By Fred Koenig
Beverly Boehmer has referred to WOW, the January Missouri Conference youth rally, as being the most aptly named event in the Conference. Wow is the word people respond with when you tell them about it.
How many churches participated this year? 162. Wow. About how many people attended? 2,300. It’s the biggest Missouri Conference event. Wow. What goes on there? Nationally known artists perform which include Christian rock bands, Christian comedy acts, Christian magicians, all sharing a message with youth geared toward strengthening their faith in Christ. Wow.
The first Missouri Area WOW event occurred in 2001 at Manchester UMC in St. Louis, before the Missouri East and Missouri West Conferences had merged. Attendance that year was about 300. The next year it was at First UMC in Jefferson City. From 2003 to 2006 it was at the Expo Center in Columbia, and since 2007
it has been in Springfield.
It can be tricky to pull off a late January event in Missouri, but this year Missouri highways were clear. That didn’t mean weather wasn’t an issue, though.
“Worship leader Wayne Kerr called me on Friday and said his flight, and all the flights, from Houston had been cancelled. Houston! I’m used to Missouri churches sometimes having a hard time getting here, but who’s ever heard of flights being grounded in Houston for ice?” said Boehmer.
Eventually later that day Kerr and his band were able to get a flight to Tulsa, and rented a car to drive the rest of the way.
Danny Fowler is the director of contemplative worship for First UMC in North Kansas City. He volunteered to chaperone the 10 youth from his church plus five more from neighboring Saint Paul UMC. It was his fifth year at WOW. In between sessions he took time to practice his ukulele.
“One thing I really like about WOW is the variety of music,” he said. “You hear all different types here.”
The first session opened with Team Word Play, a comedy improv group. They started by asking who traveled the farthest to get there. A youth from Canton thought his group surely had the claim, but someone from Memphis (MO) spoke up and said they were farther away than Canton. The improv comedians then had the youth assemble themselves into the shape of Missouri on the stage. After a rapid-fire version of impressions, they said that people are often doing impressions or imitations in their every day life, for their teachers, parents, boyfriend or girlfriend, but with God it’s important to be authentic.
“Jesus loves you for you,” he said.
During Wayne Kerr’s first set, “anyone with energy” was invited to come down front, and they danced in a style some might relate to 80’s era Punk dancing called pogo, where you just jump straight up and down. It’s an easy enough dance to learn, and lets out a lot of energy.
“We’re here to have a blast and fun under the name of Jesus Christ, who is alive and well Amen,” Kerr said at the end of the song.
Kerr shared how even when he comes home exhausted from a show, when his 16-month old daughter calls out to him in the night and he goes to comfort her, it blesses him. He said God feels the same way when we call out to him.
“Jesus referred to God as our heavenly father 181 times in the scripture,” Kerr said. “Our (earthly) parents aren’t perfect, but God loves you perfectly.”
Speaker Stephanie Karo reminded the youth that whenever they struggle – with anything – Jesus is there. She recalled a plaque on her father’s wall, “Jesus knows me, this I love.”
CCYM Youth Tells His StoryAbout 70 Conference Council on Youth Ministry leaders were there to help run the event. One of them, Kody Crider, gave his testimony during the opening session. As a small child he was getting in trouble in school. He parents tried therapy, and he was diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They also tried church when he was in the fourth grade. He snacked on fruitloops and took naps in the pew, and generally found the people there not to be very nice.
Then in the sixth grade, his grandmother started taking him to the United Methodist Church in Paris, and he got to know Rev. Ben Mulford. Mulford wanted to get a youth group started at the church, and he encouraged Kody to invite his friends. Those friends invited their other friends.
“Our youth group grew larger in size than the average attendance at worship,” Kody said. Then Mulford talked Kody into going to camp Jo-Ota in the summer, and the experience had a profound impact on him. “Camp Jo-Ota was where I came to fully believe in God,” Kody said.
Later the youth group from Paris went to WOW for the first time, and Kody’s faith deepened further.
“WOW was the first time I really felt connected to God,” Kody said. “It was here that I came to understand that God can be awesome, and fun, and I believed and connected in a new way.”
Kody went on to join CCYM, and has participated in several Missouri Conference summer youth mission work camps, and his faith continues to grow.
“I started out living with Christ, but I’ve come to know that I need to live my life for Christ,” he said.
ConfirmationRev. Cody Collier, Missouri Conference special assistant to the Bishop for leadership development, opened with a prayer in which he asked God to bless WOW 2014 to make the event be a way that those attending could find God, and that when they leave they could all be better disciples for God. Later he led a workshop for confirmands, and shared the following steps of Confirmation:
- Preparation – Preparing to respond to God’s call to go forth.
- Profess – Faith in Christ in life.
- Decision – Get confirmed because you feel in your spirit it is time to make a commitment.
- Repentance – Time to make a change in how you live.
- New Life – Things about church that used to be boring should be important now.
- Publicly Affirm – Saying your vows before the people of your church.
- Learn – About what it means to be a member.
- United Methodist History and Teachings – Learn about the origins of our church.
- Taking Responsibility – Be committed to your own faith development.
- Become an instrument – Work for the Lord.
- Become a disciple – Not a fan, but a follower.
- Way of discipleship – Devotion, worship, compassion and justice.
The youth were asked to write why they are joining the church on a strip of paper. They then linked the paper with others in their home church, in their district, and finally in their conference, to make one big paper chain.
“We have a connectional system, and through that system we can do more together and have a greater impact on the world,” Collier said.
Imagine No Malaria at WOWThe Missouri Conference got $20,287 closer to its goal of raising money for Imagine No Malaria, thanks to the youth of WOW. There is always a Sunday morning offering taken for a cause, but it is usually just dependent on pocket cash, and typically amounts to less than $2,000. This year some youth groups raised money well in advance and brought the funds with them to WOW for Imagine No Malaria.
Future of WOWThis was Boehmer’s last WOW. She retired a week after the event concluded. She said she believes the event could continue to make big leaps in growth, and it may need to move to the Missouri State University campus.
“We still have a lot of active youth groups in the Missouri Conference who haven’t given WOW a try yet,” she said.
The next WOW event is planned for January 23 – 25, 2015, in Springfield.