Kara Miller, our Communications Coordinator, spent the week in Montreat, NC with MPPC Youth as they attended the 2018 Montreat Youth Conference. See more from their week on Instagram @MPPCYouth.

“What’s the deal with this church camp? Why is it so special?” I think our youth get these questions a lot. When I attended the Montreat Youth Conference as a youth in the early 2000s, I know I did. I remember getting the third degree from parents and friends, and frequently from the youth who had yet to experience it. And that’s understandable. On the surface, it’s easy for Montreat to seem like just another summer Jesus camp.

So, what’s the deal?

It’s hard to describe the mountain retreat (Mon-treat, get it?) that is home to the conference. Here, 1,000+ high-schoolers from different churches and different states come together for a week of hardcore church. Their days are completely packed from beginning to end.

Montreat is a big deal because we’re reminded we’re all equal before God.

They start each day with morning callisthenic dances, also known as “energizers,” or, as I like to call them, “equalizers.” We tell our kids when they arrive to “leave their cool at the gate,” and these energizing dances are just ridiculous enough to make everyone feel equally awkward. It’s silly, but it works.

Montreat is a big deal because it means something different to each individual.

Worship then happens twice a day; in Montreat, our days are sandwiched by services. The morning keynote this year was given by Aram Bae, and the evening sermons were provided by CeCe Armstrong. Both services each day were creative, engaging (even for high schoolers), biblical, supported by skits and video clips, and so, so powerful. The topic this year was Lift Every Voice, and our the youth stayed present and took notice. On the final night, we asked them what stood out to them about the week. These were some of the answers:

The human soul doesn’t want to be saved or fixed; just witnessed.

Preach the gospel at all times–use words if necessary.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Ubuntu: I am because of you.

All testimonials start with a test.

Don’t leave the table when God has put you there, and stay until the work is done.

When you want something to change, you have to do something differently.

Sometimes you’re the only Bible people will ever read.

Montreat is a big deal because it lifts all voices.

Small groups meet between the services and are the heartbeat of the conference. About 20 youth from different churches meet to share fellowship, encouragement, and discuss the worship services and keynote addresses. By the end of the week, the groups have formed enough trust in each other that faith (and harder topics) can be explored openly and honestly.

Mixed into the week are a variety of other activities, including hikes up the surrounding mountains, recreation, a variety show, and energizer-packed dance parties in the barn. There’s also nightly time with back home groups. This is a time to meet at the end of the day with your youth group, debrief, and recenter yourself. This time makes the experience–which can feel surreally powerful–feel more grounded in your day-to-day reality.

Montreat is a big deal because we don’t leave it at the gate. We carry it back home with us.

The closing worship service on Friday night is capped off with a beautiful candlelight service that wraps around Lake Susan with soft golden light. This is a farewell not only to the conference and the bonds forged there, but also a send-off to the graduated seniors. For many of them, this conference marks the end of their high school experience, and the beginning of an entirely new adventure.

That’s the deal.

Montreat is a big deal because we lift every individual, equal voice. We support and love each other, and continue to live this love–God’s love–long after we’ve returned back home. It was a blessing to spend the week with youth and adults who see the value in that. It was a very big deal.

Montreat is a big, giant community of young Christians like me. Although everyone has a different faith story, we are all able to grow together by listening to the many different faith perspectives and journeys. –Davis Hamilton

The first time I came to Montreat, I was surprised by the amount of encouragement given by peers, and the passion put into small group, recreation, and all the other activities. Montreat is special because of the lifelong friends and bonds that can be made in such a short amount of time. –Chris Gantt

Montreat has always been such a special place because it’s a community of people who want to make connections and build each other up. During a time where technology and other factors contribute to growing isolation within young people, being present with one another is so special. Being fully present and fully yourself around people is what Montreat is all about. –Ellie McIntyre