Friday, July 06, 2012

Remembering "With Ears That See" - Part Two

As I demonstrated in Wednesday's post, we spent roughly 18 months working out details in preparation for the 1992 Montreat Youth Conferences, and I have been led to understand that this is the pattern for most years. We also depended on a number of people to make all this work. Besides the Planning Team members themselves, and the up-front Leadership already discussed, we recruit a number of other behind-the-scenes workers to help us keep the nuts and bolts of the conference running smoothly, including someone to help us with child care, to manage the office, to take pictures of the many events during the week, to run back and forth to nearby Black Mountain (and occasionally elsewhere) to gather supplies, and many other roles. Thanks to the advent of social media such as Facebook, I've been able to regain contact with several of these people, but not nearly enough!

In my last post, I discussed how the larger Planning Team was divided into "Alpha" and "Omega" groups. For this post, I'm just talking about the "Alpha" experience, as most of "Omega" team wasn't even present for our two weeks of the conference. The "Alpha" team was further subdivided into "Innies" and "Outies." Besides providing the opportunity for belly-button jokes, the basic idea is that "Innies" were responsible for events inside Anderson Auditorium, while "Outies" were responsible for events outside the auditorium. I was chosen to be an "Innie." If an event took place inside the Auditorium, I was there!

For most conferees, the official start of the day was at 9:00 am, but for those of us who were responsible for Auditorium events, we needed to be there at least an hour and a half earlier. We had to check mics for all of the platform leaders, see that any props were where they needed to be, and pray before opening the doors for everyone else to come in.

Most of Steve Price and Cindy Edwards' recreational activities were held outside of the auditorium, but the first activity of each conference day was a series of energizers that they directed. These followed the pattern of Youth Conferences in other years by alternating long-time favorites with energizers done to new music. I commented in 2008 about the fact that the "Camel Dance" was apparently still popular. I didn't realize it at the time, but since the They Might Be Giants version of Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (to which the dance is set) didn't come out until 1990, I figure that our Youth Conferences had to be among the earliest to make use of the dance. My all-time favorite, Star Trekkin', was already by that time developing a bit of controversy (both because of its exuberant nature, which threatened the safety of the old pews in the auditorium, and because of the lyrics "We come in peace, shoot to kill!" which are sometimes altered at some youth conferences). Still, I managed to develop something of a reputation for my energetic interpretation of that particular energizer.

One of my standard duties in the morning was to run transparencies (in the era before PowerPoint was in wide use) of announcements and song lyrics. In this role, music leaders Jeff and Kerri Peterson-Davis had some special instructions for me. I would normally just move the transparencies for one song in place right after the other with no break, but at one point in the song list each morning, I was asked to turn the projector off while the leaders would tell a story of some profound worship experience. As the story would finish up, I would be asked to turn on the projector to reveal the song that was at the focus of this very meaningful scene. The song: Fish Heads (if by chance you have never heard the song, you must listen to this link). Like all Youth Conference music leaders, the Peterson-Davises created a theme song for the conference: See With New Eyes. I have not yet been able to find a version of this song I can link to online, but it is one of the songs included in the New Song songbook (Second Edition), which can be ordered via the Presbyterian Distribution Service.

The keynote message every morning was delivered by Steve and Nancy Harrington, and incorporated a number of dramatic sketches, which required a fair amount of stage directions for us to keep track of. The Harringtons made a grand entrance on Monday morning by actually rappelling from the top of the auditorium to the stage below with mountain climbing gear! The Small Group Leader manual written for "With Ears That See" focused on a different one of the five senses each day of the week, and the Harringtons constructed their keynote messages to align with these lessons by offering a different "Universal Truth" each morning. These can be seen in the image to the left.

After the keynote, conferees were released to their Small Groups, and "Innies" would have a meeting to discuss how things went and to prepare for the activities still to come. After lunch, we'd have a few other meetings and planning sessions that I won't discuss in detail here, in the interest of fast-forwarding to evening worship. Most nights, I was responsible for running the spotlight, which besides following the participants up on the platform, would be particularly important during the processional, which opened by playing the Michael W. Smith version of Agnus Dei while someone walked from the back of the auditorium to the front doing sign language to the lyrics. I made an effort to learn these motions, and for years afterward, my sister and I would follow along whenever this song was played at a concert or worship service, and teach the motions to anyone who expressed an interest. It truly adds another dimension to the experience.

There's so much more that I could share about my experience and duties with the 1992 Youth Conference, such as helping to host the Thursday Variety Show (alongside the other youth members of the Planning Team), or running the tape recorder so that youth members could record their goodbyes and best-wishes to outgoing seniors (a tradition that, at the time, was always played over the James Taylor song Carolina in My Mind while all the seniors would gather at the front of the auditorium). But mostly I want to take the opportunity to say "Thank You" to my fellow Planning Team members and to the Leadership that made that week so special. Wherever you are, you helped make this experience one that I have always remembered fondly in all the years that have passed since then. Montreat is truly such a special place, I cannot do justice to it no matter how often I write about it, but I would recommend the Youth Conferences to any church able to make the trip. God is truly made known in a real and powerful way through these events, and that experience affects what we do when we go out into the rest of our lives.

UPDATE: 07/16/12 - One of the members of the "Omega" team sent me this image of the "Omega" folks during one of their weeks. Besides the desire to give them a bit more attention, I also wanted to put this image up because it gives a bit more of a view of the multi-colored backdrop designed by Carol Are, that we used for all of the "With Ears That See" conferences.

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