13,000 young people gather to worship in the Smoky Mountains

By Annette Spence in the Call

 The Casey Darnell band appears at Divine Rhythm for the first time.

Imagine 770 young adults gathering to praise God in Pigeon Forge.

Then imagine 12,236 youth and youth workers gathering to do the same in Gatlinburg.

Are the Smoky Mountains still standing?

Holston Conference added another year of dynamic young people’s ministry to history with the Resurrection and Divine Rhythm retreats held over two weekends in January.

Resurrection, a youth event in its 24th year, was held Jan. 16-18 and Jan. 23-25 in Gatlinburg Convention Center. Divine Rhythm, a young adult event in its ninth year, was held Jan. 23-25 at Country Tonite Theater in Pigeon Forge.

Check out these photo galleries for Resurrection and Divine Rhythm.

Attendance at both events dropped since 2008, but only slightly. Resurrection had exactly 100 fewer participants, while Divine Rhythm dipped by 20.

Both events featured speakers whose methods and messages connected well with the intended age groups, according to participants. Both events also updated their formats with on-the-spot videos featuring interviews with the band or Bishop Swanson (Resurrection) or comical announcements about the peanut butter drive or blood drive (Divine Rhythm).


Six-foot-seven Justin Lookadoo brought his stand-up-comedian-style gospel to the Resurrection stage with funny stories about skydiving and ADD and straight talk about scripture.

Citing Romans 6:23, he said he didn’t understand why people would rather work to go to hell than to accept the free gift of heaven. Citing Revelations 3:15, he said it’s better to be a non-believer, than to say you are a believer and live immorally.

“God says, ‘If you’re going to play the middle, then pick a side,'” Lookadoo said. “‘Either follow me with your actions or shut up.'”

Youth seemed to delight in the third-year appearance of the Starfield band, dancing and bouncing while singing rock praise music. Additional musical and drama presentations were offered by 12 winners of district- wide youth talent contests.

Youth groups from nine other United Methodist conferences attended the winter weekend event, including Kentucky, Mississippi, North Georgia, South Carolina, South Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, West Ohio, and West Virginia.

An emotional Saturday night altar call inspired numerous youth to indicate on cards:

  • 812 I came here as a Christian and renewed my commitment to Christ.
  • 321I believe God may be calling me to full-time ministry.
  • 60I am a new Christian. I gave my life to Christ for the first time this weekend.
  • 33 I have not been baptized and want to talk with someone about it.
  • 24 I need to speak with someone about something troubling me.

Sales were brisk at the Resurrection T-shirt stand, where charcoal-colored hoodies with the “Overflowing” theme were bestsellers. The shirts — eight designs in all, each ranging from $12 to $20 — were created and sold by Powell UMC youth of Knoxville District, winners of a design contest. Powell youth will tithe 10 percent of profits to Youth Service Fund, using the balance for a mission trip to Phoenix, according to leader Doug Roberts.

A Youth Service Fund offering of $23,041 was collected over both weekends. Resurrection-related Facebook and MySpace pages, created by the youth ministry staff, logged in 1,430 friends and 693 views, respectively.

Divine Rhythm

The Rev. Joseph Daniels spoke of the bleeding woman whose faith inspired her to touch Jesus’ garment for healing (Matthew 9, Luke 5, Mark 8). Tucking a cloth into his own back pocket, Daniels recalled the scripture by working his way up the aisle, saying “touch Jesus” and offering the cloth to worshippers.

“Touch Jesus,” he said, “and stop the bleeding.” Touch Jesus and stop the bleeding of debt, fractured relationships, school stress, substance abuse, and other hurts.

After an emotional concluding service and Holy Communion, Daniels referred to Luke 8:39: Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.

“Oh, we wish we could stay on this mountaintop a little longer,” he said, “but we’ve got to go back home … we’ve got work to do.”

Appearing at Divine Rhythm for the first time, Casey Darnell and his band provided not only praise music, but also testimony. Darnell talked about his adoration for his infant daughter, relating it to God’s love for his children.

“It’s a crazy mad love for us,” he said. “I don’t understand it, but there is no greater love than that.”

Contemporary worship was blended with “emerging worship” elements such as candles, altar calls, and prayer stations. Saturday afternoon workshops were lightly attended but provided a service to young adults seeking information on the call to ministry, mission trips, and the missional church.

Young adults collected 337 jars of peanut butter to benefit First Gatlinburg UMC’s food ministry. They donated 44 units of blood and 729 bandanas. The bandanas will be used by a young adult mission team — commissioned during the Saturday evening service — who will offer Vacation Bible School activities to children in Yei, Sudan.

Young adults also gave an offering of $1,690 to provide scholarships for Divine Rhythm 2010.

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