More than 1,900 youth, chaperones and pastors gathered at four college campuses in North America for this summer’s four Higher Things Lutheran youth conferences that had the theme of “Twelve.”
Participants’ comments indicate that the conferences were well received.
They took place June 26-29 at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.; July 3-6 at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, Mo.; July 10-13, Concordia University, Irvine, Calif.; and July 17-20, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
“The conference has been amazing,” said Jori Domke, a high school senior from Mountain House, Calif., who attended the event in Irvine. “I’ve loved spending time with my youth group outside of church, I love all the worship and singing, all the Matins and Vespers, and I’ve absolutely loved the breakaway sessions.”
The “Twelve”-themed conference focused on biblical themes for the number 12, from the 12 tribes in the Old Testament to the apostles in the New Testament and the 144,000 in Revelation.
“Leave with a better understanding of what it means to be twelve — God’s children — as you go out into the world,” said Rev. Jeffrey Grams of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Scottsbluff, Neb., during his plenary session at the Missouri conference. “We are born with no identity, but then God gives us one. We are adopted; He brings us into His family. He puts the sign of the cross on the forehead and heart to mark you as one of the redeemed.”
“The glory of Jesus is here to carry you through this life that doesn’t look very glorious,” said Rev. Kurt Onken of Messiah Lutheran Church, Marysville, Wash., during his plenary at the California conference. “He calls you to faith through His Word and the Holy Spirit working through that Word. You’re spiritually dead until God breathes life into you. He calls you into His twelve.”
Conference attendees gathered for worship a number of times each day, praying Matins, Vespers and Evening Prayer, in addition to opening and closing Divine Services. Many groups also prayed Compline on their own each evening.
“I just can’t get over 800 youth all singing the liturgy together,” said Michelle Fritz, a first-time chaperone attendee from Trinity Lutheran Church, Manilla, Iowa. “Everyone is so happy to be here and so well behaved. It’s really amazing.”
“I can’t say enough [about] the worship services. They all make me feel like I’ve been to heaven and am now going to return to earth when I get to the airport,” said Robbie Greer, a first-time conference attendee and chaperone from Messiah Lutheran Church, Danville, Calif. “The organ was absolutely outstanding. I loved how we heard trumpets when we sang about trumpets. All of the pastors showed so much honor and respect and kept driving home Jesus for all of the conference attendees.”
“Worship is my favorite part of a Higher Things conference,” said 10-time conference attendee Suzie Oliphant, a chaperone from Grace Lutheran Church, Albuquerque, N.M. “I love that the historical liturgy and hymns are used for the services and I appreciate the distinction of times for worship, work and play at the conference.”
Designated free times were listed on the conference schedules. Entertainment options included such activities as an “Iron Chef” competition, a barn dance, inflatable bounce houses, laser tag, talent shows and intramural sports games.
Groups at the Missouri conference watched fireworks on Independence Day at nearby Mozingo State Park. Following the grand finale, conference attendees prayed Compline together a cappella as a large group.
Jeremiah Kemp, the college conference volunteer manager at that site, led latecomers toward the large group of conference attendees as Compline began. “I’ve got to say that leading a group of people into the woods with glow sticks toward the sound of chanting is one of the stranger things I’ve ever done,” Kemp said.
“Halfway through Compline by Mozingo Lake, I noticed that several of the motorboats that had been loudly sailing on the lake had stopped their engines, yet their lights were still on,” said Rev. Robert Mayes of Immanuel and Zion Lutheran Churches in Beemer and Wisner, Neb. “I hoped that the Holy Spirit might work through that Word and lead them to faith in Christ, too.”
Conference attendees also had opportunities for service activities each week. In Missouri, groups helped clean up Mozingo State Park on July 5. Also, conference attendees created “key-ring books” for Bethesda Lutheran Communities and collected items for Trinity Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana, Calif., to benefit its mission-outreach efforts in the local homeless community.
Learning was also an integral part of each conference. Attendees went to multiple breakaway sessions of their choice and studied topics ranging from creation and stem-cell research to social media and vocations.
“I really liked the breakaway sessions because they answered questions we didn’t know we had,” said Hannah Prozenko, a 16-year-old first-time attendee from Faith Lutheran Church, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
“Breakaways were my favorite part of the week,” said Tyler Nansel, a college attendee from Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Billings, Mont. “I really like that we got to choose which ones we went to; it’s more individual that way.”
Emmi Going, also from Billings, added, “I loved the Augsburg Confession sectional because I’ve never learned about that in history before. It helped me understand why Lutherans believe what we do today.”
Jill Clark, a first-time conference attendee and chaperone from Trinity Lutheran Church, Alamogordo, N.M., also said she enjoyed the breakaway sessions. “I loved listening to the kids … we brought talk about all of the sessions they went to and not wanting to stop talking about them.”
Higher Things, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization, holds annual youth conferences and assists parents, congregations and pastors in cultivating and promoting a distinctly Lutheran identity among youth. This year’s “Twelve”-themed conference season marked 12 years of Higher Things youth conferences.
“You are robed in white, and you are glorious,” said Grams during his final plenary session. “You are the twelve and you are children of God.”
For more information about Higher Things, visit www.higherthings.org.
Posted Aug. 10, 2012