By Emmett Eldred
What a joy it was to take part in the 2017 Young Adult Conference over Memorial Day weekend. Dozens of young adults (ages 18-35) gathered together at Camp Harmony in Western Pennsylvania District for a weekend of reflection, fun, and worship.
For many, the Young Adult Conference is an annual pilgrimage, and it was exciting to watch old friends reconnect and enjoy well-loved traditions that were formed during past events. For others, like myself, this was our very first Young Adult Conference. How delightful to be welcomed into such a loving, vibrant community to share in traditions from yesterday while helping shape the traditions for tomorrow.
It was a powerful reminder of Christ’s assurance that whenever two are three are gathered in his name, he is there also (Matthew 18:20). The conference was an experience in doing church well, and I left more hopeful than ever about how the young adults of the Church of the Brethren are working to continue the work of Jesus, peacefully, simply, and together.
The theme for the weekend was “Loving Neighbor.” We meditated on Jesus’ great commandment, found in Matthew 22:37-39: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
During four worship services, we were invited to reflect on those words by Wendy McFadden who serves as publisher of Brethren Press, Monica Rice from McPherson (Kan.) College, Dennis Lohr who pastors Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, and Emmett Eldred from DunkerPunks.com (that’s me). But many of the most moving moments came during music led by Leah Hileman and through moments planned by worship coordinators Jennifer Balmer and Jess Hoffert, such as a feetwashing service and a worship center that evolved as the weekend progressed.
Of course, worship was hardly contained to four services but permeated the entire weekend. Singing silly camp songs, meeting in small groups, sharing our talents during a “coffee house”--all were acts of praise. Each moment presented opportunities to learn, think, grow, and love. And the best lesson on loving our neighbors wasn’t delivered from a lectern but played out in real time as we formed a community of neighbors and went about loving one another.
Meanwhile, workshops on topics ranging from attire and identity to refugees to forbearance invited us to grow in our discipleship and put faith into action. During a listening session with general secretary David Steele, we were called to share our hopes, fears, and observations about the denomination in a spirt of grace, discernment, and common purpose. Throughout came surpassing moments of humility, grace, and beauty that turned our eyes toward Christ and filled our hearts with love for God and for one another.
This may have been my first Young Adult Conference, but it certainly won’t be my last. It is often said, and I heard it repeated during the weekend, that youth and young adults are “the future of the church.” Certainly, this is true. But upon meeting such a collection of inspiring, hopeful, and energetic disciples, and after spending such a busy weekend worshiping God in all moments, there could be no doubt that we are the church, right here and right now.
I can’t wait until Young Adult Conference 2018 at Camp Brethren Woods, and I hope to see you there. Until then, I’ll be working on loving God with my heart, soul, and mind, and loving my neighbor as myself.
-- Emmett Eldred of Hollidaysburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is the editor of DunkerPunks.com and a student at Carnegie Mellon University. Find a photo album of the Young Adult Conference, with photos taken by Kelsey Murray, at www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/youngadultconference2017bykelseymurray .