Forging a partnership among three denominations, a youth conference on a grand scale was created over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend as “Faith in 3-D” brought 2,200 teens to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
The message they took home was powerfully simple: Trust in God. Walk with God. Change the world.
The teens, from the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, shared worship traditions, met missionaries from around the world and heard inspirational speakers as they re-energized their faith and commitment to Christ, mission work and social justice.
“I definitely came expecting to grow in my faith,” said Sarah Stevens, a 17-year-old Baptist from Tampa. “Everyone is so pumped up and so happy. I think it’s so refreshing to be around hundreds of people who love Jesus as much as you do.”
The event for middle and high school teens was created after a conversation during a National Council of Churches conference three years ago, according to Betsy Boyd, staff officer for youth ministries at the Episcopal Church Center in New York. “I was delighted that the Episcopalians were invited to be a part of something like this, where people wanted to partner with us and say, ‘You are our brothers and sisters, let’s do something together.’ ”
Attendance was more than twice original expectations. “It shocked us,” said Boyd. The biggest logistical challenge, she said, was “struggling to figure out where to put all these people, when to say no and when to say everyone’s welcome.”
Lynz (pronounced “Lindsey”) Costa, an Episcopalian from Church of the Good Shepherd in Friendswood, Texas, said the experience was a bit overwhelming. “It’s been really fun,” she said. “I didn’t picture anything like this. It’s wonderful – but really chaotic.”
“The world needs you”
Speakers took advantage of the holiday to offer a variety of challenges. Kyle Matthews, a Cooperative Baptist and songwriter from Nashville, Tenn., said the church should be leading the fight for civil rights. “The whole church establishment has yet to join the civil rights movement as it could,” he said, noting the Bible contains 2,103 references to the poor -- “and somehow we missed it.”
In her sermon during the Sunday Eucharist, the Rev. Altagracia Perez, rector of Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood, Calif., described her work in social-justice ministry and urged teens to answer God’s call. “Look at those places where you can change things right where you are. Just put yourself in God’s hands, and you will do incredible things. The world needs you.”
The trick, she said, is to respond to the call. “The good news is, you’ll get an answer. You’ll get a job. You, too, will be a prophet. The bad news is, you’ll get an answer. You’ll have a job. You, too, will be a prophet.”
Elizabeth Keenan, a Dartmouth University junior from Bloomington, Ind., spoke about her recent experience with the Episcopal Church’s Short-term Internship Program. She spent eight weeks at St. John’s Church in Pine Island, Fla., helping set up a ministry for the area’s Hispanic farm workers.
“I didn’t realize I was a missionary until a couple of weeks ago when someone told me I was a missionary,” she confided. “I had to rethink what it means. Most of us imagine missionaries as these people off in the bush converting the heathen. It’s not necessarily that at all.”
The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, a Presbyterian minister from Memphis, said popular culture was testing teens’ moral character and urged them to “engage in a revolution of values.” He condemned the celebration of materialism and greed. “How many pairs of pants do you need? How many cars can we really drive at one time? You’re more than labels. You’re more than brand names. You’re God’s children.”
In giving the charge to participants at the close of the weekend, Nelson called for action. “Go and be the generation that turns the world upside down … Go and be that generation that will walk faithfully with those left behind. … Go in peace, my friends.”