“Love yourself well. Love God well. You will become edified, and the kingdom of God will become glorified.” This was the message Youth 2019, the United Methodist quadrennial youth event, sought to send to the world: “love well.”
Youth 2019 was held in Kansas City, MO, July 10-14. The event offered mission opportunities, small group discussions, workshops, and time for spiritual development for youth grades 6-12 from throughout the United States.
Going into the event, youth expected normal conference experiences. Students Ben Valleau and Summer Stone of Cross Lanes United Methodist’s youth group described their expectations as sitting through workshops and meeting new people. Both had never been to Kansas City before. Summer said, “I wanted to travel and meet new people. I’m ready to see the city.” Ben followed with, “I want to get started in missions work and I figured a conference was a good way to start.”
What nobody had expected was the intimate praise and worship each night of the event. Music provided by the bands “I Am They” and “Army of Light,” art by Scott Erickson, and worship led by Romal Tune brought new experiences to our youth. After only the first day, one chaperone stated, “I can’t imagine going here and walking away without having learned something.” This grandfather from rural West Virginia came along with his two grandsons. “I’ve never worshipped like this with that many people. It’s a unique opportunity to worship.” Unsure of large group worship at first, 8th grader Tristen from Terra Alta was quick to run up to the altar and dance by the time the final worship service began.
Youth from New Cumberland, WV (Northern District) were surprised by the fellowship at the event. “We played four-square in the park one night and before we knew it, several groups had gathered around us. As the sun began to set, we could hear one group near us singing in perfect harmony and others had joined us in our game. We didn’t expect to feel this at-home in a park in Kansas City.”
Youth groups from Terra Alta, Cross Lanes, St. Paul’s (Nitro), Huntington, First United Methodist (Buckhannon), Quiet Dell, New Cumberland, West Morgantown, and Forrest Burdette all shared in their enjoyment of various events at Youth 2019. From engaging with retired pastors at workshops, to praying in the Sacred Space provided by Upper Room and Free-Range Worship, attendees shared a broad range of experiences at the event.
Students were afforded the opportunity to meet with several United Methodist bishops throughout the week—including West Virginia Conference Resident Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball—through private prayer times and workshops. Bishop Steiner Ball remained at Youth 2019 throughout the week, sharing her faith story and General Conference summary with students.
By the close of the event, our friends Ben and Summer from Cross Lanes were singing in the choir and had a new perspective on faith. “I really like Kansas City now -I didn’t think I would,” Ben shared. “I liked the worship and small group discussions.” Ben showed pictures of people from his small group and named each person and which state they were from.
From start to finish our West Virginia Conference youth and leaders participated in every area of Youth 2019. The West Virginia Conference represented what it means to love well by volunteering, leading on the design team to plan the event, singing in the youth choir, praying with others, participating in videos and questions, and facilitating small group discussions.
Of the 3,100 Youth 2019 attendees, the West Virginia Conference had the second largest conference representation with around 80 participants—the largest in the Northeastern Jurisdiction.
Mission opportunities through the event served to provide school kits for Midwest Mission, gather more than 60,000 lbs. of produce for Kansas City area residents through Harvesters Community Food Network, and pack 100,000 meals for people around the world through Rise Against Hunger. We left with the message, “love wins, love makes a difference, and if we keep doing that, we will change the lives of youth around the world.”