Holy Ghost Party in Pigeon Forge
By Annette Bender
The lyrics go like this: "Ain't no party like a Holy Ghost party, 'cause a Holy Ghost party don't stop."
The song rocks, and whenever the Wayne Kerr Band plays it, Divine Rhythm participants sing and dance akin to their younger brothers and sisters at the Resurrection youth event.
At Divine Rhythm 2006 - held Jan. 20-22 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. - the band played "Holy Ghost Party" once before the Saturday evening worship. But it was the worship itself that may have most resembled a Holy Ghost party.
In an emotional part of the service, Bishop James Swanson called Holston clergy to the front of the Country Tonite Theatre. He then invited any of the 749 young adults in attendance to come forth if they felt called to ministry.
While worshippers sang "Shout to the Lord," young people streamed into the open arms of the approximately 25 clergy members waiting for them.
With Swanson as spiritual guide, Divine Rhythm reached a new high in its sixth year, breaking attendance records and leaving some participants in awe of their worship experiences as well as the Bishop himself.
"He's so totally filled with the spirit, and we are so blessed by that - to have a Bishop who will tell us what's on his heart," said Sarah Moody, 22. A member of Munsey Memorial UMC, Moody drove six hours to attend Divine Rhythm along with fellow students from Duke Divinity School.
"Being in the seminary, we have chapel all the time," said Jodie Gore, 23, a Calhoun UMC member who is also attending Duke. "But it's different to be here and to be fed by others."
Rachel Wolfe, age 19, said she "didn't know what a Bishop was. I thought he might come out in robes." Attending Divine Rhythm for the first time, Wolfe came with 34 others from East Tennessee State University's Wesley Foundation. "But he's very up on his pop culture," she said. "You can tell he's good at what he does."
Preaching from Esther 4, Swanson talked to participants about appreciating and claiming their gifts.
"You are fearfully and wonderfully made," he told worshippers. "You never need to apologize for what God created you to be."
Swanson's message frequently brought worshippers to their feet with applause, as he shouted, "Come on, give God a hand of praise!" and paced the stage. He had listeners repeat aloud, "I am a child of the living God, and I have news for you. God did not make any junk."
He encouraged participants, who were 18 and above, to step up and revitalize their local churches. "You know, those churches that have gotten so stale that even the spiders won't spin their webs. Those same churches that if you open up the windows, the air refuses to come in."
Other than worship, young adults also participated in open mic time, mission projects, and free time.
Nicholas Brooks, 19, went ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg, along with friends from First-Centenary UMC and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Wesley Foundation.
"It's good to get to know other people my age," Brooks said, "and to worship the same God at the same time."
The group from Colonial Heights UMC in Kingsport District numbered 23 this year - up from four who attended Divine Rhythm in 2005.
"This is like a high-school retreat, although it's tailored more to the young adult mindset," said Amy Margaret McColl, age 22. "It separates you from Resurrection, because you've moved on with your life."
After the event, the Divine Rhythm Design Team reported that 201 jars of peanut butter had been collected in the mission emphasis - along with one jar of jelly. The peanut butter (and jelly) was donated to food banks in Pound, Va., and Clintwood, Va.
In addition, participants donated 32 pints of blood in a Medic drive and gave 56 Frisbees, 31 hackey sacks, 14 balls, 49 air pumps, and nine packages of airpump needles to the "Have a Ball" campaign for Sudanese refugee camps.
A special offering provided $1,820 for scholarships to future Divine Rhythm events - up from $1,345 collected for scholarships the previous year.
This year's attendance of 749 surpassed last year's total of 629. When Swanson, band members, the design team, volunteers, exhibiters, and children in day care were included, attendance numbered 799.