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Soul Children of Chicago and Triennium participants break down racial, cultural barriers


‘We want to come back next year and go to this,’ Chicago teens say

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Soul Children of Chicago perform at the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. Michael Erdelyi

LOUISVILLE — “Total joy” is how Presbyterian Youth Triennium director Gina Yeager-Buckley remembers one of this year’s experiences. Even though it happened a month ago now, thinking about it gives her energy.

Exhausted, she was about to hop onto a golf cart for nighttime residence hall checks when she was stopped by a group of youth from the Soul Children of Chicago.

The choir of youth and young adults had arrived at Purdue University for the triennial PC(USA) youth event earlier that morning — after leaving Chicago at 6:30 a.m. — for a Thursday evening concert at Triennium called “Loudest Praise.”

And now, after two sound checks and two rehearsals — they’d performed earlier at afternoon worship — and a 90-minute evening concert, weary parents and family members of the Soul Children said their goodbyes to their Triennium liaisons for the day. Clusters of Soul Children teenagers were also saying thanks to the Triennium staff before boarding buses for their return trip to Chicago.

That’s when Yeager-Buckley was approached — at 11:30 p.m. — by a half-dozen of the Soul Children. Mainly teenagers, they asked, “Are you the woman in charge?” 

When PYT participants got on stage with Soul Children of Chicago, American Indian Youth Council and a group of dancers from Indonesia the bonds of racial and cultural differences were broken. Rich Copley

Yeager-Buckley laughed and responded, “Something like that,” and their excitement spilled out.

“We want to come back next year and go to this,” they shouted. “We had so much fun.”

When Yeager-Buckley asked them what they had done during their day at Triennium, they all began talking at once.

“Look at my Matthew 25 shirt!” “I got beach balls [Matthew 25 gifts at the exhibit hall].” “The prayer place [Heartbeat – Center for Prayer and Pondering] was awesome.” “We played soccer.” “I played a game from Japan [featured in the Global Partners booth at the exhibit hall].” 

Yeager-Buckley also heard “We had so much fun walking all over the place,” and that made her really laugh. She knows that walking at Triennium is not exactly popular with everyone.

At the end of a very long day, Yeager-Buckley was sharing a moment of joy.

That morning began with a heat advisory warning, so the Triennium team scrambled to move the entire Thursday night “Loudest Praise” indoors — which completely altered the plans of three performing groups

The American Indian Youth Council— made up of youth and young adults from PC(USA) churches across the country — gave a mini-presentation of Native American dancing and singing. And a group of youth and young adults from Indonesia also performed dances and rhythmic songs with handheld percussion instruments as part of the evening festivities.

During their performance, the Soul Children of Chicago invited the dancers from both groups — who were also Triennium participants — to join them on stage. Soon, other young people were joining them.

PYT participants joyfully crowd the stage during the Soul Children of Chicago musical performance at Triennium. Michael Erdelyi

“For one stressful and dazzling moment, there was this blur of complete exuberance on the stage,” Yeager-Buckley said. “But then we had to do the safety call and ask our care team and recreation leaders to help participants off the stage.”

Soul Children of Chicago director Dr. Walt Whitman acknowledged that “it got crazy” when more and more Triennium participants wanted to get on stage with the choir. But then he reflected on the significance of that moment, of how black and white kids came together from different types of ministry and worship.

“They’re more into bands and Christian contemporary choir,” he said, “so for them to embrace and participate the way they did broke the bonds of racial and cultural differences.”

“They became one,” he added, “seeing only good music and God. I’m glad they felt that.”

As Yeager-Buckley stood among the joyful youth from Soul Chicago and the Triennium staff, late that night she was given a picture of the “Here’s My Heart” Triennium logo — and she was reminded of what an incredible community Triennium is for young people.

“Here they were, kids full of joy, for the experience of and being with other young people,” she said. “Offering us joy with the sacrifice of hundreds of hours of practice.”

They were “binding their hearts to God by settling in with others,” she continued. “Playing and eating with participants. Singing and dancing with the gifts that might be new or different for them. Held by God and the Presbyterian Youth Triennium as sacred.”

The Soul Children’s presence was supported in part by monetary gifts given by the Presbyterian Investment Loan Program and the Presbyterian Foundation.

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