Winter Celebration, the Virginia Synod youth event for high schoolers was held on the weekends of January 19-21 and January 26-28 at Eagle Eyrie Baptist Convention Center in Lynchburg. This year over 340 youth and adult participants engaged with and witnessed the theme “Not By Bread Alone” which is based off the gospel story of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, drawn from Matthew 4:1-11.
This year’s planning group was made up by James Loving from Mt. Zion Lutheran Church in New Market, Orion Posey from First Lutheran Church in Norfolk, Calista Rieken from Resurrection Lutheran Church in Fredericksburg, Andrew Whetzel from Martin Luther Church in Bergton, Angel Ross from St. Michael Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach, and Ellie and Nate Fenerty from First English Lutheran Church in Richmond. The group worked with Pastor Dave Delaney, Pastor James Armentrout 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 skits, which decked out Dogwood Hall like a ski lodge. The skits presented a snowed-in weekend at the lodge for a group of skiers, their ski instructor Chris, and a meddling guest who frequents the lodge named Natas. Each guest faced their own challenges and temptations, which were often exacerbated by Natas’ less than helpful encouragements. By the end of the snowstorm, the group of skiers realized how their worries, distractions, and temptations had interrupted an otherwise great ski trip!
During the Saturday night worship service, Pastor James focused on Jesus’ time in the wilderness, and the tests he faced from the devil. His sermon emphasized how easy it can be to fall to temptation when in the wilderness of life, “I wish I could tell you that when you came to Winter Cel, you were leaving ‘wilderness’ behind. The wilderness is living every day, even here. Because sometimes, here is hard too,” he said. Despite the challenges of temptation in the world around us, Pastor James reminded in his sermon that every day is a day spent as a child of God and that no hardship exists outside of your baptism, “you are not walking in the wilderness or in the desert by yourself.”
In addition to serving as an advisor to the planning group and crafting this year’s set piece, Pastor Stephen Bohannon once again donned his trench coat and fedora, to become the Roving Reporter. This year’s Roving Reporter traveled to a number of summits across Virginia including Mount Rogers where he interviewed a local pony, Mount Trashmore to meet with Elsa of Frozen fame, as well as the snowless hill behind Dogwood Hall where he attempted to ski.
Following large group presentations, the participants at Winter Celebration got the chance to break off into small groups, arraigned by age. 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.
Throughout both weekends a few visitors got to visit with participants. Chaplain Chris Bowen from Roanoke College brought greetings from the nation’s second oldest Lutheran college. Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Kelly Bayer Derrick also stopped by during the second weekend to introduce herself, as well as to moderate a discussion with youth attendees on privilege, identity, and diversity sponsored by Virginia Synod’s TAPESTRY team.
Bishop Humphrey also joined in the fun at Winter Celebration both weekends. When speaking to participants he stressed how important youth are in the Virginia Synod and the real value that is realized with opportunities like Winter Celebration to gather as church. He also took time to take a selfie with the youth gathered each weekend, moments he shared with the rest of the synod through his Instagram account.
While speaking to the youth, Bishop Humphrey also lifted up the ongoing campaign in the Virginia Synod, ForwardingFaith. Bishop Humphrey encouraged those gathered for each weekend to bring the good news of these events home with them to encourage members in their congregation to consider donating to the campaign. Any kind of contribution to ForwardingFaith can make a big difference, allowing the Virginia Synod to keep events like Winter Celebration going long into the future. Many attendees during both weekends were proof of the value of faith formation events like Winter Celebration, with adult leaders, pastors, and youth ready with great stories to share of their time spent at youth events.
With laughter, song, worship, and conversation Winter Celebration 2018 wandered through the wilderness over two weekends. Participants and adult leaders alike took a look at what in their lives threatens to draw their trust away from God and following Christ, and how each day provides opportunities to strengthen their faith.