At the 41st annual Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention, during which mine was the blessed opportunity to participate as a chaperone with my wife and friends, I was asked to share some of my personal impressions of the week’s activities with the readers of Beacon Lights. These impressions are from one who has most fond memories of the PRYP conventions of the 1960’s as a youthful participant, but who enjoyed the action-packed, spiritually stimulating week in July 1981, even more as a member of the “older generation”.
The additional years have given a new perspective and a sense of deep appreciation for the heritage and trust with which we as churches have been endowed by our covenant Father. The youthful church of today has been blessed richly with many talents and abilities which were displayed during the week. These gifts must be further developed as the youth of our churches mature physically, emotionally, and spiritually into adults of that living body of Christ. We trust that this week of convention was a period of growth in these areas for our youth as they face their lives ahead, encountering the signs of the times in an evil, apostate world.
One initial impression, but one also sustained throughout the whole week, was that of the faithfulness of our God in saving His people through the covenantal seed generation after generation. Here were gathered on the college campus the full age span of two, three, and four generations at singspirations and speeches. There were monarchs in the faith whom I recall from my youth as being “old”. There were many middle-aged and retired couples who I had recalled seeing in past times only as large families sitting together in church or assembly. Now all their children have grown and moved out to develop families of their own. There were hundreds of young people, children of my contemporaries at past conventions. Many young adults I barely recognized but knew as toddlers only a few years ago. I’m sure that our older ministers can appreciate the development of the church in covenantal lines as they have seen it unfold in their lifetimes of ministry. This is a savored blessing. An appreciation of this internal growth and development is a gift that is enhanced with the added years. Personally, I guess you could say, I “felt my age showing”.
Another vivid, personal impression was the marked diversity that appeared in the group of conventioneers as they gathered under a common bond of faith. The age span of registrants ranged from 14 to 26 years. They came from all pans of the country and world. Some flew in from the Southwest, U.S.A., others flew in from the Netherlands. A large group drove a van packed from the West Coast, others biked from Chicago. The East Coast and the Deep South were equally represented. There were those who bused, car-pooled, and “trained” from all over the Midwest. Still others but walked across the street with sleeping bag and satchel in hand to participate in this convention “in their own neighborhood”. There were young people from a number of other church denominations present who sought the fellowship and spiritual growth which might be obtained at this Protestant Reformed convention. To sit together in a large gathering or small devotional group over God’s word from such a variety of backgrounds is something that all conventioneers should appreciate. Ours is a universal, omnipresent God who transcends all geographical and human bounds.
There was diversity in the selection of speakers at the evening addresses on the convention theme, “Signs of the Times”. These speakers came from a variety of backgrounds and a broad spectrum of ages – first-charge pastor to minister-emeritus. Each was able to bring a different perspective on the topic and deliver a charge to our youth to observe the signs of the coming of Christ in their lives.
There was a pronounced diversity in the strength of the faith in the young conventioneers. It was evidenced in their testimony at discussion groups, devotional meetings, and in their conduct at free time and recreational activity. We find that some of us are strong in our faith. Some of us are weak. The chaperones and discussion leaders encountered this range of personal faith and conviction. I recall one small discussion group in which very few were interested in discussing an exciting and relevant topic. No preparation had been done. No thought or concentration was attempted. One young fellow, when asked his input on a simple spiritual question, gave a long yawn as editorial comment and replied, “I guess I never really thought about it.” That group required much spiritual maturation and, I trust and pray, grew during the latter course of the convention. I participated in another discussion group which could not quit. It ran overtime and reconvened in the evening for further Bible study.
There were a few conventioneers who showed a marked weakness in their faith and were most puzzling to me. They have read the rules and regulations for the convention regarding curfews, proper campus boundaries of activities, and required attendance. They have signed the registration form which states the purpose of the convention: to have Christian fellowship and to exercise themselves spiritually by listening to speeches and participating in discussion groups and devotional periods. Then they endeavored as much as possible to get out of these activities and to get away with breaking the rules. These few spiritually immature had great difficulty in displaying a Godly attitude. It was encouraging to see the vast majority assist these weak colleagues in following proper order and in learning to grow in the faith. The strong in the faith helped the weak to grow.
There were others who could not get enough spiritual stimulation via the planned activities and conducted their own additional study groups in their dormitory rooms. This was also exciting to see.
During recreational periods, the diversity of spiritual strength and development appeared in the type of conduct, speech, and dress displayed by the conventioneers. Most conducted themselves as Spirit-filled Christians enjoying the fun of fellowship and recreation. A few had to be “encouraged” to display proper Christian witness to their fellow conventioneers and other groups on the campus. We trust that there was further personal, spiritual strengthening.
The diversity of the personalities of each of the members of the dormitory devotional group left its impression on me. Some bubbling, out-going personality was quick to share his faith with others. There was youthful zeal for the Christian life. Other young people in the group, just as firm in their faith, were quiet, contemplative introverts who had more difficulty in sharing in a group situation. But from this diversity came one of the most enjoyable experiences of the convention. I enjoyed sitting together in casual, pajama and bed-nob surroundings with God’s Word and a common bond of faith. We each talked intimately of deeper, personal thoughts on God’s presence in our lives, and how we might individually conduct ourselves in these last days. This was a sign in our time of the Holy Spirit’s presence not only in the beautiful interior of a formal church building, but also in a spartan dormitory room.
Another impression I share with you is the respect for the participatory attitude and supportive concern that the ministers of the host churches provided to the young people. They participated in social and recreational activities with ambient ease. They played, they discussed, they counseled, they disciplined all with an attitude of concern and accessibility to the young conventioneers. Yet they held their respect, if not generating more, as spiritual leaders to our group of youth. I had the good opportunity to see them in action as pastoral counselors to troubled youth with spiritual and psychological problems. We saw them as laughing, joking chaperones. But also as pastoral under shepherds caring for a young flock. Their humanness along with their special calling as spiritual leaders was respected by the young people and fellow chaperones alike.
The last impression I share with you is an appreciation for all the hours of work and planning which went into making this convention a success. One Federation Board member on multiple committees confided to me that he had participated in 52 meetings over the course of the last year in working out the arrangements for this convention. The coordination of three separate sponsoring churches – Holland, Faith, and Southeast, must have been difficult. But the Convention Steering Committee is thanked for providing such an enjoyable week for all of us, young and “old”.