The Sunday morning session of Pilgrimage 2017 began with the traditional Banner Processional representing each of the churches in attendance. Seeing hundreds of churches coming together as one on God’s great dance floor was an accurate and beautiful representation of the Kingdom. The youth and adults rejoiced and sang with the House Band as they gave all the praise to God through selfless worship.
As Grace Frederickson shared her testimony, she helped us to know “You are not a mistake, you are not ugly, and you are not invisible.” She continued by expressing, “you are you, and that is the best thing you can give to this world.” Grace taught us to “never give up on this life that God has given you.” Grace’s vulnerability in sharing her story was an inspiration to all.
Reverend Sarah Heath took the stage one last time to share her story. She communicated through her sermon that is it not worthwhile to search for things that go away; rather we should search for God. She shared with us her college experience and how she filled her life with activities to consume her time such as recreational sports, the Wesleyan Foundation, Greek Life and managed to find time to help lead a Youth Group in addition to her studies. Sarah always strived to be the best and titled herself as an overachiever.
When times get difficult, it is often easier to find excuses or take the easy way out, which is what she attempted to do when it came to attending Divinity School. Rev. Heath tried time and time again to deny her call to ministry, but God had a different plan for her. After only applying to one divinity school, hoping she wouldn’t get in so she would have a reason not to attend, she was accepted at Duke Divinity School. Once accepted, she used finances as another excuse. It was then that the University called and offered her an academic and leadership scholarship.
Although she was unwilling to attend at first, Heath began her journey at Duke and wanted to excel just as she did in undergraduate school. Sarah struggled to find a place she fit in and failed to feel accepted by her colleagues. On top of all of this, she received a heartbreaking call from her family, with the news that her mother had a relapse with cancer. This was her mother’s third time fighting cancer. Coupling this news with the stress she was experiencing socially, her grades began to drop, and Sarah often wondered what she was doing at Duke.
One day, a professor stopped Sarah and asked how she was doing. Sarah was honest and stated that her grades were not up to her standards. She had never received a B before, and it was difficult for her to accept that she had earned a low grade in the class.
Her professor invited her to his office where Sarah opened up about her struggles. After venting to her professor about her grades, her family life, and her insecurities, he reached into his mahogany desk in a room covered in scholarly books, pulled out a jar, and asked, “gummy bear?” Taken by surprise, Sarah accepted the gummy bears and still expresses today that it brought them to the same level of humanity.
This professor helped Sarah realize “the chapter you are in now is not the whole story. One bad chapter is not the whole book.” At that moment, the sharing of gummy bears with her professor represented them coming to the table and sharing a meal. Sarah expressed that “a meal is a moment when we pause and look each other in the eye. It is sacred and holy.” This was a captivating moment where 4,000 youth and adults were rejoicing over shared gummy bears.
Sarah gave gummy bears to the youth in the Coliseum. However, the gummy bears were not for them to keep. She challenged the youth to share their gummy bears and the love they have for God with their communities. “You have no idea what God will do with that gummy bear” she exclaimed as she concluded her sermon.
Before praying, Heath taught everyone a tradition of hers. This tradition is to pray with your hands open and palms facing upward to remind yourself that this story of yours is open to God.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward led the congregation in the presentation of Holy Communion. She welcomed all of God’s children to the table. As youth recognized their brokenness, triumphs, hurting, and healing, they came forth to the table to receive the body and blood of Christ.
The 2017-18 Conference Youth Officers took the stage to lead the congregation in the reading of the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenances upon you and give you peace. Amen.” The Houseband joyfully performed as the Coliseum erupted in dancing and singing. The congregation went forth knowing they always have a place at the table.
*Article written by Lindsey Lloyd and Heidi Troxler