YOUTH 2023: A Welcoming Space | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
June 2023

YOUTH 2023: A Welcoming Space

YOUTH 2023 is designed with worship, discipleship, and fellowship at the heart of the event. The Design Team is creating a safe and sacred space for all youth, a temporary sanctuary, if you will, where the focus on what we share in common stands in contrast to the all-too-often divisive times in which we live. YOUTH 2023 will be an event where youth can experience honest hospitality and be invited to marvel at the blessings that a diversity of spiritual gifts, people, and thought can bring to a community.

When we say “temporary” sanctuary, we recognize that we will be together only from July 25-28, 2023. We can share some enlightening and moving experiences, have some “WOW!” moments, and make new friends. We will have transformational moments together, but the nature of faith is that it needs to continue to be nurtured in community. So, the formational moments will continue to happen with your home church and the spiritual leaders you find when youth return home. Local church leaders maintain great relational strength with the youth of their community and help form spiritual identities. We’re a connection point to a world of opportunities, here to support the ongoing, formational ministry of local church ministries. We believe they will continue to help develop a BOLD faith and both inspire and organize faith formation with young people after YOUTH 2023.

When we say “sacred,” we recognize that God can show up anywhere, and we want to help set our space with an open invitation for the Spirit to move among us. We’ll do so by offering chances to participate in spiritual practices and acts of worship that are shared in common by the Christian faith. Much like the idea of the “tabernacle” from the Old Testament, we can recognize God to be present through elements of ritual, the intentionality of setting up dedicated space, and welcoming one another as fellow children of God. Jesus calls us to ensure that all might have the chance to relate to God and experience something sacred as a part of gathering together. You’ll notice that our Communion on the beach will be open to everyone, even those just swimming, biking, or walking by. Sharing in the Lord’s Table is just one of many ways that YOUTH 2023 will bring a sense of the sacred to the event.

When we say “safe,” we recognize that many of us are living in a world where division, danger, misinformation, and anxiety interfere with our ability to remember that we are each made in God’s image. Some of us fear for our physical safety; some of us fear uncertainty with the economy or with food insecurity; some of us even fear a vague “otherness” that might challenge our own beliefs. We are working to create a physically safe space in partnership with onsite security services. Physical safety aids the creation of emotionally safe spaces where BOLD conversations can be had about what it means to find one’s identity in Christ and in that discovery, be called to live differently in a world that too often seeks to divide. We can be brave together.

Recent legislation in Florida is receiving national attention for the impacts and implications it has for immigrant populations, the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as allies, educators, mental health professionals, and more. YOUTH 2023 is aware of the anxiety and stress that has become part of making travel plans to attend an event in Florida, and we are working diligently with local authorities, General Agency staff, and leadership across the U.S. to ensure we can create a space that is welcoming and safe for all. The NAACP and other organizations have created travel advisories to the state of Florida, and we encourage you to learn more about the dynamics regarding those decisions. A helpful place to start may be this story from NPR: Even if the laws and advisories put into place do not affect you or members of your group traveling to YOUTH 2023, there is value in knowing about the laws and their effects on youth and participants from other churches who may feel they are taking on additional risks by attending an event in Florida in the current climate. We share that information not to “catastrophize” or raise anxiety levels for travel planners, rather we share that information raise awareness of challenges being faced by some of our attendees. From our conversations with officials in Daytona and our planning teams’ personal experiences in Daytona Beach, we are confident in their ability to help us create safe, welcoming, and affirming space for all who attend YOUTH 2023.

Our focus remains dedicated to the youth participants at YOUTH 2023, providing them an opportunity to experience a culture of welcome and belonging that will allow them to enjoy a sense of wonder about what God may do while we are together. We expect great diversity at YOUTH 2023. We come together from many different communities, life experiences, and belief structures to worship, fellowship, and learn more about being world-changing disciples. We have attendees from around the world and are so grateful for the chances we have to create brave spaces and learn more about each other as members of God’s family. Plan on meeting someone different from you and plan on learning something new from those fellow members of God’s family.

Guiding Principles

Young people often have a way of shining a light on the effects of the previous generations’ choices and culture and inspiring growth and change. We are leaning on them to help create new ways of understanding one another instead of joining in the increasingly polarized times. Being Ourselves, Living Different (BOLD) means that we have work to do to help us understand our identity as members of God’s family because of who Jesus is and how the Spirit interacts with us. As we discover our identity as disciples, we are called to live differently and faithfully because of our experiences.

YOUTH 2023 is working to keep the focus of the event on worship, fellowship, and discipleship. The event will not shy away from addressing challenging topics, nor will the event seek to indoctrinate or convince participants to “pick a side” for any particular topic. Rather, with the focus on helping youth understand that they are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” and “heirs to God’s promise” – we will help youth and their adult chaperones learn how to ask important questions of one another and build empathy as a way of understanding differences that might otherwise divide people. YOUTH 2023 is organized by Discipleship Ministries, which exists to both challenge and support the discipleship efforts of the United Methodist Church.

Safety: Adult volunteers and leaders at YOUTH 2023 are participating in basic abuse-prevention training and background checks before serving at YOUTH 2023. We are working with a security team and a medical team at the Daytona Ocean Center to ensure only those registered and credentialed for YOUTH 2023 have access to the event and have access to emergency medical care while onsite. All who attend the event have access to those medical services. We do have emergency response plans that will be available onsite. Our team is also working with the Daytona Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and local law enforcement to ensure appropriate safety measures in the public areas around the event hotel and Ocean Center, including the beach and boardwalk areas. Our worship arena also allows for socially distanced seating for groups that wish to maintain safety protocols related to slow or prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Attendees are welcome to wear masks and we will stay up-to-date and follow local guidelines for health safety. Attendees whether they choose to mask or not, are encouraged to wash hands frequently and demonstrate welcome and respect for each other onsite.

Our theological approach at the event comes from the Methodist/Wesleyan family, and we are working diligently to ensure that valuable understandings of abundant and undeserved grace and the ability for us to show love and care for our neighbor are possible because of God’s love for humanity woven throughout YOUTH 2023. We fully believe that the diversity present at our event is a strength. We believe that the choice to focus on worship, fellowship, and discipleship will provide a chance for young people who would not normally interact with one another to laugh and learn about who they are as part of God’s family.