|Resurrection blasts attendance records with new schedule
by Annette Bender
GATLINBURG, Tenn. For years, Resurrection attendance numbers hovered at 10,000, limited by Gatlinburg Convention Center's ability to accommodate no more than 5,000 youth and leaders per weekend.
With the introduction of a new schedule this year, the annual spiritual event for teen-agers attained new highs for Holston, drawing 11,377 participants from as far away as First Dunbar United Methodist Church in West Virginia.
By doubling sessions in each weekend of Jan. 16-18 and 23-25, organizers were able to welcome 520 walk-ins and 403 individuals from outside the conference and denomination. Seven states were represented, with groups as large as Burks UMC's 222 participants from Chattanooga.
"Sure, it's fun to grow, but I'm less concerned about the exact numbers than the fact that we didn't have to turn anyone away this year," said the Rev. Dan Gray, Holston coordinator of youth ministries. "Everybody who wanted to come got to come."
Led in worship by the Steve Fee band on the first weekend and the Chris Tomlin band on the second weekend, Resurrection blasts attendance records with new schedule youth crowded the stage, sang, danced and pumped their fists in appreciation for God and the contemporary praise music.
"If we had rock music in our church, the little old ladies would probably keel over," said Ashley Stillwell, 17, of Mt. Olivet UMC in Tazewell District. Adrian Despres, a speaker from Columbia, S.C., led participants to stand and shout, cry, or drop to the floor with his messages about sin and repentance.
"Disobeying your parents is a sin. Sex before marriage is a sin," Despres told the crowd. "It's like walking up to Jesus, slapping his face and saying, 'You know, Jesus, you have too many rules.'"
After opening every session with descriptions of his wife, who he called a "righteous fox," Despres also commented on attire for females. "Guys are dogs ... Lust is a big enemy of the soul," he said, dropping to his knees to address female participants. "Please, I'm going to beg you in the name of the Lord God Almighty, please don't wear tight clothes."
Despres, a former football player for Furman University, also made young people laugh with his tales of dirty dorm rooms, smelly feet, and singing to his future wife outside a classroom.
Participants complimented the speaker who sprinted across the convention center, threw chairs, and flopped on the stage to convince young people to have passion for Christ.
"He's full of energy. He makes you think about everything," said Loren Collins, age 17, of First Rogersville UMC in Kingsport District.
Except for some initial concern about locked doors that were intended to enhance crowd flow but had potential to separate youth from their groups, participants seemed to adjust well to the new scheduling.
"It's a great concept I like that the new schedule allows growth. They just need to work out the kinks," said the Rev. Ann Robins, who brought a group of 42 youth and adults from Logan's Chapel UMC in Maryville District. Robins later said the organizers responded to the locked-doors issue with solutions.
Bruce Adams, worship leader from Loudon UMC in Maryville District, said his group liked that seating by districts was not required. "People like to come early and get the seats they want." The new schedule was "handled very smoothly," he said.
The weekends included contests between districts to give the largest offerings to Youth Service Fund. Oak Ridge District won the "Golden Skillet Award" on the first weekend; Abingdon won the second. A total $26,105 was collected for Youth Service Fund.
A prayer breakfast for leaders was offered on the Saturday mornings of both weekends. On the second weekend about 50 people attended, offering prayers for conflict in their churches, for teen-agers who couldn't attend Resurrection, for passion among youth, pastors and congregations. "I know that some churches, like mine, are dead," prayed one Abingdon District leader.
Items left behind for the lost and found box included cell phones, a wallet, a walkie talkie, a pink cap, jewelry, and a teen Bible with a "Queen Greatest Hits" CD attached. Participants wishing to claim lost items should contact the conference youth office at (423) 928-2156.
Before Holy Communion on Sunday morning, a total 634 individuals came forward to indicate they felt a call to fulltime ministry.