Nashville in February, Kansas City in July

On Halloween three years ago, I had gone up to my church, First United Methodist on the square in Shelbyville, to get some photos of the trick-or-treaters on the square. We welcome them at the church, just as the merchants do.

When I first got there, the big rush hadn’t started yet, and Alden Procopio, our director of children’s and youth ministry at the time, took the chance to ask me if I would be a chaperone for Warmth In Winter. This is a large annual United Methodist youth conference for Middle Tennessee. At the time, it was still being held at the Embassy Suites hotel and convention center in Murfreesboro; it has since outgrown that facility and is held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, where it draws something like 2,600 youth and adult chaperones each year. It’s a three-day event — Friday night through midday Sunday, although some churches just come for the day on Saturday.

I’d been asked to be a chaperone at Warmth In Winter once or twice before, but I’d always had some sort of conflict. That year, I was able to go, and I had a great time. We have a great group of youth at First UMC, and I enjoy being with them and the other adults. The programming at Warmth In Winter is generally great as well — there’s normally a featured speaker and a featured band.

Although the speaker’s message is geared to the youth, it’s not so targeted that others can’t enjoy it. Sometimes, it’s good to get a back-to-basics message about who we are and who God is. The same applies to the music. Elias Dummer was the force behind Warmth In Winter’s music for the past two years — in 2017 as the frontman of The City Harmonic and in 2018 as a solo artist. I enjoyed him so much that I participated in the IndieGoGo campaign for his forthcoming solo album.

For the past three years, I’ve also had another reason to enjoy going to Warmth In Winter: My nephew T.J. Carney was on the design team all three years, working behind the scenes to help organize the event. This year, T.J. is away at college in Virginia, although I think he still may try to come back and attend the event.

Me and T.J. at last year’s Warmth In Winter

Last year, I was looking for T.J. so that I could give him a bag of homemade beef jerky — I’d already given one to his brother James, who was a youth at Warmth In Winter with the Bell Buckle UMC group. T.J. was talking to Brad Fiscus, who heads up the “NextGen Disciples” program for the United Methodist Church in Middle Tennessee and has responsibility for Warmth In Winter. Brad asked me to write something up after the event about my experiences, and I did, and it went out on the Tennessee Conference UMC website.

Anyway, it was a nice bit of déjà vu that when I went to Halloween at First UMC this year, our current director of children’s and youth ministries, Abby Teberg, asked if I was going to Warmth In Winter again this year, and I told her I would.

But then, at church this past Sunday, the youth announced a big fundraiser, not for the Warmth In Winter trip in February, but for Youth 2019, a nationwide UMC youth conference which will be held next July in Kansas City. (Abby is on the design team for Youth 2019, just as my nephew had been for Warmth In Winter.)

Abby had not yet asked me about being a chaperone for that one, but I sort of felt called. In some ways, it will fill a little bit of the void from not having a week-long Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry camp to go to next summer.

I try to be supportive about helping out with events like this when it’s appropriate. In some ways, it’s selfish on my part; I often end up volunteering for things that I want to do, like our trip to Lake Junaluska a year or two ago. (I still want to go back to Junaluska on my own, so that I can go through the World Methodist Museum.) But I also try not to be That Creepy Single Guy. So I wasn’t sure at first about whether I should offer to be a chaperone. But when I mentioned it to Abby, she said she’d been meaning to call me anyway.

So now I’m booked for two youth trips in 2019. Youth 2019 will be a bigger deal — not only is it farther away, but it’s five days instead of three. They’ll have multiple speakers, and they’ll have one band as their worship band and a whole different band giving a full-length concert performance.

I’m looking forward to both trips. I will be as blessed as the teenagers.