I had the privilege to spend a part of last month with a group of passionate youth ministry workers. The assembled group was comprised of professional & volunteer youth workers, consultants, theologians, worship leaders (hola Rev. Yolanda!), Rob Bell, and even an Astro-Physicist. Youth ministry can often be a lonely place, but over the three day conference hosted by The Cathedral of Hope, those feelings of isolation were quickly dismissed.
The theme of the conference was “Faith in an Age of Reason”. The plenary sessions were led by Astro-Physicist Paul Wallace, professor and activist Evelyn Parker, theologian Catherine Keller, and pastor and author (and Oprah’s newest BFF) Rob Bell.
My favorite plenary talks were given by Astro-Physicist Paul Wallace and Rob Bell (shocker, right?). Paul eloquently integrated the creation story and Job together into a story that many season theologians could only dream of doing. Paul proved to us that the truth of God and truths of science do not stand in opposition one another but rather they both are needed to understand the full arc of our relationship with God. To top it off, I purchased 2 copies of Paul’s latest book and he is going to sign them for 2 of our students who love science and in the past had been told it had no place in church.
And then there was Rob Bell. Rob Bell comes with all kinds of Rob Bell baggage. And some people might not like baggage but I don’t mind it.
Rob Bell has been challenging the mainline Protestants and conservative evangelicals for awhile now. And there was certainly a buzz in the air as word began to spread that THE Rob Bell had arrived at the conference. Rob spoke for a little over one hour about welcoming the ‘why?’ question into youth ministry. For Rob, and for many, answers to questions are rarely enough but rather just lead to more questions. And this translates very easily into youth ministry right?
Teenagers ask hard questions and when you try to give them a BS answer because you don’t know the answer they will call you out on it. Rather than giving the BS answer it is my policy to say, ‘I don’t know but I can find out for you.’ The best part about this response is that it keeps the conversation going! There isn’t a quick one line answer and then onto the next activity. When you go and find the answer and then come back to deliver your findings you are telling the students you work with that they are worth your time, you will follow up when you say you will, and that you are thinking about them beyond our one hour chunk on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.
Questions are a great thing and PYM16 asked a lot of questions:
Why is that the church is so divided on sharing the Grace of God with all people?
Why are certain people groups kept outside the church?
Why is 11:00 Sunday morning the most segregated hour in America?
How can a church that has lost its passion for justice stand up again and say enough is enough?
PMY16 was hosted by the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX. Being labeled a ‘progressive’ conference I knew the hosting church would be affirming and welcoming of LGBT people but I was not prepared for the level of hospitality and love shown to ALL people by this faith community. Volunteers manned video cameras, kept refreshment stations full of coffee and sweets, and helped this crazy group of out-of-towners navigate church corridors.
On Sunday morning I attended worship at Cathedral of Hope before jumping on a plane to Atlanta. The sign on the door said ’11:00 Service – Traditional’.
‘Oh boy!’, I thought. I am not a huge fan of organs and choirs. But I was in for a worship experience!
From being welcomed by no less than 12 people before I found my seat, an organ, orchestra, and choir that was able to seamlessly move from traditional hymns and anthems to contemporary songs, and a preacher who passionately shared the Gospel and challenged the entire community to passionately share the Gospel in their community this worship service goes into the top 5 worship experiences I’ve had. I was simply blown away by Rev. Neil and then entire community. I am still processing everything I heard, saw, and felt.
I knew PYM16 would push me out of the comfort zone. I knew it would push boundaries, ruffle some feathers, and challenge me to think differently not only about my ministry but also about how I was sharing the Gospel to those the local church has been ignoring.