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Peace-planters and a ‘true crime’ podcast are part of Montreat Youth Conferences

‘I like digging deep into the meaning of peace and learning how we can spread peace around to others,’ said one youth

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Week 2 participants gather for morning events in Anderson Auditorium at Montreat Conference Center. (Photo by Danny Dieth)

“It’s very easy to lose hope in a world so dominated by oppression and darkness. And yet, the work of the Holy Spirit is alive and thriving at the 2024 Montreat Youth Conference!” said the Rev. Danny Dieth, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Georgia, and an adult leader for the Flint River Presbytery youth group that is attending Week 2 of the annual Montreat Youth Conferences in Montreat, North Carolina.

“Planting Peace” is the theme for the 2024 Montreat Youth Conferences, which run from June 2–Aug. 3. A total of 3,605 participants, mostly high school youth representing 318 churches and presbyteries, are enrolled so far. Montreat staff say that number is likely to grow some over the summer. “It’s not too late to register!” said Tanner Pickett, vice president for communications at Montreat Conference Center. Individuals can even register on their own for Week 6.

Conference planners have divided the overall theme into four words: peace, plant, prune and persist, for focus throughout worship and small group time. These words convey larger theological statements for the youth to consider as they consider how God calls each of them into the work of peace:

  • “God calls us to plant peace. Our response is an act of faith.”
  • “The nature of the world we live in is broken. Pruning is a necessary season.”
  • “Peace requires patience and resilience to live in the tensions.”
  • “The harvest of peace is for everyone.”

Accessible summaries like these as well as related Scriptures are all available to the youth through the Yapp app, which also holds the conference schedule, contact information for chaplains, a devotional guide for groups and even a podcast that creatively retells the stories of Scripture, like the story of Cain and Abel. Host the Rev. Ashley-Anne Masters, the featured keynote speaker for weeks 5 and 6, welcomes listeners to “Echoes of the past: Where forgotten stories rise from the shadows to captivate your imagination,” before introducing the other podcast narrators and conference keynoters, the Rev. John Molina-Moore (weeks 3 and 4) and the Rev. Dawn Martin Hyde (weeks 1 and 2).

The Rev. Gail Henderson-Belsito preaches to a packed audience of high school youth during Week 1 of the 2024 Montreat Youth Conferences.

This week, for the second week of the conference, 813 individuals representing 79 churches and presbyteries gathered, which included the combined group led by Dieth and from multiple church groups within the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

“The overall message of planting peace has been meaningful for me,” said Tucker, a high school student from Atlanta. “I like digging deep into the meaning of peace and learning how we can spread peace around to others.”

“Making friends” was a common answer of the youth to the question, “What was a highlight or a meaningful part of your week at Montreat Youth Conference?” Two rising seniors in high school from Atlanta elaborated. “My favorite part is being in a safe community where you can talk about things that you normally can’t talk about at school,” one of them said. His friend, another rising senior, added, “and to meet people from all over to discuss and nurture different perspectives of our faith.”

“I’m so grateful for the quality time we get to spend with the youth,” said the Rev. Dr. Erin Reed Cooper, director of children, youth and family ministry at North Decatur Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. Danny Dieth takes a break as youth participate in a variety of recreation activities at Moore Center Field in Montreat, North Carolina. (Photo by Danny Dieth)

This sentiment was echoed by Dieth, who explained how the hope of young people fuels hope in Christ. Dieth said, “My favorite part of the conference is the small group time when youth are actively exploring faith in honest and vulnerable ways. They are not afraid to ask questions that too often adults are too jaded and cynical to ask.”

“My hope, in these dark times, resides in Jesus Christ working and moving through these amazing and gifted young disciples,” said Dieth. “I have hope in Jesus Christ, and I have hope because of them.”

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