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Presbyterian Youth Triennium speaker highlight: Perryn Rice

Inspired 30 years ago at PYT, pastor returns to encourage attendees to ‘Go Into the World’

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Perryn Rice. Photo provided

Perryn Rice. Photo provided

LOUISVILLE – The Rev. Dr. Perryn Rice, senior pastor of Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church—a joint congregational witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas—couldn’t have written his credentials as the closing preacher at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium any better.

Not only is Rice’s church aligned with two of the three denominations participating in the July 19-23 event that will bring together approximately 5,000 Presbyterian youth, but his original pastoral endorsement came from the third—the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America.

Add to that, Rice first felt the call to ministry 30 years ago when he attended the 1986 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. He’s been back several times since then, three times as a small group leader, and feels the gathering is a great gift to the church.

Before answering that call though, Rice spent time as an aspiring stand-up comic, hoping one day to fill the shoes of the retiring Johnny Carson. While he enjoyed performing and did well regionally, his stand-up career didn’t take off as well as he’d hoped. Rice then joined an R&B group as its ad-lib riffer, hoping to give his comedy career a boost, until he finally admitted the calling on his life was to ministry.

“What was going on—and this ties directly to Presbyterian Youth Triennium—all that while doing standup and singing R&B, I knew I was supposed to preach,” says Rice. “That was not my plan. It was God’s plan, but it really wasn’t mine at that time. When I was 16, at the Triennium, I took a workshop called ‘Understanding Your Calling.’ After that, I knew exactly what it was God wanted me to do, the question was whether or not I was going to do it.

“All through college—and then doing stand-up and singing R&B—I knew that preaching, being and ordained minister of word and sacrament, was what God wanted from me. Eventually I came around and accepted that calling.

“I tell everyone the Presbyterian Youth Triennium changed my life. And it is imperative that you send your young people. I’m excited that my son gets to come to Triennium this year, and he is one of four from our church coming.”

Rice spoke to Presbyterian News Service about his lifelong love for the Presbyterian Youth Triennium and the topic of his closing Saturday sermon.

What will you preach or present on at PYT?

I’ve been asked to preach a sermon about “Going into the world.” This is my third opportunity to preach at the Triennium and the two prior [times] were on the very last day of the event. What I try to do with that sermon is disturb young people enough so that they will go home and disturb the status quo. Because you’re not just going to stay home, you’re going home to do. You’re going home to lead others in the ways of Jesus the Christ.

Why is this topic important for young people today and for the church?

Sometimes, the others that you lead are people who attend church with you. They’re not only people who attend church with you but people who are 30-40 years older than you are who have fallen into a spiritual or ecclesiastical rut that they can’t easily get out of. And they need someone to show them a different way, perhaps a better way, of serving the Lord in this 21st century.

With the many themes of “GO!” spread throughout the week, what “GO!” action will your topic inspire in attendees?

I hope it will sort of tie a bow on the week. We’ll spend some time looking at what happened each day of the Triennium and I’ll try to incorporate that in the sermon. I hope we’ll all have the opportunity to see how it all ties together.

What is the most important thing about PYT and why do you keep coming back?

It’s incredibly energizing for me. I knew an older lady, who died many years ago, who told me ‘Perryn, if you want to stay young, stay around young people.’ I’ve been doing this for a very long time and every time I’m asked to preach at Triennium I ask, ‘are you sure?’ There are a slew of dynamic young preachers who could come and do a fabulous job, but they continue to ask me, and I’m flattered.

It recharges my batteries and allows me to see the church from the perspective of the youth. That helps me to become a better pastor, a better minister, a better servant of the Lord. So I’ll continue to support the Triennium in as many ways as I can as long as we have it.

We often hear stories about the difficulty of attracting young people to the church, yet PYT is the biggest PC(USA) gathering. Why do you think that is? 

I tell young people that if you can go to PYT as a youth, that’s the time to do it, because it’s design and set up for youth.

There’s really something to be said about the spiritual aspect of the event. It’s an opportunity to be in one place with over 5,000 young people praising and worshiping God—that clicks with them. Everything they’ve heard over the past three years—all the Bible studies and other youth conferences and Sunday School discussions—it clicks at that one moment when you get the chance to be with so many other people dealing with the same things you are dealing with, yet all come to the throne of God seeking guidance and help and inspiration and direction. There is a magnificent power that exists there, that many adults miss that because we’re bogged down with the things of the world.

Secondly, they also have opportunity to partake in the missional aspect of the Triennium. With the mission project the Triennium provides, you know immediately that what you’re doing is touching people throughout the world. And we don’t always get that on a local level.

The last reason why so many students continue to come back to Triennium is practical—it’s every three years. Most young people are only going to get one chance to go. A small minority, including my son, fall into that category. It’s something to look forward to and every young person who goes to the Triennium, I believe, goes back home and talks about how great it is and it encourages the younger children in the congregation with something to look forward to, something they want to do.

What’s one thing you want each person who hears you to go away with, to share, or to implement in his or her daily life? 

The one thing I hope they take is that they’ve been empowered by the Lord to ‘go and do.’ It’s core to the mission of the church.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I want to encourage people to come. It’s going to be phenomenal.

Registration closes June 10, 2016 for the event sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Churches held July 19-23 on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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