Anticipation filled the room as the first session of Pilgrimage 2019 began. It started with a video montage with footage from Pilgrimage 2018. A question and answer flashlight video followed where attendees responded to questions about age, if they had been to Pilgrimage, if they had heard of other conference events, etc. The House Band opened with 3 songs: This Is Amazing Grace, Unstoppable God, and Stand In Your Love. Jay Locklear, House Band Co-leader, introduced the House Band members and then led the song Resurrecting.
Suzanne Cobb, CCYM Chair, welcomed the NC and Western NC Conferences. Cooper Sykes (CYC President) welcomed Hope Smith, who is an artist who painted the altarpiece. Cooper also spoke of the NC Conference Youth Storm Fund – and reminded us that fundraising is available on the Pilgrimage website. He told the theme: “You Are Not Alone: So Let Your Perceptions Shatter.”
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the NC Conference welcomed everyone and District Superintendents, as well as the director of Project AGAPE from Armenia, Nara Melkonyan. Following these announcements, our covenant video was played, showing our three rules: Do Good, Do No Harm, and Stay in Love with God.
Rachel Ferry, from Swansboro UMC, performed a liturgical dance.
Avery Maher, a youth from St. Marks UMC, gave a testimony calling us to share our story, no matter how big or small. When she was younger, her family went to church only on Christmas and Easter until she went to Saint Mark’s. She talked about how her youth group gave her meaning to her faith.
Avery described her struggles with anxiety and depression, which led to an eating disorder and self-harm. While she didn’t blame God, she didn’t feel strong enough to handle what was going on. For her, things stayed the same for about a year until she went to a therapist in 8th grade.
While people were trying to help her, Avery kept pushing people away. During her darkest time, she never left her relationship with God. God was always there for her.
Avery cited overwhelming support from her family and friends. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. You will face trouble in this world, but take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Following the testimony, the House Band led two songs: Scars and So Will I.
The scripture tonight came from 2 Corinthians 5:9 and was read in two different languages, English and German, and followed by prayer.
Cooper Sykes introduced the speaker for the night, Hannah McMillan. Hannah is a daughter and granddaughter of Methodist ministers and grew up in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. She was even the Youth President of the NC Conference from 2009 to 2010.
After High School, Hannah attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in history and minored in education as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. She continued her education at UNC-CH and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching.
Since 2015, she has served on the NC Conference Youth Ministry Operations Team. In this role, she has been the Mentor Coordinator for our Conference Youth Officers. This allows her to work with young people to develop their leadership skills. In pursuing Methodism’s commitment to social holiness, she has served as the Missions Coordinator for NCC Pilgrimage since 2016.
One thing that Hannah enjoys doing is staffing Conference Youth Events like Global Vision and Annual Conference Session for Youth (ACS).
Hannah starts off by addressing the elephant in the room – she is wearing her bedroom slippers. She said she chose them because they were warm and comfortable and that while she was worried about being judged for wearing them, this weekend was more than that.
Hannah proceeded to ask, “How many of you consider yourself risk-takers?” She’s been sky diving, on the biggest Farris wheel at the State Fair (which was a lot scarier than sky diving), and eaten a chocolate covered cockroach (props to Duke Memorial UMC). But still, Hannah did not see herself as a risk-taker.
She said that by attending Pilgrimage this weekend, we are taking a risk – and that this weekend is about us not being in control. She began to share her story, citing Paul that sharing her weaknesses can show us how God has been at work in her life. She talked about the struggles of growing up and adulthood – everyone else seems to have it figured out.
During her first semester of college, her father died, and she became depressed and hurt. She also wanted everyone else to feel the same way that she did, but they had moved on.
Not too long ago, Hannah had a crack in her window and everyone one was telling her that she needed to get it fixed, and fixed soon. Some reasons were the crack was going to get bigger and spread, or there were going to be shards everywhere. The crack in the window is like pain. If you don’t fix it, it’s going to get bigger, and it will spread. While people tell us to fix it right away, it often takes time because we can’t fix things on our own. You need help to fix it like you need help with a broken window.
Hannah made it known that going to church once did not fix her depression – but the message stuck with her. She reminded us to ask for help when we need it. You do not have to do life on your own.
In The Message version of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 12:5 says, “I won’t brag about myself except to brag about my weaknesses.”
In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold dust. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. Consider this when you feel broken.
By this, she realized that, while she didn’t know it at the time, she was being filled with something new – the good, beautiful things that remained in her life, instead of the brokenness. “No matter what you are experiencing, God is at work in your life.” She says that the first step is just admitting it – that we need God in our life. Hannah called us to live as our authentic selves, to let others see our weaknesses, and to be the gold dust in other peoples’ lives. This comes with acknowledging difficult parts of our lives. For Hannah, the riskiest, most grace-filled thing she believes is that we don’t have to go through this life alone.
The House Band closed our worship with Great Are You Lord.
*Article written by Catherine Stallsmith and Carrie-Lee Farnham