UNITE North 2022 encourages students to engage with God in new and creative ways
The UNITE North high school conference drew over 750 students and leaders from across the upper Midwest and Canada to Bethel University in Arden Hills, MN, July 14-17, to hear about the life-changing message of God.
“After the last four days of observation, and conversations and worship with students, I have so much hope for the future and the Church,” said Chris Kelly, Youth Pastor at Linwood Covenant in Wyoming, MN. “Students love Jesus!”
With dynamic speakers, worship music and engaging workshops, these teenagers grew in their faith and learned how they can impact the world for Jesus.
“There is hope! There is hope!” The cries of Bob Lenz rang through the auditorium on Sunday morning as hundreds of students and leaders stood to their feet in response to a call to discipleship. While we are besieged by news of teenagers walking away from God and the Church, this group was committing to let Jesus be in charge of their lives, to be held accountable and to get into the Bible daily.
This followed on the heels of Saturday night, where Terrence Talley challenged students to respond to the Gospel and 200 stood to commit to following Jesus, some for the very first time.
UNITE North kicked off on Thursday with a massive Welcome Party. As music filled the air, students and leaders were greeted with a rock-climbing wall, inflatables, a community art wall where students used spray paint to create and express themselves, a tent where they could paint their own T-Shirt, lawn games and mini-golf, as well as hamburgers, sno-cones, cotton candy and popcorn.
MainStage was a huge part of UNITE North. These morning and evening sessions were held in Bethel’s Benson Great Hall and marked by worship, speakers and artists. The UNITE North worship team created a holy space as students worshiped with perhaps the largest group they had been with in almost two-and-a-half years.
Cortland Pickens and the KNOWN choir, Candice Wynn and the Skit Guys were the featured artists the first night. The rest of the week, students heard from Laurel Bunker, Brannon Shortt, Terrence Lee Talley and Bob Lenz.
“God doesn’t want us to disqualify ourselves when God has already prequalified us for the next leg of the journey,” Wynn shared in her MainStage talk.
On Friday night, there was an incredible concert with Colton Dixon, from American Idol fame. As authentic off-stage as he was on, he stayed late into the night signing autographs and taking pictures with students.
After MainStage, youth groups gathered all over campus to talk about what they had learned and experienced throughout the day.
Melinda Fisher, Youth Director at New Day Covenant in Rochester, MN, said, “The conversations that we had during our small group time will likely stay with me forever. They were these beautifully sacred moments where I could see God actively forming hearts right in front of me.”
During the day at UNITE North, there were lots of opportunities for experiential learning. There were breakout seminars in the morning where students packed rooms to find out about their own or their friend’s mental health issues, reimagined Scripture with Theater for the Thirsty, explored the connections between the Old and New Testament in “Battle Royale,” learned how to share their faith in the Bless seminar, heard God’s call to live out the multiethnic kingdom, were challenged to listen and notice God’s movement, or practiced to be part of the UNITE North Worship Choir that performed Saturday night.
In the afternoons, students could head to Learning Labs where they heard about immigration stories and visited the Hmong market, or served by painting a house or weeding a garden. Some went to the world-renowned restaurant Owamni by The Sioux Chef and learned about native food practices and had a chance to eat buffalo tacos.
Others spent the afternoon on Excursions to Wild Mountain’s water park and alpine slides, or hiked at Afton State Park, or tried their hand at indoor sky diving or paintball.
Some students stayed on campus and competed in tournaments, played disc golf or watched the Family Camp movie, while others explored Sacred Space—a huge room filled with all sorts of creative spiritual practices designed to help people slow down and reflect on God’s work in their lives and the world.
“UNITE North was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I had fun, met lots of great people, and furthered my relationship with God in new and creative ways,” said a student named Aquiliana. “UNITE North was a wonderful adventure and I am so thankful that I was able to attend.”
UNITE North Team
UNITE North was created to fill the need for a large gathering event for high school students. This was after the Evangelical Covenant Church decided to postpone and then cancel the national UNITE (previously CHIC) due to COVID concerns. The ECC had been pondering whether it was time for regional high school events and it was clear, now was the time to test out that idea. Thus was born UNITE North (for churches in the upper Midwest and Canada), UNITE West (for churches from Alaska to California), UNITE East, Engage (Midwest Conference), and Serve Together (Central Conference).
“Our singular prayer was that UNITE North would be a catalyst for Christ-like transformation in the lives of students. Over four days, students heard from amazing communicators and participated in numerous faith forming activities,” said Brian Zahasky, Chair of the planning team and Lead Pastor at Hope Covenant Church, St. Cloud, MN. “All of this culminated with over 200 students standing up on Saturday evening as an act of response to Jesus and a commitment to live for Jesus. To God be the glory.”
The planning team of UNITE North, with the exception of Ginny Olson and Bryan Malley (NWC staff members), was made up of people from local Covenant churches, many of whom had served on CHIC councils. As previously mentioned, Zahasky chaired the planning team. Erik Anderson was the producer. Also serving were Jessa Anderson, Michelle Beilby, Josh Danielson, Kevin Farmer, Mary Kate Fretheim, Katie Friesen-Smith, Sarah Hazledine, Rachel Jacobs and Paulita Todhunter.
Scores of people volunteered which was critical in an event of this magnitude. People put in long hours, serving in areas like medical services, the sensory room, security, prayer, photography, helping at the Welcome Party and much, much more.
“The gift of being able to gather for an event like UNITE North was an answer to prayers. Our students and leaders left this conference feeling filled and encouraged,” said Rick Penner, Student Ministries Pastor at Nelson Covenant Church (Canada). “The planning team did an outstanding job in building an intentional experience of encounter with Christ.”
In the words of one student, when they were asked what their favorite part of the week was: “Everything. I just don’t want this to end.”