by Jeremy Narus, Rev. Autumn Kreuger
July 19th-29th youth from St. John UMC (Anchorage, AK) and UMC Chugiak (Chugiak, AK) attended Youth 2023 and partnered with the United Methodist Volunteers In Mission in Daytona Beach, FL with 16 youth and 6 adults. Pastors Autumn Krueger and Jim Doepken joined our youth groups together for this trip. The first half was spent in service and the second half we attended Youth 2023.
We served various sites of Halifax Urban Ministries (HUM), a United Methodist Ministry in Daytona Beach, FL. Together we sorted food, clothing, and deep cleaned spaces at Hope Place and Barracks of Hope; served a mobile food pantry, distributing hot meals and clothes; and worked at two community gardens. We had tours of all the facilities and Lizy Reinders noted she was impressed how [Hope Place] helped meet the needs of everyone staying in their facility from food to housing to support needs, like life skills and professional networking.
After we worshiped on Sunday with Community UMC, our host church, we helped at HUM’s Mobil Food Pantry, where we served hot meals and set up areas with clothing, shoes, and hygiene products, creating a shopping experience. Faith Packer deeply appreciated that the different genders had no problem going to a different table to get clothes for their loved ones. Annika Rufner loved how everyone hyped each other up, exclaiming “this would look great on you!” and “you should definitely get this one!” Derrick Schaaper named how cool it was to have the regulars help us set up and show us how it is normally done.
Barracks of Hope is a veteran’s housing and services facility who were preparing to move facilities so we deep cleaned of several rooms, discarded old food and hygiene products after sorting them, set aside games and books to donate elsewhere so they would only move what was necessary. We divided into groups to complete all the tasks and their staff were impressed with our efficiency and efficacy in all that we accomplished in just half the allotted time. We spent the latter half of the day on the beach until the daily afternoon storms rolled in.
We worked quick and hard at the community gardens, pulling weeks, spready mulch, and clearing up various supplies in the Florida heat and humidity. Lizy Reinders named how nice it was to be able to go swim in the ocean those days to cool off and not overheat. Most of us enjoyed our beach and ocean time soaking up the sun, floating the waves, and cooling off in the water but for Harris Anderson, his highlight was being able to help at all the different communities in Daytona Beach.
Youth 2023 featured over 2500 youth and nearly every state with 5 other countries taking part in the conference. We started with an enthralling worship with Rend Collective and deeply impactful sermons. Wednesday and Thursday were filled with contemporary worship, workshops, and free time. The workshop classes were hour long sessions that taught the class different ways to make an impact on us, our family, friends, church, or community. We were able to meet and connect with people from across our connection. One of Pastor Autumn’s favorite parts was watching the youth experience our connectionalism and get to know youth from across the country.
Jeremy Narus and Harris Anderson really enjoyed the workshops we did, especially the “How to Lovingly Disagree and Coexist with Others,” it was enlightening in our current climate to learn how to do this better in practice. The workshop “What Is a Methodist?” was highly attended by our group, teaching us about our history and naming the differences between us and other denominations helping each of us better understand how and why we are Methodists. Other workshops our team attended were: A Vile Past, A Vital Future; Creative Prayer; Jurisdictional Youth Ministry; Not Your Grandma’s Worship: Leading Outside the Box; Being on the Youth 2027 Design Team; Methodist Gaming: Twitch, Digital Ministry, and the Market Cross; Cultivating a BOLD Voice: Writing for Worship; and Courageous Conversations. We also participated in the Prayer Oasis, taking time to pray in different ways from writing encouraging words on the sidewalk, escaping to a tent to center our minds, color, or engage other senses.
All our adult leaders loved watching the youth engage in service work, make connections with other youth, and learn more about the church and grow in their faith. Pastor Matt Reinders (Unalaska UMC) said the workshops were informative and was overall impressed with the exposure we all got to messages that were important for all of us to hear, especially when you’re young. Worship was a diverse experience, engaging experience with speakers from all over the country and music lead by FRVR Free.
Our final day, we woke up early to receive communion on the beach and enjoy one last ocean swim before one last stop at Chick-Fil-A and beginning our trek home. We have been home nearly 2 weeks and the stories continue to pour out from our teams whenever they gather together.