Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Remembering "With Ears That See" - Part One

Twenty years ago today, on July 4th, 1992, a pleasant Saturday morning, I was privileged to be able to celebrate Independence Day in what is perhaps my favorite place in the entire world: Montreat, North Carolina. I had recently arrived in town to begin the final preparations for the first two weeks of "With Ears That See," which was the theme we'd chosen for the Montreat Youth Conferences for that summer. I've given a bit of background on the experience before, but I couldn't let this anniversary go by without doing something special. But before I can discuss those two weeks themselves, I need to describe some of the work that led up to that time.

Montreat has been doing Youth Conferences since at least 1975 (the earliest reference I can find in my old Planning Team manual). Over the years, as the conference became more and more popular, the event expanded from a single week to multiple weeks, each week accommodating a new group of high school youth. When I started attending the Youth Conferences as a soon-to-be-Freshman in 1988, there were three separate weeks of Youth Conferences, all coordinated by a single Planning Team. The following year, the conference expanded to four weeks, and the Planning Team doubled in size, now consisting of two groups: the "Alpha" group that focused on Weeks 1 and 2, and the "Omega" group that focused on Weeks 3 and 4. Although the conference has since expanded even further, requiring three such groups (not counting additional teams for "Montreat Youth Conference" events that actually take place in other locations), this two-group system was still the pattern for the 1992 conferences.

I can't speak for quite how early the Co-Directors started their work, but I first learned that I was to be a member of the 1992 MYC Planning Team sometime around Thanksgiving 1990. The Planning Team members actually met together in Montreat for the first time in February of 1991, as "Alpha" and "Omega" both met together to develop the conference theme and basic goals that all 1992 Youth Conferences would have in common. Although many ideas and concepts were considered, we soon agreed that the seemingly-nonsensical "With Ears That See" was the theme we liked best. As the theme's eventual subtitle demonstrated, our intention was that people should be "experiencing the familiar in a new way." We also chose someone to write the Small Group Leader manual, which all 1992 Youth Conference attendees would use (via their Small Group Leaders) in common.

In separate "Alpha" and "Omega" units, we also started the work of considering what leadership the conferences would have, working through names of people who would lead the youth in recreational activities, give the morning keynote address, play and compose music, and preach during evening worship. In fact, those of us on the "Alpha" team ultimately chose to do something that I don't believe had ever been done before (and I don't know if it's been done since). We opted not to invite just one person to preach for the whole two weeks, but rather to have a different preacher every night for the youth conference. This enabled us to promote a diversity of perspectives — not just male and female, or of different races, but also across the spectrum of age from college age and up — thereby demonstrating to the youth in attendance a small part of the diversity of God's kingdom. Names were narrowed down and contacts made over the following months, and most of these additional leaders (everyone except for the "Alpha" preachers) met with Planning Team members, in Montreat again, in October to fine-tune plans.

Between Planning Team meetings, members were required to attend at least one week of the 1991 Montreat Youth Conferences, during which we would shadow members of that Planning Team to see what kinds of things needed to be done during the conference itself. One of the things I helped out with while I was there was to assist the stage crew during the annual Variety Show. You can see my own notes in the margins here telling me exactly what items I needed to move on or off the stage, and when.

Work continued while Planning Team members were outside of Montreat, as well. For example, I was put in charge of assembling mix-tapes of music to be played over the speakers of Anderson Auditorium before evening worship every night, which meant a number of trips to a local used-music store to purchase cassettes (CDs were only just at that time beginning to overtake audio cassette tapes as a primary medium for personal audio recording) from which to select songs to compile together. Members of the team kept in touch via regularly mailed "Off the Mountain" newsletters (no e-mail access for most of us back then!), as well as via personal letters written to each other. I still have quite a few (if indeed not all I received) of these to this day.

All of this work led us toward July 1992, some 18 months or so after I first became a member of the Planning Team, when the first of the four weeks of 1992 Youth Conferences started (and again, "Alpha" was responsible for Weeks 1 and 2). I'll try to cover some of the details of those weeks in Friday's post.

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