Christ’s love was defined beautifully through inspiring words spoken and sung at the 2017 Peninsula-Delaware Conference Youth Rally, held in Ocean City, Md., Jan. 6-8. But it was defined best in deeds, as thousands of youth–including many from the Eastern PA Conference—formed bonds of loving support with each other and their adult leaders.
While temperatures plummeted and snow and ice blanketed the region, more than 400 youth and adults from 28 Eastern PA churches joined thousands more from Delaware and Eastern Maryland at the annual winter rally. They enjoyed powerful, energetic praise and worship, along with generous helpings of wisdom and wit, all around the theme, “This Is Love,” taken from 1 John 4:10.
Four plenary sessions, from Friday night to Sunday morning, featured heart-stirring Christian rock, gospel and jazz-influenced music, followed by challenging soul-talks by dynamic speakers, plus some comedic detours to offer the levity of laughter. It all ended with a spirited sermon by West Virginia Bishop Sandra Steiner-Ball, armed with her super-soaker water blaster, and then a closing celebration of Holy Communion.
Plenary sessions in the vast, teeming arena featured loud music and lofty messages shared from the heart. But there was much to learn in smaller gatherings too, like the Eastern PA breakout session titled “Ever Wonder Why?,” and nightly youth-group devotions to discuss and discern “What is love?” “How to love” and other questions and learnings of the day.
Author and motivational speaker Steve Fitzhugh, a former NFL player with the Denver Broncos, inspired the youth and adults with his compelling testimony about life-lessons learned the hard way and life-blessings that made it all worth it. A national spokesperson for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he witnesses often to young audiences, as well as athletes, corporations and penal institutions, about rejecting drugs and alcohol, and making right choices.
Music came from Zealand Worship, a worship band from Tennessee, and Rend Collective, a cadre of multi-instrumentalists from Ireland who share their faith through music and stories. Urban Street Level, an interracial, Christian hip-hop and jazz-style band, performed on Sunday.
“Tasha” Cobbs, a young, Grammy Award-winning gospel vocalist, performed a Friday night concert. And zany comedians Dave and Brian, from Philadelphia, were a hit with their cutting-edge musical comedy. Many youth got to meet and take photos with them, with Steve Fitzhugh and other artists among displays in the bustling exhibits hall.
Meanwhile, about 400 filled a room at the Eastern PA Conference Council on Youth Ministry’s (CCYM) lively, Saturday morning breakout session, titled “Ever Wonder Why?” Led by Conference Youth and Young Adult Ministries Coordinator Dave Piltz and CCYM President Mei-Ling Blackstone, the session engaged youth and adults in exploring unusual and typical human behaviors, and the sources of our motivations and misfortunes. They wrestled with various questions about love—and the lack of it—and how having faith in God’s love can be the answer many people are seeking.
There were 11 breakout sessions, including “Uncompromised” and “Faith from High School to College,” both about learning to live purposely for Christ, and two training and problem-solving sessions for adult youth workers.
Saturday night ended, as always, with a powerful altar call that drew hundreds of youth to the stage to join one another in prayer. And Sunday began with this year’s Spittin ‘Da’ Word preaching champion, which, for the second consecutive year, was an Eastern PA Conference youth.
Zachery Uporsky, a 9th-grader from East Stroudsburg UMC, wowed the audience with his short sermon about love and how churches need to show more love to the world beyond their doors. Zach talked about some of the outreach ministries happening at his very active church and how it’s teaching him to have a heart for mission. Mission was, as always, the focus of the special offering taken that morning, which was dedicated to support the multi-conference Congo Partnership and disaster recovery efforts to aid flood victims in West Virginia.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, who leads United Methodists in West Virginia, thanked the crowd for its support and preached, with sermon prop in hand, about being super-soaked with the Holy Spirit through God’s love. The former Pen-Del Conference Director of Connectional Ministries started the Youth Rally 30 years ago when she was conference youth director there. After preaching, she joined host Bishop Peggy Johnson in celebrating Communion to end the rally.
Be sure to read the touching, eloquent reflections written by Eastern PA’s CCYM leaders on what moved them most about the Youth Rally—ranging from Fitzhugh’s personal testimonies, to the worship music, to the inspiration they felt during the prayer altar call.
For some, their biggest impression may have been the friendships they were able to make or renew, the support they received from each other, and the caring guidance of their adult leaders. They, like the throng of young peers who joined them in O.C. that weekend, can likely point to many aspects of the overall experience and say with certainty, “This is love.”
Photos by Sabrina Daluisio and John Coleman. See our 2017 Pen-Del Youth Rally Flickr album for even more great photos from the event!