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Around 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dick Darlington leaned over to me and asked, “So, how many of these kids do you know?”

At “these kids,” he nodded toward our boisterous group of 55 high schoolers, all square dancing, laughing, and hand-holding in Montreat’s barn. I almost laughed at the question and began listing the names of youth in the group. “Well, of course there’s _____, and then there’s _____, who introduced me to _____….” And I had to pause.

55 MPPC Youth on the road to Montreat Youth Conference

The thing is, as we all gathered at the bus around 9 a.m. on Saturday—the same Saturday Dick leaned over to me—I had known no one. In less than 10 hours, I was ready to easily list names of our youth, who I not only knew the names of, but who already hold a special place in my heart.

And even as an adult chaperone, even on day one, I felt the incredible connecting power of Montreat.

This year, we have a wide variety of students—girls, boys, freshmen, graduated seniors—all from different high schools and with vastly different life experiences. It’s incredible, too, in talking with them, the way these teenagers introduce themselves and talk about their lives. So many of these kids—not even 18—can articulately and eloquently speak to who they are, what they want in the world, and their sense of purpose through Christ. In the younger students, this manifests in a great excitement; a readiness for not only this week at Montreat, but in their next few years as high school students. For the seniors, it looks a little more like “I’m thinking _____ for my major, and I want to use this major to _____.” Day one and the conversation is already so rich, genuine, and love-filled.

Myers Park Presbyterian arrives on Saturday morning, the day before the conference actually begins. This helps the youth of our church connect before they are introduced to youth from other churches, the chaos of the week, and what promises to be thought-provoking keynote and worship services. In effect, it helps the youth feel comfortable enough with each other to spend the coming nights delving more deeply into the experiences of their day.

These days consist of worship, keynotes, small groups, and recreation activities. And make no mistake—their days are packed. Each day is not only filled, but filled with meaning. And Michelle and Lindsey—our fearless leaders—have done an incredible job carving out time for quiet and reflection at the end of the day. This is a daily practice of mindfulness that is so vital to making the most of this week. The youth appreciate this time with a maturity I haven’t even always seen with adults; we couldn’t have a better group this year.

After Dick leaned over Saturday, I had to remind myself it was just day one, but I’m excited to continue listing off the names of brilliant, introspective, wonderful youth I’ll get to know. I’m excited to watch them grow closer to God, make new friends, and completely exhaust themselves this week. Thank you for supporting this trip in all the ways you do; it’s a beautiful ministry, and we’re blessed to be here, in this place.

Learn more about Montreat Youth Conferences at Montreat.org/youth.

Youth from all over the country gather in Montreat for a week of worship, recreation, fellowship, and fun.