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‘It’s hard to kill your darling’

The moment Covid cancelled the 2022 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, youth leaders across the country began creating innovative regional events

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The pandemic has indeed nixed the planned in-person Presbyterian Youth Triennium this summer. But youth leaders across the country are coming up with local and regional gatherings and other offerings for youth and young adults, including six presbyteries in Pennsylvania planning an event they’re calling the Presbyterian Youth Tri-PENNium, to be held at the Krislund  Camp & Retreat Center in Madisonburg.

“The place to start with [the Matthew 25 invitation] is the young people,” Gina Yeager-Buckley, associate for Presbyterian Youth and Triennium, said Monday during the weekly Between Two Pulpits broadcast, hosted this week by Dr. Bill McConnell, interim director of Special Offerings, and Sy Hughes, mission engagement advisor for the Southeast region. The regional events, part of the “PYT Beyond” concept, will focus on the “When did we see you?” question at the heart of Jesus’ Judgment of the Nations.

Gina Yeager-Buckley

“We are launching this into the youthosphere of the PC(USA),” Yeager-Buckley said of the plans for PYT Beyond. It had taken two years to plan for an in-person Triennium, which was to have been held in Indianapolis, Indiana. “We had a lot of fear and sadness” after multiple layers of teams decided it was best to cancel one of the PC(USA)’s most anticipated events, Yeager-Buckley said. “It’s hard to kill your darling. But it was the right thing to do, and we needed to do it at a certain time so people wouldn’t be spending money on travel.”

After the announcement was made in February, the PYT planning team gathered in Indianapolis to determine the next steps that would become PYT Beyond. “It was one of the strangest, hardest, most beautiful meetings you’ve ever seen,” Yeager-Buckley said. “How do we lay down this 2022 plan and have something else rise up? Some incredible ideas came up,” and the result is that three resources will be placed on the PYT Beyond website beginning early next month.

One resource will be a manual for small groups. Another is a three-session Bible study complete with ideas for recreation and games and what Yeager-Buckley called “a detailed theme party.” The third resource is designed around worship and devotion. The resources can help youth leaders build a weekend retreat or a week-long camp for youth.

“We love the flexibility,” Yeager-Buckley said. “More people will engage this than could have attended Triennium.”

Sy Hughes

“As the spouse of a planner, I know how hard this call was,” Hughes told Yeager-Buckley. “We are grateful it was sooner than later. It allowed people to make alternate arrangements.”

Initially, the team looked at offering a hybrid Triennium with portions of it livestreamed. “But it didn’t feel right [for youth] to be on Zoom for many hours during the summer,” Yeager-Buckley said. “It didn’t feel like Triennium. It felt like something else.”

Like their counterparts in Pennsylvania, other youth leaders around the country are planning local and regional events.

“We are the great ripper-offers of each other. We do that with love and community,” Yeager-Buckley said of youth leaders everywhere. “People are pivoting to an exciting place this summer.”

When McConnell asked her to talk about which of Sunday’s lectionary passages she might preach on, Yeager-Buckley got to show off her off-the-cuff exegetical chops on the Acts 11:1-18 passage.

“That weird dream of Peter with the creepy animals on the blanket — I would choose that for sure,” Yeager-Buckley said. “How Peter is led through that dream is very appropriate for the way young people take up space in our midst and the differences they bring. We do a lot of critiquing of their technology, but it’s their community-building. These animals are holy vessels of God who have landed in our midst.”

“That’s bad exegesis on the spot,” she told the hosts. “But Peter walks us through what God is trying to tell us.”

Dr. William McConnell

“People are figuring out,” McConnell said, “that maybe God can use this technology.”

“There is an ongoing conversation about using screens in the church,” Yeager-Buckley responded. “It’s anathema there and necessary here. If the blanket dropped today, can you imagine what might be sitting on it? A monitor or a cellphone.”

Asked by Hughes to name her hope for the church, Yeager-Buckley said it comes from the fact we’re “on the precipice of welcoming back an integral youth and young adult ministry. There is excitement about collaborating with Matthew 25. My hope lies right here and right now. I believe we learn from our churches, who are remembering [as the pandemic begins drawing to a close] the importance of young people. We are in the same place in the Presbyterian Mission Agency and I am excited about that.”

Watch Monday’s edition of Between Two Pulpits here. Presbyterian Youth Triennium is among the ministries supported by the Pentecost Offering, one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings.

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