I spent last week as Conference Pastor for Montreat Youth Conference. For those not familiar, it’s a Presbyterian (USA) conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains for senior high teens-about 1,000 of them-and their adult leaders. I’m a product of Montreat Youth Conferences, and have had various roles as a youth planning team member, college student on Summer Staff, adjunct staff, recreation leader, and keynoter. Yet Conference Pastor is one of my favorite roles due to the intimacy of it.
The theme this summer is Let Love Lead. So we spent the week proclaiming and embodying it in theory and practice.
A youth was immediately surrounded by other youth from their small group as they told their story of coming out. (Small groups are comprised of different churches, thus earlier in the week they were all strangers.)
Youth groups invited support staff and stage leadership to their rental homes, and fed us fried green tomatoes, BBQ, LaCroix, Cheerwine, and watermelon while trusting us their stories.
Youth cried together by the lake as they received devastating news from home.
Teenagers wrote thank-you notes to their adult leaders for schlepping them there and loving them so well.
A youth praised their best friend for being an amazing straight ally when they were bullied and called names for being gay.
Graduated seniors shared their fears of all the unknowns of college. One stated how much they’ll miss the church that gave them a home when home itself was a nightmare.
Adult leaders, volunteers, and pastors supported each other with humor, cupcakes, Diet Coke, laundry, ice cream, Americanos, notes under doors, pasta during worship, shoulders to cry on, middle of the night texts, empathetic pep talks behind church vans, and sweaty hugs en route to the next thing.
The photo above is a bench by the creek where I sat with a brave human who has been through hell. It’s one of my favorite places to practice the art of pastoring with the soundtrack of haunting baptismal waters. I have no idea who left the note, but I’m certain it’s gospel.
And I’m certain we’d have more contagious mountain top moments in the deserts of brokenness if we routinely and habitually led with love. Perhaps starting with ourselves.
You are forgiven. You are loved. And the kids are alright.