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Recreation activities at Triennium keep youth ‘GO’-ing

More than fun and games, events animate a theology of connection

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Overhead 'four square' is played Monday afternoon on Purdue University's Memorial Mall. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Overhead ‘four square’ is played Monday afternoon on Purdue University’s Memorial Mall. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Mixed in with the dozens of events that make up the Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT)—including worship services, small group discussions, Bible studies and advocacy opportunities—are daily recreation times designed to engage body, mind, soul, along with forging relationships. Sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, each of the dozens of daily recreation activities is a variation on PYT’s 2016 theme, “GO!”

Planning begins shortly after the previous Triennium ends. Over two-and-a-half years the recreation team works with the entire planning team to make sure the recreation activities are coordinated with the rest of the event.

“Once the main theme is decided, the daily themes are set. At that point, the recreation team takes the scripture, the questions into consideration to try to integrate it into each day’s activities,” says Beth Gunn, coordinator of recreation activities for the past five Presbyterian Youth Trienniums. “I’m not sure the general public gets that [level of integration]; it’s intentional on our part.”

Lucas and Katherine, from Northeast Georgia Presbytery, play a matching game during Tuesday evening's recreation time at Presbyterian Youth Triennium. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Lucas and Katherine, from Northeast Georgia Presbytery, play a matching game during Tuesday evening’s recreation time at Presbyterian Youth Triennium. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

This level of coordination shows up in large and small details. Following the themes of “Go and See,” “Go and Do,” “Go and Seek,” “Let my people Go” and “Go into the world” establishes the broader set of activities each day. Specifics, like placing icons on attendee’s name badges ensure mixer games have the most impact and allow students to meet people from other parts of the church.

Tuesday scripture theme was Jesus’ birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke. Following evening worship, volunteers held large lit-up stars and guided students to “Go and See” their small group leaders for the first time, all of whom were dressed up as shepherds. Four photography booths also greeted students, narrating the nativity story: no room at the inn, shepherds in the field, the wise men, and the manger.

Gunn says her team of 15 people were “pumped” to see all their planning begin to pay off as students enjoyed yard games like cornhole, overhead four square, and giant Scrabble, along with energizers from the main stage. “When it all comes together and comes to life at the actual event, it shows how much hard work they’ve done.”

Norberto, from Houston, places a ribbon with a message of hope on the 'Wall of Hate' during Tuesday's recreation time at Presbyterian Youth Triennium. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Norberto, from Houston, places a ribbon with a message of hope on the ‘Wall of Hate’ during Tuesday’s recreation time at Presbyterian Youth Triennium. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Beyond large-venue games, the team has established more reflective activities including a confession area and a “Wall of Hate”—pallets sprayed with words like “ghetto” and symbols such as a swastika—over which students are placing ribbons with statements of hope.

Norberto, from Houston, was placing a ribbon that read, “God is our motivation,” on the wall. “Some people think sports heroes and movie starts are our motivation, but God is all we need and is our motivation,” he said.

Asked about his favorite part of Triennium so far, Norberto said, “I like worship, the worship is the best thing ever. I’m looking forward to seeing God—seeing God in somebody and actually talking to them, and trying to be close to God.”

Katherine and Lucas, from Northeast Georgia Presbytery, hadn’t met one another before attending Triennium, even traveling to the event separately, but were introduced by mutual friends shortly after they arrived at Purdue University. “I’ve never met so many people in such a short amount of time,” said Lucas.

“The [recreation] activities are a great way to meet people,” said Katherine who has played some of the games and wrote messages to cover the “Wall of Hate.”

Gunn is from Swannanoa, North Carolina and attends Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, working part time in youth ministry for the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. She holds a degree in recreation administration and “grew up” around faith-based recreation. Her father, Glenn Bannerman, was the professor of outdoor recreation at the former Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The program is now housed at Union Theological Seminary.

“At the end of the week, I hope students will say they felt like part of the community—of coming as a delegation and meeting people who are Presbyterians of the larger church,” Gunn said. “Also, that they got to know other youth and enjoyed being in relationship with each other.”

“I think God smiles when we are playing and laughing and experiencing joy in community with each other,” she said. “ And I hope they would have felt that joy.”


Presbyterian Youth Triennium continues through Saturday, July 23. Presbyterian News Service will continue to post stories from the event and live event information can be found on Twitter via this link:

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