By Ann Osburn
More than 2,400 youth, chaperones and church workers gathered at three college campuses in July for this summer’s Higher Things Lutheran youth conferences under the theme “Te Deum.”
The first conference — July 14-17 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas — hosted 454 attendees, some 91 percent of its capacity. The next two conferences — July 21-24 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and July 28-31 at Concordia University, Nebraska in Seward — were completely full, with 914 and 1,042 attendees, respectively.
“Praise sometimes proclaims, sometimes confesses, always intercedes,” said the Rev. Bruce Keseman during his Seward plenary session. “It is only possible for us to raise our Te Deums to say, ‘You, O God, we praise,’ because of what Jesus has done for us.”
“Te Deum laudamus: God does us right. That’s the Gospel,” preached the Rev. Brad Drew during a Las Vegas Matins sermon. “He promises he will always do you right, the sinner right. He not only forgives all you did, he forgives all you didn’t do.”
During the conference, youth attended multiple worship services each day, learned together during large-group plenary sessions and smaller breakaway sessions, and enjoyed free-time activities.
The conference began and ended with Divine Services, and also included daily services with Matins, Vespers and Evening Prayer.
“It is cool to be surrounded by so many Lutherans who believe the exact same thing,” said Lydia Miller, a high-school attendee from Seattle.
“The worship services were my favorite part of the week,” said Miriam Sikora, a high-school attendee from Lansing, Mich. “It’s so cool to hear everyone singing.”
“I love the worship services and hearing our kids sing,” said Beverly Ohlendorf, a chaperone from Taylorsville, N.C. “I think Higher Things conferences are making our kids more Lutheran.”
“We rejoice like blessed Mary [in the Magnificat] with her own words not because of what we have done, but because with the Lord, promises made are always promises kept,” said the Rev. Aaron Fenker during his sermon at the Las Vegas conference. “You are raised up from orphan promise-breaking sinner to God’s own child in your Baptism. He always does what He says.”
Mary “magnified the Lord because the Lord had magnified her,” the Rev. William Cwirla said during his plenary session at the Seward conference. “You are baptized. And so you sing Mary’s song as your own song.”
Youth learned about Te Deum and the Church’s historic liturgy, among other topics, during the plenary sessions.
The liturgy “may be the last words you remember, and the first words you’ll hear when you open your eyes in paradise,” said the Rev. Mark Buetow during his plenary session at the Grand Rapids conference. “One of the awesome things about the liturgy is that when your mind starts to go, the Word of God won’t.”
“The old Adam is for himself and himself alone. He’s so focused on everything around him that he’s not focused and listening on what God is promising. The purpose of his worship is to make a mask and to hammer the dents out of his armor,” said the Rev. Donovan Riley during his plenary session at the Las Vegas conference. “Your spiritual DNA has been rewritten in Baptism. Worship for the new man is all about what God is doing for us. God is love, and love never stops giving. Everything from above is gift, freely given, unconditional. … The whole universe is the Te Deum because all creation thanks and praises God for what He has done in Jesus Christ.”
Pastors and church workers who were registered for each conference taught the breakaway sessions at the conferences. There were 64 classes at the Nevada conference, 107 sessions in Michigan and 123 in Nebraska.
“I loved the breakaways because you get a chance to learn about what you’re interested in,” said Sarah Niemeier, a youth attendee from Saint Libory, Neb.
“I learned a lot, especially in breakaway sessions,” said Josephine Gonzales, a high-school sophomore from Arkansas City, Kan. “I learned more about Mormons, Marvel movies and friendships.”
“I really appreciated the breakaway teachers,” said Karra Meeske, a chaperone from Imperial, Neb., who attended the Vegas conference. “They have a real story, not a parochial story, and the kids relate to them really well.”
“Higher Things is one of the best places I’ve ever gone,” said Michael Meier, a high-school sophomore from Haven, Kan. “During the school year, I don’t feel that close to God. Here, I feel a restoration and met people at fun classes.”
Conference attendees also spent free time enjoying activities such as karaoke, talent shows, foam bubbles to play in, a petting zoo, crafts, glow-in-the-dark ball games and sporting events.
As attendees reflected on their conference experiences, they also said they were looking forward to future conferences.
“I would tell my friends to come to a conference because you’ll learn a lot about Jesus,” said Colby Bartel, a 14-year-old from Wichita, Kan., who attended the Seward conference.
“My [non-Lutheran] friend is coming to next year’s conference because I kept relaying to her all the jokes and fun we were having here,” said Anna Mattys, a high-school junior from Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada.
“I enjoyed the good teaching and wonderful fellowship,” said the Rev. Lars Borgström, a Lutheran pastor from Uppsala, Sweden, who travelled to the Michigan conference. “The conference is so well-organized, and my son and I made friends from different locations.”
“I had the best week at this conference ever. There isn’t a bad thing I can say about it,” said Fawn Hansen, a chaperone from Freistatt, Mo. “I got more out of the sessions and planning than several other conferences I’ve attended.”
College conference volunteers (CCVs) staffed the conferences to help ensure everything ran smoothly.
Minte Irmer, one of this year’s CCVs, said, “The joy for me is helping other kids hear the Gospel, because this is where I first really heard the Gospel. I want them to have the same conference experience as I did.”
“I think it’s clear what the conference is all about: Te Deum. O God, we praise You, and finding out what that is,” said Christopher Froiland, a first-time attendee and chaperone from Arlington, Texas. “The great thing about the conference is the youth are being taught the true Christian faith.”
This year’s conferences were the 29th, 30th and 31st Higher Things has sponsored since its founding in 2000.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up in the experience of the conference. We revel in the worship, and in the music, and in the teaching, and in the friendship and in the fun,” said the Rev. Duane Bamsch during a Nebraska sermon. “You can boil down the whole conference experience and really all of your life into that one statement: ‘We wish to see Jesus.’ For He is why we sing the Te Deum …. Without Jesus, there’d be no reason to gather here.”
“What about when you get back home, where do you see Jesus there?” Bamsch continued. “In all the same places, of course. In His Word, Holy Scripture is opened to you in faithful preaching and teaching .… You see Christ in your baptism, giving you new life. You see Jesus in the forgiveness of your sins. You see Him in His life given for yours, a gift so precious and so astoundingly beyond measure that our greatest response is to praise and acknowledge Him to be the Lord, the King of glory.”
Higher Things — whose motto is “Dare to be Lutheran” — is an LCMS Recognized Service Organization that holds annual youth conferences and works to promote a distinctly Lutheran identity among youth and young adults. For more information, visit higherthings.org.
Ann Osburn (firstname.lastname@example.org) is marketing coordinator for Higher Things.
Posted Aug. 25, 2015