As far as the Montreat Conference Center is concerned, this is Week Three of the 2008 Youth Conference. There are six such weeks throughout the summer, broken into two-week groups. Although each week gets a new crop of youth and their back-home advisors, the leadership and planning team are the same for each two-week block, rotating out with a different group after that two-week block is over. The first two weeks are the "Alpha" team, Weeks Three and Four are "Theta" and Weeks Five and Six will be "Omega." I'll be a Small Group Leader for both weeks of "Theta."
The first evening of "Throw Open the Doors!" was on Sunday night, and was pretty much just an evening of introductions. After the event in Anderson Auditorium where the planning team and leadership introduced themselves, there was a recreational mixer in the parking lot of the Howerton Dorm (a building where I used to live for half-a-year while I was student at Montreat College, and where all of our meals as college students were served). In keeping with the theme, participants were each given a colored piece of paper with a key drawn on it, as well as other various images. Throughout the event, the recreation leaders would ask people to group up with people with the same color, or perhaps with the same Disney character, or some other feature on the paper key. This would enable them to get to meet as many new people as possible in the short time allowed (A leader made a comment at one point about one of our small group games being like "speed dating," and the description seems apt here, as well. After all, these are mostly high school students, and you just know they're checking out where all the cute guys and girls are!).
On Monday, the conference began in earnest. The theme for the days was "Doors of Possibility." I personally appreciated the opening keynote message, in which the co-keynoters both related their experiences at Montreat in the past: how excited and uneasy they were about their first times at a conference, but how meaningful Montreat became to them. Then they also shared their nervousness at taking on the new role as keynoters. They could easily have been telling my own story.
After keynote, we broke into Small Groups for the first time. Eight groups at a time met at various doors around the auditorium, and from there dispersed to their meeting spaces. When it came time for my group to meet, I was up front carrying a sign with the number "37" on it, and when all the conferees assigned to my group were there, we began the nearly straight-up journey to the Winsborough. I've decided that if there isn't a bumper sticker that says "Montreat: God's Stairmaster," there ought to be!
I'm not sure how much to share about my small group experience. As a group, we've already had a couple of pictures taken by the conference photographer, but those aren't on my camera, and so I don't yet have access to them for posting here. I've noticed that pictures for Weeks I and II are already available on the Montreat 2008 Youth Conferences web page, so I'm hoping that these will be available there in a few weeks.
Moving on for now to Monday night, the evening event was a collection of lots of different games available to be played by the conferees. There was Giant Jenga, a Hungry Hungry Hippos Tournament, a Shadow Dancing wall, chalk drawings, and more. Musician Jeffrey Harper seemed to enjoy visiting with the conferees and playing Twister and Hungry Hungry Hippos!
Tuesday's theme was "Broken Doors." We were told in advance that this would be the "heavy" day when we talked about sin, and how the world is not what God intended it to be. I have little doubt that the day was pretty rough for a lot of the conferees, especially those who I've heard about who've suffered recent tragedies. I can only hope that the discussions were an occasion for healing, rather than adding to the pain. We've certainly tried in our small groups and in the keynote and worship services to balance out the message with the hope that God brings.
The Tuesday evening event was a return to much more light-hearted fare: a "drive-in" movie showing of Monsters, Inc. on the hillside just to the side of Anderson Auditorium. I didn't stick around beyond the first half-hour or so, but it looked like a lot of fun. It's a great movie, and was an amazingly appropriate choice given the door-related theme.
Because I'm in Montreat, rather than the West Coast, I'm a bit closer to my folks in Kentucky than I normally am (a bit less than 400 miles instead of 2000!), so my mom and my sister took a special trip down to see my wife and me. My Small Group Leader duties have prevented me from spending too much time with them, myself, but they joined us for worship on Monday night, and Michelle was able to spend the better part of Tuesday with them. Here's a picture of us at dinner on Tuesday night.