By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Sr. Communications Specialist, Mississippi Conference
Photo right: Young people during worship service at The Gathering 2016.
Photo below right: The Beale Street Flippers and Chris Ruggiero performed balancing acts.
"Let's do it!"
That was Cat Foster's response to the challenge from Bishop James Swanson Sr. to the Mississippi Conference. He is calling a 5,000 attendance count at The Gathering by 2020. Swanson made the announcement during the 2016 meeting that was held at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, Feb. 26-28.
For the last three years, Foster, the Mississippi Conference communications and connectional ministries coordinator, has helped with registration for The Gathering. There were roughly 850 young people in attendance in 2014. In 2015, there were around 1,100 participants and for the 2016 event, a total of 1,500 experienced The Gathering.
Foster credits the growing turnout to word spreading on the quality of the event. For one weekend, youth are exposed to engaging speakers, spirited worship, lively musicians, workshops and missions.
Foster said she was blessed to join one of the worship services this year and she was moved.
"The witness of students accepting Christ for the first time, that is why I do, what I do to change their lives," she explained.
Brian Johnston, the youth minister of St. Matthews UMC in Madison, Miss. brought 42 students to The Gathering. He recalled the positive impact it had on them, eight students in particular.
"They have really felt God move through them. It has really changed them. They have been coming to church more. They have been more involved with missions and wanting to find out what we are doing with youth group in the future," he stated.
Johnston also shared his desire for the conference to meet the bishop's target attendance by 2020. He also suggested that other youth groups make plans now for The Gathering 2017.
"Find ways to get your youth to The Gathering. Even if they need to take up donations or have fundraisers to bring the cost down because they won't find an experience like this in Mississippi that they (students) can connect to God and also connect with Methodist youth they can relate to," he added.
Church groups and parents can save the date for The Gathering 2017 which will be Feb. 24-26. More details will be announced later.
Pictures from The Gathering 2016 can be viewed here.
To watch the video from The Gathering 2016, click here.