Lounging and talking theology with the Triennium Energizers


What’s it like getting 4,000+ people hyped for worship?

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Energizers offered during worship at the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium have clearly had the desired effect. (Photo by Rich Copley)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — The morning of the fourth day of the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, we find the Energizers in an unexpected state: lounging.

Reclining in generously stuffed chairs, several with laptops in their laps, the members of the four-person crew are enjoying some casual time together in an actual green room before returning to their roles as the sparkplugs that light up Triennium, getting students hyped for worship services.

Things are so chill that the quartet even eases into a theological discussion. Yes, there is theology behind Revolution, the Aisha and mega golf.

But first, how did they get these jobs?

Naturally, may be the best answer. Or organically.

Eric Dillenbeck led recreation at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina for the first time 20 years ago this month and had been involved with recreation ministry ever since. Joanna Wilkinson started teaching energizers at youth camp for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and now co-owns a communications company, which pays off as she shoots and edits the videos that accompany the energizers.

Sofia Lazot went up the chain of recreation from participant to leader at Campamento El Guacio in Puerto Rico and began leading recreation at conferences for groups such as Presbyterian Women. And Levi Bannerman says recreation was a “family tradition” going back to his grandparents. His grandfather, Glenn Bannerman, is professor emeritus of recreation and outdoor education at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

“The theology of recreation and play was ingrained in me,” Bannerman says.

Theology. And Triennium attendees thought they were just miming selfies, doing dance steps and throwing their hands in the air like they just don’t care.

“I remember in seminary learning that games can be for fun or for a purpose,” Wilkinson says.

They even check themselves when they say game, because the idea behind the energizers is that everybody is together, and everybody succeeds.

“That’s why we teach,” Dillenbeck says of the moments before each energizer where they walk the audience through the moves.

Lazot says, “If you don’t know the steps, how can you play? It’s helping each other out and bringing the church community together.”

And a lot of work goes into that community building. The four-person crew, which also oversees recreation activities outside of worship, started coming together a year and a half ago and met for the first time in January. A lot of that time is devoted to recreation events, but they also started mapping out energizers, which they say often start with reinforcing the theme of the day and then the accompanying song.

Catching the Triennium Energizers in a pensive moment is a rare event. From left are Levi Bannerman, Sofia Lazat, Eric Dillenbeck and Joanna Wilkinson. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Over the years, songs have rotated in and out of the energizer repertoire, the enduring classic being Kirk Franklin’s “Revolution,” which pretty much needed no introduction this year. Being introduced was an energizer to a song by K-pop superstars BTS as well as others with new moves and ideas.

And of course, there are the videos, which are intentionally recorded seating to show how people who cannot stand can participate.

“I hope these videos show that these can be accessible,” Bannerman says. “We want everyone to feel included.”

And if you feel kind of goofy, so does everyone else.

“We’re not trying to be cool,” Wilkinson says.

Watching the four of them, you’d think none of the Energizers needs to work out, though Dillenbeck allows, “I wish I had done more working out before I came here.”

They all say they get a lot of energy from the crowd of more than 4,000 that packs into Purdue University’s Elliott Hall of Music for each worship service.

“I know how excited I was participating in the energizers and games when I was coming here,” Wilkinson says. “I want to make people feel as excited and included as I did.”

Lazot remembers the effort her youth groups would put in to make the journey from San Juan to Triennium, raising money for the trip and traveling long distances.

“They are extremely happy to be here,” Lazot says, “and I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure it was all worth it.”

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