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COVID-19 cancels 2022 Presbyterian Youth Triennium

New ‘PYT Beyond’ will now be before rather than after the 2025 Triennium, with time to dig deep into the Mathew 25 theme

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Because of the ongoing pandemic, the 2022 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, which had been scheduled for July 24-27 in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been canceled.

According to PYT director Gina Yeager-Buckley, this decision came out of a deep desire to prioritize the safety and health of all Triennium participants, including those working the event.

“This decision involved a great deal of difficult, thoughtful and prayerful discernment with our multiple planning teams and we are confident it is the right call,” she said. “Dealing with the ramifications of COVID and the necessary safety protocols that we would need to build were overshadowing every element of Triennium. The most important goal of PYT is to provide a place where Presbyterian youth can safely and creatively explore God’s word and Jesus’ path.”

Gina Yeager-Buckley

Yeager-Buckley said PYT is in the process of renegotiating contracts with the  Indianapolis Convention Center and area hotels.

“We’re excited to share that we’ve just been offered dates in July 2025 in Indianapolis for the next PYT,” she said.

The decision to cancel the 2022 Triennium came after a recent meeting with the COVID Medical Advisory Team, which includes physicians and immunologists. Senior leaders from PYT, the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly heard from the medical team that even with vaccine and mask requirements, there would be COVID clusters — not just individual cases.

Because PYT participants travel and attend as delegations, a five- day pre-event quarantine would also have been required, because young people typically travel to PYT with a whole new group of peers.

“You don’t often attend PYT with your youth group, but with a group of strangers,” Yeager-Buckley said. “The burden of adding an additional five days of programming, shelter, meals, etc., on to registrars with already full plates caused us a lot of concern.”

Even with the pre-event, PYT was told to expect clusters of participants with positive test results. Yeager-Buckley said she began to see something taking shape that is not what Triennium should be — or something the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should encourage.

Leaders also began to understand that if PYT moved forward with the event, organizers would have to create an onsite COVID testing clinic and COVID care facility to care for those who would be in quarantine after testing positive.

This provided clarity that the largest gathering of Presbyterian youth every three years — Triennium attracts up to 5,000 people — would have to be postponed.

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III

“As we spent more and more of our time trying to figure out a COVID mitigation strategy, it became clear that this wasn’t the right time to bring young people together for this wonderful event,” said the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of Theology, Formation and Evangelism.

The PYT team had already postponed registration for the event from February 1 to March 14 in order to buy some time for PYT registrars. With concerns about COVID, there were fewer adult volunteers to encourage youth and adult youth leaders to attend Triennium. A lower number of participants would also have had financial implications for this year’s event.

Once the renegotiations for Triennium in Indianapolis take place, the PYT team plans to move ahead with PYT Beyond, the new expanded ministry for Presbyterian youth that will offer virtual sessions, cohorts for youth and adults and online courses related to the theme, “When Did We See You?

Regional, flexible PYT packages with videos of speakers, musicians and recreation leaders are also in the planning stages, all designed to provide a pathway to the 2025 event.

“The theme from Matthew 25 will remain the same,” Yeager-Buckley said. “This gives us a chance to broaden the impact and dig deeper with young people on what it means to see like Jesus — to see what God sees — and then be active in the world.”

Yeager-Buckley feels that it is the mysterious touch of the divine to have extra time to work on the “When Did We See You?”  theme with young people before the next Triennium. She recognizes that the work of dismantling structural racism, eradicating systemic poverty and building congregational vitality — changing long term habits — can’t be done at a conference alone.

“We’ve always known that this theme was calling us to reach further, dig deeper, risk uncertainty together,” Yeager-Buckley said.

For Jones, regional cohorts of youth engaging in Bible studies and working with coaches on “When Did We See You?” — possibly in partnership with camps and conference centers —  will give youth a chance to go deeper into the Matthew 25 vision with their faith communities.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, knows how much prayerful discernment went into the decision to cancel this year’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

“The safety of the young attendees and our volunteers is always our top priority,” she said. “I’m confident the new ‘Triennium Beyond’ program will serve as a special pathway between now and the next Triennium in 2025.”

 On Friday, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board approved allocating $246,000 from unrestricted funding reserves to a board designated fund to support COVID-related expenses related to the 2022 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. The funds will be used for COVID-related expenses and alternative PYT programming over the next several years. 


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