By Rev. Amanda Hartmann Westmoreland
For 40 years, Warmth in Winter has been a place for teens to deepen their faith, connect as a group, and grow together with the larger church. While the ongoing pandemic may have changed the way youth “gathered” for WNW this year, the Holy Spirit still moved in mighty ways as young people from over 35 local churches throughout the Tennessee and Memphis Annual Conferences (and beyond!) deepened their faith this year during the weekend of February 12-14. This year, as many youth have struggled with anxiety, isolation, and social distancing fatigue along with other issues, WNW considered the places and spaces where we experience HOPE by reflecting on Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Though gathering thousands of students in one place in-person was not possible, WNW 2021 offered youth groups the opportunity to gather safely together in small groups, have retreat supplies delivered directly to them, and connect with other groups via virtually streamed sessions. In familiar WNW fashion, each session included live game competitions, energetic worship, and relevant messages from impactful speakers. A new addition to WNW this year was the opportunity for extended small group debriefs after the sessions. With questions and activities to help youth connect the message and Scripture to their own lives and experiences, these discussions deepened the WNW experience. As one adult participant shared, “I saw God at work in my students through the discussions that we had after each of the speakers. My students are typically not very vocal when it comes to more serious conversations, but every single one of them spoke up and gave their opinions and listened to other students’ opinions as well. It was incredible to witness.”
Warmth in Winter 2021 Speakers (from left to right): Rev. Carol Cavin-Dillon; Rev. Stephen Handy; Rev. Ingrid McIntyre; Rev. Carlos Uroza
Throughout the weekend, WNW 2021 Emcees Trinity Fields and Andee Haley, both members of the TN Conference CCYM, welcomed youth to the streamed sessions and introduced speakers. In Friday’s session, Rev. Carlos Uroza, pastor of Primera Iglesia Metodista and Woodbine UMC, shared from his own experience the places and people who helped him meet the God of Hope. On Saturday morning, Rev. Stephen Handy, lead pastor of McKendree UMC, challenged youth to consider if they were filling their heart and mind with the joy and peace that comes from God or if other things were slipping in to steal joy, hope, and peace. Next up, Rev. Carol Cavin-Dillon, senior pastor of West End UMC, opened up about how a personal tragedy during her senior year in high school changed how she understands faith. In the closing session, Rev. Ingrid McIntyre, the Executive Director/CEO at the Village at Glencliff and pastor of Glenciff UMC, spoke about where the power of the Holy Spirit has led her to serve and challenges you to consider where hope could overflow in your life and community, too. During closing worship, Bishop Bill McAlilly and Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams led a service of Holy Communion as youth celebrated the hope of God’s presence, love, and redemption through this sacred meal. Some groups even used bread they had baked together during the weekend for communion!
While the WNW 2021 weekend has now ended, the impact of this retreat has not! Some youth groups have incorporated elements of this year’s WNW into their Sunday School or Wednesday night lessons, including opportunities for mission and service in their local communities. “We are learning to live into the Hope of the world, which is Jesus, and let it overflow into the lives of others around us,” one youth leader shared. For groups who weren’t able to participate in this year’s WNW retreat, the virtual sessions, including worship and speakers’ messages, along with the Leader’s Guide and Sacred Space guide are now available in a Digital Only Package for $150 at Warmth in Winter 2021 – Digital Package. Thanks be to God for the joy and peace that fill our hearts with HOPE as young people continue, even in a worldwide pandemic, to deepen their faith, connect together, and grow together through relationships formed throughout the larger church…even when it looks different than before!