Neither snow nor controversy can drive Resurrection fans away

By Annette Bender

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — It could have been the snow that closed schools and made driving treacherous.

Or the fact that James Ward was not invited back to lead music for the first time in years.

Or last year's controversial speaker, Shane Claiborne, who ruffled feathers with his ragged clothes and anti-materialistic message.

But for all the things that could have put a damper on Resurrection's now legendary attendance numbers, the annual youth rally at Gatlinburg Convention Center again attracted more than 5,000 students and leaders during its first weekend, Jan. 17-19. Another 5,000-plus were expected during the second weekend, Jan. 24-26, retaining Resurrection's unofficial title as the largest conference youth gathering in United Methodism.

The 6th-through-12th graders, who came from as near as First Gatlinburg United Methodist Church and as far as Fancy Gap UMC, pumped their fists and sang to music by Chris Tomlin. They seemed moved by messages from the Rev. Stephen Handy, whose preaching style was described by some as "like a Baptist."

"I used to go to a Baptist church with my grandmother, so I know," said Brandi Furches, 11, of Eden UMC, Johnson City District. "He sounds more like a Baptist than a Methodist."

"He speaks to us in nowadays terms, instead of the King James language," said Melissa MacDowell, 18, of PantherSprings UMC, Morristown District. "He would make Satan want to praise God."

Handy, assistant pastor at Brentwood UMC in Nashville and director of sales for United Methodist Publishing House, fired up the crowd with his "Can I get an Amen, somebody?" delivery. He told youth about Zacchaeus, who Jesus summoned by saying, "Yo, Zac, let me holler at you. I need to go to your crib." "Jesus is always sending out invitations," Handy said. "He wants to get through the clutter of the day. In other words, Jesus wants to get into your head."

Replacing the Chattanooga-based James Ward Band, Tomlin moved some students to tears with his own "We Fall Down," then to their feet with "The Happy Song" by Delirious. Tomlin and his band, known for their "Passion"

"I was amazed when they got Chris Tomlin," said Coe Hudson, 17, of Trinity (Athens) UMC, Cleveland District. "I've known about him for a long time. He's pretty big."

In addition to music and message, students took in the tourist attractions and restaurants of frigid Gatlinburg, where the temperature dropped to 9 degrees and the sidewalks were icy. Many gathered for devotions with their individual youth groups after the massive morning and evening sessions in Gatlinburg Convention Center.

Absent this year were gripes from parents and leaders about limits on the number of adults accompanying youth in the convention center, organizers said. "The CCYM (Conference Council on Youth Ministries) heard that concern," said Angee Woody, Holston coordinator of youth ministries, "and we made some changes in the size of the stage. That allowed us to add a new section of seating in front of the stage."

Next year, Resurrection has the potential to grow from 10,000 participants to a maximum of 20,000 as the design team introduces double sessions during each weekend. For example, the "Session A" group would attend Friday night's program 7 -9 p.m. The "Session B" group would attend 9:30-11:30 p.m.

Similar scheduling would occur throughout the two weekends. At this year's second Resurrection weekend, organizers planned to test entry and exit patterns necessary to make the process go smoothly when double sessions commence in 2004, Woody said. Next year's event is scheduled Jan. 16-18 and Jan. 23-25, 2004.

"The greatest advantage to the new design is that it will allow more participants in each weekend," according to an early registration flyer distributed to youth directors. "Hopefully, this arrangement will also assist those who travel a great distance the luxury of late arrival on Friday night."

This year's 10,000 participants represented 422 congregations, 397 from Holston Conference, according to staff members. United Methodist groups from outside the conference included First UMC from Dunbar, W.Va., and Trinity UMC from Bythewood, S.C. Youth groups also came from other denominations, nine in all.

Following tradition, Resurrection concluded with Holy Communion on Sunday morning.

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