Warmth in Winter — the Ultimate Jesus Experience for Tennessee Youth

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By Megan Young, Communications Intern

Over the weekend of January 31-February 2, over 1,900 youth and adult leaders packed into Nashville’s Opryland Hotel and Convention Center for Warmth in Winter, a youth event sponsored by the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Students and their church youth group leaders spent time in worship and workshops listening to powerful speakers, all with the objective of growing in their faith and in community with Christ. 

The theme – “Seen” – based in Hebrews 12:1-2 was the basis for the sermon series at Warmth in Winter. Rev. Toi King, the feature speaker, reminded those in attendance to fix their eyes on Jesus and watch as they begin to see themselves, a beloved child of God, clearer than before. King, in a powerful and inspiring moment, said, “If you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, not only will you begin to see yourself the way God sees you, but you will also see everyone around you the way God sees them, too.”

Photo by Kylie Marino, Tennessee Conference Digital Media Specialist 

King is a moving and inspirational director of missional discipleship at Brentwood UMC. While it wasn’t her typical day at work, the students connected with King instantly and interacted with her sermons without hesitation. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the occasional “Amen” or “tell it” called out from the crowd.

When asked what the youth thought it meant to be “Seen” by God, a group of youth from Dickson First UMC had many answers. 

One youth responded with, “It’s not that God sees us, it’s that he sees through what we’ve put up.” Gracie Pullian, a sophomore in high school, said, “Sometimes you have to face things that are scary and you don’t want to share that with other people. But he sees all that and in all that He still has the ability to love us, and I think that’s pretty cool.” 

Warmth in Winter impacts more than just the youth in attendance. Matthew Reynolds, the youth pastor of Hermitage UMC, said, “It gives me a chance to see my students lead. It’s a time for me to really see what it means to grow as an individual and push those boundaries myself.”

The transformation doesn’t stop there. Warmth in Winter continues to be life changing for people involved in every level. Powered partly through volunteers from local universities, Warmth in Winter creates an environment where even the volunteers often walk away transformed, inspired, and growing stronger in their faith. 

Photo by Megan Young, Tennessee Conference Communications Intern

Camryn Shepard, a student of Middle Tennessee State University, said, “With the conference being ‘Seen’, it’s just an incredible reminder – especially in college as you’re figuring out your own identity and where God is calling you – that God sees you and God sees everybody.”

Between worship gatherings, both students and their leaders were encouraged to attend workshops covering everything from suicide to studying the Bible to learning to take sabbath. David Cowan, a youth pastor at White House First UMC, noted that his definition of the “ultimate Jesus experience,” included worship, fellowship and education – “and Warmth in Winter has all three.” Several other youth pastors echoed the same sentiment, emphasizing the importance and value of the workshops.

Worship was led by FRVR Free, a nonprofit organization with over 35 people involved. FRVR Free’s intent is to show people through music and worship how God sees each person and how He has set everyone free. They performed many styles of worship music so that everyone could find a way to connect and worship in their own way, as well as some original pieces. 

A wrap-up video for this life-changing weekend will be posted to warmthinwinter.com in upcoming weeks.

Warmth in Winter is a youth run event – planned and organized by youth involved in the NextGen Ministry in the Tennessee Conference. Warmth in Winter has been inspiring everyone involved – youth, adults, or even the volunteers – for 38 years.