Three four-day Higher Things Lutheran youth conferences in July drew a record total attendance of more than 2,100 young people, chaperones and pastors from throughout North America.
“Coram Deo” (Latin for “before God”) was the theme of nearly identical conferences — July 5-8 in Las Vegas; July 12-15 in Bloomington-Normal, Ill.; and July 19-22 in Atlanta, where attendance respectively stood at about 500, 1,230 and 430.
That theme focused on “the relationship that exists as participants stand both before God and before man,” according to a news release about the conference. It guided much of the conference program, including plenary sessions taught by Rev. William Cwirla of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, Calif., and Rev. Brent Kuhlman, Trinity Lutheran Church, Murdock, Neb.
“In the presence of God. That’s a topic that was beautifully devout to our teaching of justification and sanctification,” said Cwirla. “In its correct order and position, we stand coram Deo … by faith in the blood of Christ and His sacrifice alone, and then we stand before our neighbor under God by His love as Christ works in us to be Christ for our neighbor.”
Higher Things is an LCMS Recognized Service Organization that holds annual youth conferences and “assists parents, congregations and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth,” according to a news release about the conference.
“We work and plan all year so that youth from all over the United States can have a Christ-centered week, said Rev. George Borghardt, Higher Things conference executive.
The 2011 conference program also involved Bible study and discussion, worship, breakaway workshops, fellowship and entertainment, and a first-time service project that resulted in participants assembling more than 1,400 personal-hygiene “care kits” — each with a towel, a toothbrush, fingernail clippers and a comb — for distribution by Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore.
Erin Stephens, service project coordinator for the conferences, noted that 70 percent of those attending participated in that project. “We’re happy that it let us extend the love that Christ has given to us to our fellow man in … time of need,” Stephens said.
Conference entertainment events included a talent show, karaoke, trips to water parks, an Elvis impersonator, a T-shirt swap and a magician.
Breakaway workshops covered a variety of topics, including liturgy, talking to non-Lutheran friends about Jesus, relationships, evolution, college, Mormonism, addictions and Christian apologetics.
“I liked that the sessions were specialized for each part of everyone’s lives,” said Ashlee Dikoff, from Zion Lutheran Church in Mitchell, S.D.
“I didn’t know we would be learning in such a fun way,” added Lindsey Barber, a chaperone and first-time conference attendee from Grace Lutheran Church, Tulsa, Okla.
“This is where Jesus predominates,” said Rev. Duane Bamsch of Evangelists’ Lutheran Church, Kingsbury, Texas, who was catechesis coordinator for this year’s conferences. “Youth around the nation get to hear about their God, their Savior, He who died and was raised for them,” Bamsch added, “and there’s nothing more wonderful than that knowledge and the certainty that Jesus died for you.”
“Higher Things conferences are an experience like no other,” said Mary Meleg, a 15-year-old attendee from Ontario, Canada. “I like the atmosphere of how pastors connect with the youth so much, and it’s nice to be in a place where all the people believe the same thing and come together to learn aspects of the faith.”
Daily conference activities included multiple worship services.
“The best part about Higher Things is being constantly surrounded by the Gospel,” said Higher Things conference coordinator Sandra Ostapowich.
“It’s a thrill each year to come together with all these youth and chaperones … and to hear Christ and to sing and respond in that joy,” said Rev. Rich Heinz of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Chicago, worship coordinator for the 2011 conferences. “It is such a great blessing as we are gathering and hearing great preaching, receiving Jesus in His Word and in His gifts.”
“The world does not get to say who you are,” said Rev. Mark Buetow of Bethel Lutheran Church, Du Quoin, Ill., in his sermon for the closing Divine Service. “Jesus says that you are a child of God, holy and righteous in His sight, because you are Coram Deo, before God, in Christ.”
For more information about Higher Things and its conferences, visit www.higherthings.org.
Posted July 29, 2011