6000 Screaming Teenagers

If that sounds like your own private hell, don’t go to Pilgrimage.  Pilgrimage, as I’ve written before, is the signature youth event of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Groups from all over eastern North Carolina gather in Fayetteville every November for a weekend of worship, fun and fellowship.  The energy level is amazing.  As soon as you walk in the door, you can feel it.  It’s almost like a pulse, kind of low and steady at first.  Frisbees are flying around and goofy Christian cheers are tossed back and forth and everyone is having a blast.  Then, as the clock ticks down (and do mean clock, there’s a giant countdown clock projected on the screen), it builds.  By the time it gets down to 10 seconds, it’s like a covered pot just before it boils.  When the clock hits zero, the place erupts.  Let me tell you, no boy band concert ever sounded like this.  Praise songs kids actually like to sing are blasted by a band made up of teens from all over the conference and led by two pastors that are great musicians, but terrible comedians.  And kids are involved at all levels.  Watching a bunch teenagers nerd it up for Jesus is an amazing thing.

Every year there’s a speaker, and in years past, that speaker has kinda sucked…, for this event, anyway.  I’m sure they’re fine pastors, bishops, etc. but too many of them haven’t been youth speakers.  That changed this year, we have Bart Campolo.  Bart is an urban minister in inner-city Cincinnati and has worked with youth for years.  It showed tonight.  They started out laughing, but when he got to the meat of his message, you could’ve heard pin drop in that place.  He told them that Jesus was madly, desperately in love with each and every individual in that place.  That, no matter what they’ve done or what’s happened to them, Jesus wants them.  That when we hurt, He hurts.  When we’re happy, He’s happy.  He loves them, warts and all.  Not only that, He wants to transform them and make them lovers of people like He is.  It was, I thought, the best summation of Christ’s message I’ve ever heard. 

Tomorrow, we go back for rounds two and three.  In between, we’re going to Methodist University to help at a meal packing event for Stop Hunger Now.  I can’t think of a better thing to do with free time at a youth conference centered around Jesus than to do what he asked of us: ”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

   I was hungry and you fed me,
   I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
   I was homeless and you gave me a room,
   I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
   I was sick and you stopped to visit,
   I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’