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Spiritual disciplines emphasized as 12,000 teens, sponsors converge at Winterfest

Teens and sponsors assemble inside the Gatlinburg Convention Center for Winterfest, a three-day youth retreat in this mountain resort town in Tennessee. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Blogging live from Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Will Houghton, 17, is wearing sunglasses and a hat with an emergency-vehicle-style flashing light.

Will Houghton gives away a free hug during Winterfest 2012. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

He’s carrying a handwritten sign offering “Free Hugs.”
Houghton, a member of the Central Church of Christ in Benton, Ky., is one of 12,000-plus teens and sponsors gathered in this mountain resort town for Winterfest.
In case his attire and sign didn’t give it away, he’s having fun — and growing closer to God.
“We call it a holy high,” Houghton said of his youth group’s experience at Winterfest.
Geared toward discipleship, the massive youth retreat features a cappella praise songs, dramatic skits, video presentations and interactive sermons.
Youth groups from Churches of Christ in 27 states are focusing on spiritual disciplines at the 27th annual Winterfest, which kicked off Friday afternoon and wraps up Sunday morning. (The Gatlinburg event follows last month’s Arlington, Texas, version of Winterfest, which drew more than 4,000 young people and adults. The Challenge Youth Conference, also involving Churches of Christ, is set for next weekend in Gatlinburg.)

Winterfest participants outside the Gatlinburg Convention Center. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

As church vans and chartered buses clog Gatlinburg’s streets, Winterfest participants — split into early and late groups in the 6,500-seat convention center — assemble in a ballroom that stretches longer than a football field.
During a session Friday night, thousands of teens texted prayers that were displayed on nine big screens in the gigantic ballroom.
“This is one big Jesus party, isn’t it?” Josh Ross, minister for the Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., said as he greeted the crowd Saturday night.
“Woo! Woo! Woo!” the audience replied loudly.
Twenty-three teens and sponsors from the First Street Church of Christ in Cordele, Ga., made the 320-mile drive north to Gatlinburg.
The Georgia youth group sponsored four events — including a “Boston Butt” cooking, a car wash, a yard sale and a bake sale — to raise money for the trip.
First Street member Emma Jarrett, 18, said it’s her fifth or sixth time to attend Winterfest.
“There’s so many people, all coming together as one,” Jarrett said of why she returns each year.
“It’s all about Jesus,” agreed Jakelsy Walker, 18, also from the Georgia church.
Reader feedback: Did you attend Winterfest? If so, how do you intend to use what you learned about spiritual disciplines in your daily walk with Jesus? Any specific plans? Be sure to include your age, home congregation, city and state in case we decide to quote you.

  • Feedback
    Winterfest was just incredible. This is only the second time I’ve been. The first was about 25 years ago when it was in Pigeon Forge. I’m excited about the future of the church. It’s great to see kids with a passion for God and each other.
    Joel Maners
    February, 19 2012

    Wow! That’s a lot of church now – not future – these young people are preparing their life for the world that faces them each and everyday. May God bless each one and the adult examples and words they hear – may God’s word touch their heart as it is needed. God Bless their trip home and days ahead.
    Love you all – Laurel CoC – you are the best!
    Diane T.
    February, 19 2012

    I have been to winterfest several times. As one of the little little kids you see, one of the teen participants, and (now that I’ve graduated) as one of the chaperones. It’s always a blessing. This year, even as a chaperone, I found the lessons applicable and a great reminder! It’s things that sometimes we forget the teens can handle and forget the adults need reminders of! It was definitely a huge blessing to be able to attend and get the needed reminders. Another big blessing for me was who I traveled with. I was able to travel with the Northside church of Christ from Jeffersonville, IN and spend the weekend with some of my camp kids and fellow staff members that I’d usually only see a few days a year. Being there with some of my middle school girls and other teens from camp added to the reminder of how much even us adults need to practice our spiritual disciplines because we are the ones the younger generations look up to and will learn those disciplines from… And what happens if we haven’t practiced them? It’s a hard but much needed reminder!
    February, 20 2012

    I am so very thankful for our Christian Winerfest. My family has only been attenting for a couple of years and we hope to return every year. It is an amazing time of worship and praise to our God! Being a mother of two teenage daughters it thrills my heart to see them being able to passionately praise without inhabitions or restrictions. The speakers are excellent, especially J.Walling, and I would describe their lessons as real, encouraging, applicable, entertaining (so necessary for teens) and at times filled with humor. A very sincere and deeply felt thank you to all who make Winterfest possible. It means so much to our family and truely helps us to grow rich in the Lord.
    gail frazier
    February, 29 2012

    I remember how much fun it was to be with other christian teenagers when I was that age. It is certainly an effective way to build friendships and network with others of like faith. I note however on page 20 of the hard copy April chronicle that Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline…” was used for this gathering. I note mystical “heros” such as Thomas Merton are in Fosters work. It is also a promoter of contemplative prayer which is not what the Bible teaches. If we can’t teach our young the Bible as absolute truth we should take a look at our attitudes and direction – we are headed the wrong way and should consider some soul searching.
    john watson smith
    March, 12 2012

    I went last year with my teen group from gateway church of christ, and it was wonderful, we all loved the singing, the speakers, and of course the commercials! We are coming down this year as well, and i hope it will be just as enjoyable, have a safe trip and god bless everyone who comes!!
    Greg Krzyzanowski
    January, 19 2013

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