Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

It’s not too soon to be dreaming of the upcoming Presbyterian Youth Triennium

Gina Yeager-Buckley stops by Between 2 Pulpits to talk about one of the jewels of the PC(USA)

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Gina Yeager-Buckley, one of most familiar and happiest faces seen at Presbyterian Youth Triennium every three years, was the logical choice to be the guest during a recent episode of the Between 2 Pulpits podcast, which can be heard here.

Yeager-Buckley is mission coordinator for Presbyterian Youth and Triennium, which is set for July 28-31, 2025, in Louisville, Kentucky, three years after the pandemic wiped out the in-person edition of Triennium scheduled for Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2022.

Relating how she got to where she’s at, while she was still in college, a church asked Yeager-Buckley if she’d be interested in being a youth worker there. “Who knows what dumb games I made them play, but I loved thinking through what would engage the kids and give them the feeling I had just a few years earlier” growing up in her own church’s youth group, Yeager-Buckley told Between 2 Pulpits hosts the Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson and Katie Snyder.

“That was part of my call,” she said. “It takes something to compel people — a calling, an inviting atmosphere, making way for people of all kinds of experiences.”

When Yeager-Buckley was about to finish college, a college advisor asked the theater arts major, “What do you really want to do?”

“I was ready to say, ‘stage manage,’” Yeager-Buckley recalled. “But out of my mouth came, ‘I want to study Christian education.’ I was stupefied. I don’t remember forming the thought, but I had a picture in my head of what gave me a sense of solidness and euphoria and grace. The advisor said, ‘Then let’s look at that path for you. Do you have folks you can talk to?’”

Clergy friends encouraged her to visit a few seminaries, and she ended up completing a degree at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, now part of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Gina Yeager-Buckley

“I found the language [to say] that storytelling is not just in the pulpit. It’s in the classroom, at the family table and in friend groups,” Yeager-Buckley said. She accepted a call to Faith Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, then joined the PC(USA)’s national staff in 1996.

Wilkinson, who spent many years in parish ministry before being named director of Ministry Engagement and Support last year, said that as a youth he attended the first Triennium, which was held at the University of Indiana in 1980. “It was way different then, but what’s not different is this notion of kids coming from all over. It was an initial exposure to different forms of diversity,” he said. “It was a profound experience. I don’t say Triennium turned me into a minister, but it broadened my faith perspective and allowed me to think about vocation in a different way.”

“I hear pieces of that story lots of times,” Yeager-Buckley said, especially of people who went to Triennium and later became teachers or are engaged in justice ministry or “have this knowledge now that their church is part of a beautiful web.” One of her highlights at each Triennium is the moment attendees first burst into the auditorium, run toward their seats — and then look around wide-eyed, thinking, according to Yeager-Buckley, “I didn’t know there we so many Presbyterians in the world.”

“This is mind-blowing for them,” said Snyder, who’s also attended Triennium as a member of the denominational staff.

“Critical mass makes a difference in how you experience something like a concert or a movie,” Yeager-Buckley said. “There’s something about experiencing it with others.”

“It’s something that walks with you out the doors, onto the bus and back into your life, even if it’s pushed down a bit because school is starting again,” Yeager-Buckley said. “Sometimes it’s dormant for a while and it comes back as an adult.”

Every Triennium features a unique planning process, she said.

“We do nothing the same. We don’t have a template,” she said. “We do a little bit of forecasting, trying to look at what are the longings of young people — voice, demonstrate? Are they there to learn? Is it a mixture? I think it’s unique because of some of those pieces, and also just the rhythm of [holding Triennium every three years].”

Two episodes of the “Between 2 Pulpits” podcast dropped recently.

Wilkinson noted the main reason for having Yeager-Buckley as part of the most recent Between 2 Pulpits podcasts: Many PC(USA) churches will receive the Pentecost Offering, which supports youth ministry and Triennium, on Pentecost, which this year falls on May 19.

Yeager-Buckley explained some of the extensive planning that goes into Triennium every three years. The production team, which plans and produces the event, is divided evenly between youths and adults. “When you come to a Bible study or community-building session or a recreation event, they are truly developed by young people. It’s not simple or easy or dumbed-down. There are a lot of tough topics,” she said. “Sometimes we hear, ‘I’m not sure my child is ready to talk about this.’ But we think they’re ready, and that God calls us.”

She called the Triennium exhibit hall “a mission immersion experience. You walk in and you understand your church has a peacemaking ministry or deals with hunger, has young adult volunteers, works with people all over the world and deals with disasters. These are things people don’t know right away. That to me is one of the most powerful and important parts of why we do Triennium — it’s to show young people how you serve God in the world, and all the wonderful ways you can.”

More announcements about the 2025 Presbyterian Youth Triennium will be coming out via social media in the coming months, Yeager-Buckley said. The theme is “As if We Were Dreaming” and the central scripture will be Psalm 126. “It’s an incredibly timely, intriguing theme,” Yeager-Buckley said, adding that because the 2022 in-person event was cancelled, young adults in their early 20s will be invited to attend the 2025 Youth Triennium. They’ll be staying at a separate hotel in Louisville, she noted.

Asked by Snyder to share her hope for the church, Yeager-Buckley said her hope is “that we start to see a church that’s not dependent on its buildings and its budgets only, but on its ability to launch people into the community and into the world.”

“’There’s Gina,’ they’ll say. ‘She was ours, but now she’s theirs.’ ‘There’s Katie, who grew up here, learned here, played handbells here, and look what she’s doing now.’”

“We understand that’s the arc of following Jesus Christ. It’s to go, and not to just stay,” Yeager-Buckley said. “That’s my hope!”

Additional editions of “Between Two Pulpits” can be heard here.

Gifts to the Pentecost Offering support Ministries with Youth in planning and leading the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.