By Russell Casteel

The past three years have been trying on every community, every church, and on the program ministries of our conference.  As the legacy Memphis and Tennessee conference youth ministries have faced changes and challenges, they also now have had the opportunity to gather together for the first time!  On October 7-9, TWK youth from all corners of the conference gathered at Opryland Hotel in Nashville to “Begin Again.”

This event, planned by design team Beersheba Springs Assembly Director Sarah Ratz, Connectional Ministries Resource Staff Joanna Newberry, TWK Youth Transition Team Co-Chair Rev. Amanda Hartmann Westmoreland, and TWK Camp and Retreat Ministries Executive Director Russell Casteel was intended to give our conference youth an intentional gathering to foster discipleship, connection, and community.  With the financial support of connectional giving, many churches experienced their first ever conference youth event!  

The retreat was led in worship by preachers Rev. Rob Wheeler, associate pastor at Cookeville First UMC, and Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley, Lead Pastor of Burdette UMC.  Their messages intertwined the loving and forgiving grace of Jesus with the call to love our neighbor in meaningful ways.  The weekend’s music was provided by Brentwood UMC’s praise and worship leader Mason Caviness and his band; the band reinforced messages of grace and renewal with praise that got the youth off their feet with hands raised high. 

Lilly Lewin provided “touchable tangible” elements for small groups throughout the weekend, giving youth reinforcement to the weekend’s scriptures. Bell Buckle UMC Senior and TWK Youth Transition team member Emma Collard provided emcee support throughout the weekend, leading peers in games and opportunities to join conference youth leadership. Reflecting on the weekend, Kingston Eller from Nolensville First UMC offered “meeting people and spending time in worship and workshops with them even though we had never met before was the best part of the weekend.”

Workshop opportunities on Saturday included: conversation on discernment and call to ministry, connection for youth ministers and volunteers, connection for conference youth interested in leadership, creation care for youth and young adults, team building and group initiatives, crafting and creating as prayer, and large group games.  Saturday and Sunday mornings included “donuts with the district,” where youth shared breakfast with their neighbors, hosted by District Superintendents and staff, conference staff, and members of the TWK Youth Transition Team. 

Throughout the weekend, conference staff offered their presence and support; Equip and Discover Ministries team members Rev. Jefferson Furtado, Lynn Patterson, and Mandy White, Director of Communications Amy Hurd, Beersheba Springs Assistant Director Stephanie Nunnely and Cedar Crest Program Director Jessi Persson.

Opryland provided an amazing backdrop for the gathering with group opportunities to visit the indoor water park and the many venues inside the massive hotel.  Over 30 churches and 300 youth were sent forth to “begin again.”  Sparks of connection intended to light holy fires in our churches, conferences and youth ministry were lit – thanks be to God for those who gathered, and for the opportunity to imagine what is next for our conference youth ministry.

Forthcoming conference, district, and youth leadership gathering information will be announced by the TWK Youth Transition team.  For more information on events or TWK Youth calendar, please contact Russell Casteel at

To become involved in conference youth leadership, please contact TWK Youth Transition Team Co-Chairs Rev. Amanda Hartmann Westmoreland ( or Jordan Littrell (