What an amazing weekend I’ve just experienced!
Yes, our denomination is facing challenges, we all know that; but then comes this wonderful opportunity to gather with FIVE OR SIX HUNDRED YOUNG PEOPLE, United Church young people…at Worshiplude!
A few weeks ago I had never heard of this event, but when I was in Montreal last month I spent some time with a youth group at SouthWest Mission, and they told me they were heading off to this big event in Ottawa called Worshiplude.
“What’s that?” I asked; and by the time they finished telling me about it, I had decided to see if I could crash the party. I was lucky—Hilary Merritt, the Youth and Young Adult Minister for Ottawa Presbytery who helped organize the whole thing (with a host of volunteers), said, “Sure, come join us!”
So, here’s what happens. This is party weekend in Ottawa, called, of course, Winterlude. Ice sculptures everywhere; Rideau Canal jammed with skaters; winter carnival time. On Friday, buses depart from all over Ontario and Quebec, jammed full of teens from six different Conferences—Manitou, Montreal & Ottawa, London, Hamilton, Toronto, Bay of Quinte—and eventually they arrive at the big city. The longest bus ride was 12 hours—now that’s some trip!
The various United Churches of Ottawa host the crowds—a church floor, meals, warm hospitality—and then a special Sunday morning worship, where the youth staying at that church join in the service (which usually skews the demographics, but in a good way!).
The youth get to explore the city on Saturday: skating, museums, Parliament, FUN! And then they begin to gather back at the biggest church in Ottawa, Dominion-Chalmers. Some come early enough for workshops at 4 p.m., but most arrive back just in time for the 5:30 pizza supper. And then, an awesome two-hour worship service: the sanctuary is jammed; the band is hot; the energy is bouncing off the walls. Singing, drama, preaching, more singing, offering, communion, more singing. (See Gordon Lambie’s photos of the event on Picasa.)
An interesting aside: I was talking to the sound crew after the service. They weren’t part of the regular “church crowd”—in fact, they hadn’t been in a church for a long, long time. They said that earlier in the week they’d done the sound for a different kind of gathering, a burlesque show called Winternude (you can imagine). But then one of them said to me, “You know, I was moved tonight. I’m an agnostic, but I was surprised…you touched me.”
There’s something to be said about numbers, about a crowd. The energy of worship changes; there’s celebration, emotion, excitement. A touch of Pentecost, perhaps. Not over the top—this is still a United Church gathering—but oh my, good for the heart and the spirit. Someone told me, “Hold onto this energy. Remember it when you’re in the middle of a long and maybe boring meeting.” “You bet,” I replied. Not that I have anything against meetings, but I go to a lot of them.
I think gatherings like this should happen more often, and not just for young people. All of us need to feel the kind of energy that comes when a crowd of witnesses gather to worship God. Sometimes we get caught in the solitude of our own congregation and forget that there are lots of “United Churchers” just down the street, around the corner, and on the other side of town. Coming together for celebration (not for another meeting) reminds us of a larger vision, when potential competition is laid aside, when we recognize that we are united—when we are simply called to “celebrate God’s presence.” And that’s good for the soul.
It was great to share time with all of these youth. One asked me, though, with some poignancy and even some worry: “What is the future of youth and young adult ministry in the United Church?” She had heard about the financial challenges facing the church and knew there is something called a Comprehensive Review Task Group where everything is on the table. She wanted some reassurance that her church knows how important it is to keep ministering to and with young people. I said I would tell everyone I met. And we wouldn’t forget!
P.S.: They were able to video part of the service from last Saturday night (Feb. 2). If you want to see the “sermon” I shared, check it out on YouTube.