good preaching, small group discussion, energizing recreation, uplifting music, gospel messages and lots of fast-passes for Disney attractions?
The experience was spiritual, social, educational, entertaining and, above all, just plain fun.
The theme was based upon dreams — the dreams we have at night (think: Jacob’s ladder) and the ones we have through God’s call in our lives (“You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world!”). We were inspired specifically by those dreams of MLK, but in practice the conference focused on optimism, acceptance, inclusiveness and the building of relationships with all sorts of people.
One youth told us, “I became closer to friends I’ve known for years, but discovered things we’ve never known about each other. I met kids years younger than myself in the middle of a crowded conference room and we talked about the our dreams although we had never met before and will likely never meet again.” During energizers and glow-in-the-dark dance parties (where glow sticks flew through the air), the Faith in 3D youth jumped and rejoiced alongside people who lived two or three states away.
Another youth told us, “I took from the conference that it’s a good thing to dream big. Our dreams can change the world. Hearing from new preachers is interesting because it gives you a chance to hear different styles and ways people preach so that you can realize what type of preaching you like the best.”
The multi-styled worship services were a refreshing experience for our group. Through many different voices, the gospel was presented through the inspired word proclaimed and by a drama team from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
One preacher had a deep, booming, gravelly voice. He told us stories and jokes that made us laugh and invited us to imagine heaven as a place with unlimited fried chicken and rivers of Mountain Dew to wash it down. That may seem like a far-fetched idea, but this image translated a vision of bliss to the youth, which allowed this particular preacher to share that the dream of God’s kingdom had yet to be realized in our time and our dreams would be pieces woven together by the Holy Spirit to be used in the building of God’s glorious, whole and complete kingdom.
Another pastor spoke to us with a voice that fluctuated and shook with emotion. Our youth noticed how his face was animated as he illustrated the Scripture like delicate shards of glass. He had a God-given ability to hold the attention of more than 2,000 teenagers and their leaders. His sermon was about dreams that might be chained by circumstances for a time, but we always remember that our Lord was sent to unchain our dreams so that we might freely live into the callings that God has issued to each of us.
Another youth in our group told us, “ I enjoyed worshipping with a group of over 2,000 because it reminded me of how many Christian teenagers there are in the world. It reminded me that I am never alone. I also enjoyed how the power of God and the beauty of creation were seamlessly blended with the magic of Disney World. ”
Like we said, it was utter bliss. We cannot remember having so much fun as a father and a son. And it was not only fun because it was Disney World. It was fun and joyful because we were able to share faith and laughter —genuine faith and laughter — with old friends and new friends. It was fun because we got to explore dreams and hopes in an environment that allowed us to dream and to see our dreams in the light of the gospel. The gospel that is, by the mercy of the Lord, God’s great dream and hope for the world.
To sum it all up, as a ninth-grade student in our group shared, “The conference was unique among others that I have been to in one significant way. While many other retreats or gatherings like it focus on one’s relationship with God, this conference focused on our relationships with others through the grace of God.”
For what it is worth, that sounds a lot like a healthy and vibrant church, or community of faith, to us.
CHRISTOPHER EDMONSTON is the pastor of White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carlina. A former Presbyterian Outlook board member, he enjoys writing and walking the dog. J. PATRICK EDMONSTON is a ninth-grader who enjoys writing, history, political debate and wrestling. A car enthusiast, he spends his time thinking about taking auto shop class next year, wishing he could already drive and trying not to sleep during his father’s sermons.