Three hundred twenty-eight participants gathered at the California University of Pennsylvania for the Eastern Regional Youth Event on July 19-22. Youth from our Hampshire Association, Edwards Church in Framingham, and Memorial Congregational Church in Sudbury joined their UCC peers from 10 other eastern UCC conferences, as well as two delegations from sister churches in Germany. Host conference, Penn West, greeted each arrival with warm hospitality and a smiling cookie.
ERYE was the fourth Regional Youth Event of the summer. Opening night of ERYE began with a lei exchange with a nod to friends from the Western Region who had met in Honolulu earlier in the summer.
The program centered around the United Church of Christ’s Three Great Loves — love of neighbor, love of children, and love of creation. Youth had the opportunity to partner with the LeMoyne Center, which serves children in rural Washington County, PA near Pittsburgh. They delivered donations of school supplies, helped with meal programs, and had a walking tour of the neighborhood as a way to understand the history and poverty that affects the area.
Participants chose from forty-six different workshop titles that helped them to ponder, pray, and play. Jessa Craig of First Congregational Church in Southampton said, “I enjoyed the praying with clay, beads, and colors workshop, and learning what each color represents. Overall the experience was GREAT!” They heard from speakers who have each made their mark in areas of the Three Great Loves. Juliana Craig, also of First Congregational Church in Southampton, shared that “listening to all of the speakers was inspiring. Each one of their stories were so different but yet they still all had a connection to God.”
Youth gathered for worship each day and heard messages of inclusion, empowerment, and justice from four gifted preachers: Rev. David Ackerman, Rev. Elivette Mendez Angulo, Rev. Edwin Perez, Jr., and Rev. Trayce Stewart, the new UCC minister for Youth and Young Adults. Robert Mitchell of Edwards Church in Framingham remarked that the "worship was exciting. And it was exciting to listen to people's stories and how they react to things instead of just watching.” Rev. Kim Kendrick provided theological reflection each day to rewind and synthesize the plenary experience.
“My theme song is God’s love and justice” from Psalm 101:1 was the key text for the event. The Convergence Music Project wrote “Let Our Song Be Love," an original piece for this event, their third Regional Youth Event in less than a month. They engaged youth in song-writing and prayer-writing workshops and brought those gifts to worship each night.
An offering for the 3 Great Loves initiative netted $1368 on Friday night. An additional appeal was made on Saturday when it was learned that there was a request by Rev. John Dorhauer, the UCC’s General Minister & President, for 25 bibles for the Lakota Sioux church in North Dakota. The youth responded with generosity and those bibles were sent the following week.
Planning for this event, was a collaborative effort of nine UCC conferences in the eastern region. Debby Kirk (CT Conference), Kristin Putney (RI Conference), and I represented the Tri-Conference both on the ERYE Planning Team and onsite at the event. ”We are blessed with an amazing array of resources and talent in our conferences! This project brought forth creative gifts of preaching, teaching, writing, organization, and technical skills,” commented Debby Kirk, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Connecticut Conference. "We are grateful to our congregations and youth leaders for their commitment to faith formation of youth."
Many thanks to my colleague, Debby Kirk, for the main format of this article.
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