Creating community at virtual National Young Adult Conference

By Jenna Walmer

Photo courtesy of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Selection from a screen shot of the National Young Adult Conference shows participants displaying images of love in action during the pandemic.

The tagline for the Church of the Brethren is “Continuing the Work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.” Because of COVID-19, the “together” part for the 2020 National Young Adult Conference presented a difficulty in our ability to create a sense of community. Young adult conference favorite activities include playing late-night board games, singing hymns and campfire songs, gathering for meals, dissecting the scripture in messages and in small groups, and generally just being together.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, the Young Adult Steering Committee dealt with the questions of how to build a similar community in a virtual space. Through Zoom capabilities and with the leadership who already had been secured for the conference, we brain-stormed ways to have these similar connections of hymn sings and small groups.

Going into the weekend, I was worried about how it would turn out. Would people attend? Would they participate? How would a hymn sing feel without harmonization?

As always, the Brethren community showed up and made the most of what we had. As people logged into the welcoming session, I was smiling ear-to-ear seeing so many familiar and new faces! In this virtual space, everyone was able to introduce themselves and say why they came to National Young Adult Conference. It was encouraging to hear so many young adults express gratitude for being able to attend, since it was online.

One of my favorite parts of in-person young adult conferences has been the hymn sings, where people requested certain hymns and we all sing, creating community through our harmonization. This year, Jacob Crouse did not disappoint with his various instruments at hand and knowledge of different renditions of favorite Brethren songs, including “Move in Our Midst.” The same type of community was established during the campfire jam, where people requested their favorite camp songs and, depending on the leader, participants learned a different version from the one sung at their home camp.

As Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Despite the constrictions from COVID-19 and the inability to meet in person, we were able to build a unique community that I cherished.

Thank you to all those who showed up and created a sense of “togetherness” even though we were not physically together! This was a reminder that a building does not make the church, the people do.

— Jenna Walmer is a member of the Church of the Brethren’s Young Adult Steering Committee. Find out more about the Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the denomination at .

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