Powerful praise

Youth at a national youth conference in Greenfield found solidarity in worshiping together and were hopeful that lessons of the weekend would stay with them.

Daily Reporter staff writer

GREENFIELD — There’s nothing halfway about this gathering.

If you sing, do it with full voice. If you clap, do it loudly. If you want to bounce, jump or even run a lap around the room during a rollicking praise song, it’s OK.

And really, there’s nothing halfway about living as an apostolic youth. If the other kids aren’t picking up on your lifestyle choices and finding those different, they’ve already noticed how you dress.

“There’s a lot of people who bully you because you’re different,” said Kelton Foutz, 12, of Selma. “It just gives you another layer of difficulty.”

Still, Foutz and other youth at a recent national youth conference in Greenfield found solidarity in worshiping together and were hopeful that lessons of the weekend would stay with them.

“We want to get a blessing from Jesus,” Foutz said after the opening night of the United Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ National Youth Conference. “It’s replenishing to get the stuff from the week off of you.”

Tyrus Gray, 14, of Albany, agreed.

“We’re facing a lot of people … who oppose us,” he said.

He was at the conference hoping for a blessing and “a lesson that I can tell people who oppose me that what I’m doing is right.”

The conference took place at Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Greenfield, where Bishop Joseph Riggs is pastor. Though the association has a church as far away as California, the youth conference draws people mostly from Indiana and neighboring states. The conference is in its 26th year; the last 14 have been in Greenfield, Riggs said, because it’s centrally located, and the local church is a larger facility than some.

It’s not easy to predict how many will come from year to year; there’s no fee or registration necessary to attend.

“It’s not one of these mega-conferences that you see,” Riggs said. “They just come and enjoy the weekend.”

There was a lot of enjoyment among those attending the opening night of the conference March 13.

Robust singing was accompanied by clapping, jumping, swaying, hand-raising and an extra chorus of the song.

The singing was also occasionally punctuated by the exclamation from someone speaking in tongues. That’s the uttering of another language; the Bible’s book of Acts describes this happening in the early Christian church. Apostolic believers talk about receiving the Holy Ghost, and when this happens, the believer speaks in tongues.

As they sang and moved, people drifted forward toward the altar. Some knelt. Some stood, lifting their hands to heaven. Some cried; such a person often drew a group gathered around, supporting and praying.

A teen girl’s shoulders shook as she sobbed near the altar. A woman put a hand on her back. A man stood in front of her and put his hand on her forehead as he spoke.

During a slower song, a group of four or five girls swayed gently as they sang. Hands were either raised heavenward or reached around a friend’s shoulder.

Those worshiping were not all teenagers. Riggs said all ages are welcome at the conference, which has begun to go by the name “Unstoppable.” Riggs used to be the national youth director for the group of churches and used to plan the conference; he jokes that he’s not so young anymore.

“I can’t always be young, but I can be unstoppable for God,” Riggs said.

Scottsburg pastor James Carmichael spoke during the opening night of the conference and used the “Unstoppable” theme to challenge young people and others listening.

“Why is it every year I pray the same kids through to the Holy Ghost?” Carmichael said. “(Why do) some live conference to conference?”

He asserted some are unstoppable because “somebody, somewhere, decided, ‘I’m going to sell out everything I’ve got.’ … What makes some unstoppable is that they’ve already surrendered everything.”

Riggs said he hopes the time spent at the conference will have long-lasting effects in the spiritual lives of young people. He’s seen too many throughout the years get fired up at a conference or camp, only to arrive at the next event having lost that intensity.

“The main thing is that they leave renewed and revived,” he said. “I’d like to see them get a hold of God in a sincere way, … and when we see them again at camp, they’re still on fire.”

The current national youth director, Travis Jones, said youth today face uncertainty and low expectations.

“We want to empower them,” Jones said. “I want all of these young people to leave here feeling confident that they’re not a minority; God is real and is rooting for them.”

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com