Winter Celebration, the Virginia Synod youth event for 9th through 12th graders was held over the weekends of January 20-22 and January 27-29 at Eagle Eyrie Baptist Convention Center in Lynchburg. This year over 400 youth and adult participants engaged with and witnessed the theme based on the passage Psalm 121.

This year’s planning group was made up by  Sammi Crittenden of  St. Stephen Williamsburg, Hannah Girard of Salem Mount Sidney, Johnny Kiewer of St. Mark Charlottesville, Kelsey Welch of Good Shepherd Tidewater, Erin Watcher of Epiphany Richmond, and Karl Zimbauer of  St. Stephen Williamsburg. The group worked with Pastor Dave DelaneyPastor Rick Goeres– the event chaplain for both weekends, as well as Pastor Stephen Bohannon and Nicole Smith who both served as advisors to the group.

During both weekends, youth and adults enjoyed the planning group’s skits, which were set around a group of hikers making their way up Echo Mountain in search of an echo unlike any other. Each skit had the hikers continue their ascent up the mountain, with members of the group sharing their fears, hopes, and disappointments as they occurred along their shared journey. These skits supported both silly and serious themes, from a hiking guide spouting off silly fact about the trail to members of the group learning understand and support a fellow hiker’s nervous nature.

During the Saturday night worship service, Pastor Goeres touched on the skit’s hiking focus, reflecting on hikes he took with his dog when they lived near the mountains. His sermon highlighted the event’s emphasis on every step of life being a step of faith, and that God’s presence and voice can be experienced anywhere on your path. “Take what you receive here and reflect to others out there- where it is often loud and angry and where violent voices are heard and the challenging questions of life are asked. It is there where we reflect the light of Jesus and his saving grace to all. You see it’s always a good time for a walk in the woods, and along the ridgeline, because faith is now. God is with you. It’s always a good time to walk, and work, and play with Jesus.”

In addition to serving as an advisor to the planning group and crafting this year’s set pieces, Pastor  Stephen Bohannon once again donned his trench coat and fedora, to become the Roving Reporter. This year’s Roving Reporter interviewed all sorts of characters- from a park ranger who works at the least visited national park to Amazon’s voice actress for their new Echo device, each comical skit and quiz show linked back to the Ridgeline and the echo heard there.

Following large group presentations, the participants at Winter Celebration got the chance to break off into small groups, arraigned by age group. In these small groups, participants were able to reflect on the weekend theme and relate it back to their own faith life through conversation, games, and crafts- a favorite for this year was the game spoons played with a Grouch Marx twist!

Throughout both weekends a few visitors joined the participants during the events, such as Chaplain Chris Bowen of Roanoke College,  Maren Corliss of the Bishop’s Election Transition Committee, as well as former youth ministry leaders Pastor Paul Hendrickson and Dwayne Westerman. Both stopped by during the second weekend to take in an evening of fun during the large group. Pastor Paul reflected on events past compared to this year’s Winter Celebration stating, “It’s the same kind of crazy still.”

Bishop Mauney also visited both Winter Celebration weekends. He spoke to the youth about the importance of being an Ambassador for Christ, presided over communion, and like the graduating seniors performed a final “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” as bishop during a youth event. This performance was celebrated both weekends as youth and adults wore celebratory shirts, old event t-shirts made during Bishop Mauney’s tenure, and all event attendees donned sunglasses to match Bishop Mauney’s signature look!

While speaking to the youth, Bishop Mauney lifted up the ongoing campaign in the Virginia Synod, Forwarding Faith. Many attendees during both weekends were proof of the value of Faith formation events like Winter Celebration, with adult leaders, pastors, and youth all with great stories to share of their time spent at youth events in the Virginia Synod.

“I have been coming to these events since 2009 and what always brings me back is the community that has been built and passed down through the years,” Matt Leonard of St. Philip Roanoke reflected on his transition from youth to adult advisor, “now coming back as a leader I get to share my experiences and help the next generation grow in their faith and spread God’s love!”

Winter Celebration 2017 was filled with laughter, joy, worship, and deep conversation that encouraged p articipants to reflect on their faith journey like a hike up a mountain trail, sharing the valleys and peaks with new friends made along the way.