Approximately 200 teens and 50 leaders gathered at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, B.C., Sept. 8-10 for Proclaim, the 2023 RE:Activate Reformed Youth Convention. According to its website, the event is designed, “to unite and inspire reformed youth to live out the call that God has placed.” The first RE:Activate conference was held in 2014.
One of the organizers, Curtis Meliefste, said the small planning team has been able to keep the conference relevant and ensure its continued impact because, “we can contextualize it to whatever we want—to our own traditions and to our own desires.” The convention is open to teens in grades 8 to 12 in youth groups at CRC churches in British Columbia and Washington. This year youth from 12 B.C. churches attended.
Meliefste and four other leaders make up the RE:Activate planning team. They’re helped by another 50 volunteers on convention weekends.
Meliefste is a full-time student at Calvin Theological Seminary and former associate pastor for youth and young adult discipleship at Willoughby CRC in Langley. The others include associate pastors and youth and worship coordinators from three more B.C. churches. Natasha Vedder, on staff at Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, said, “We all kind of do this as part of our day job,” except Meliefste who is currently volunteering.
The team is accountable to Classis B.C. South-East’s Children and Youth Task Force. Meliefste and Kevin Lobert, youth pastor at Immanuel CRC and another member of RE:Activate’s planning team, serve on that task force. Vedder has been on the planning team since the beginning.
“The initial concept for the convention was to unite CRC churches across British Columbia, specifically through youth ministry and providing a Reformed convention for our teens as a way to connect them with each other and with God and help them to grow deeper in their faith,” she said.
RE:Activate facilitates many conversations, and covers a broad range of topics. The theme in 2023 was I Chronicles 16:23-24, Proclaim His Salvation Day After Day. Speakers Tim and Charity Johnson covered the topic in three general sessions. Youth could also choose two of eight “Learn-It Events” where pastors and speakers presented on topics including sex, God’s plan for your life, talking about Jesus, wealth, and engaging media. Meliefste said those group learning sessions where youth could ask questions and discuss the topics offered a way to “learn more about God and about worship” in different contexts.
Vedder said the design of RE:Activate as a Reformed convention allows youth pastors to know what to expect when they accompany their youth. “We work really hard to keep even our general sessions or worship times liturgically Reformed,” she said. This includes a call to worship and a confessional prayer.
This is the first time Immanuel CRC has hosted RE:Activate; the convention has also been hosted by Willoughby CRC and Gateway CRC. Vedder noted how this connection with local churches helps the conference thrive. “It's a really impactful experience for the host church,” she said, adding that it’s rare for RE:Activate to have a hard time finding volunteers.
The All Ontario Youth Convention is a similar event held in Ontario. It’s a larger event, run by a volunteer team since 1975 and, according to their Instagram, invites youth to, “Come experience Jesus with us.” The May 2023 conference was canceled after organizers received backlash about their main speaker.
In interviews in April, the All Ontario Youth Convention organizers told The Banner they didn’t see their speaker choice as controversial. Tim Scholman, one of the planners, said that until receiving emails after the speaker announcement, no one on the volunteer team was “aware of the tone, intensity, and polarisation of conversations happening within many CRC congregations.”
Vedder commented on how having a church-connected planning team, rather than a volunteer team, makes the planning more manageable. “That's one of the reasons why it's been sustainable,” she said. Partnering with the host church and supporting churches has also helped. “You have one local church, plus the surrounding churches that are closest, who are really involved in making it happen,” Vedder said. Meliefste sees speaker selection as a key factor. “We don't pick controversial speakers,” he said.
Besides worship and Learn-It Events, youth at this year's RE:Activate gathering enjoyed watercolor painting on the beach, hiking and canoeing. The leadership team has set aside Sept. 6-8, 2024, for the next convention. They’ve yet to choose a theme.