The over 2200 attendees of the Vertical Three Conference are a big reason why Free Will Baptists are moving toward normal. One of the things I have most enjoyed during my first convention as Vertical Three director is walking throughout the convention center and watching people. I like to “people watch.” One of the most significant things I observed is how “normal” everything seemed. The global pandemic of 2020 caused by COVID-19 destroyed “normal.” The turn of the calendar from December 2020 to January 2021 came with the hope that we could get back to some sense of normalcy. From my perspective, the 2021 Vertical Three Conference was a significant step in that direction. To be clear, things are not back to where they were prior to COVID-19, but I believe we are moving in the right direction. We are moving toward normal.
CTS Ministry Expo
A vital part of the Vertical Three Conference is the CTS Ministry Expo. Having to cancel the 2020 CTS Ministry Expo thwarted the hard work of students throughout the denomination. However, even though the 2021 CTS Ministry Expo saw a significant decrease from pre-pandemic levels, a total of 1,085 participants competed throughout 592 entries. Things are treading to normal.
Truth and Peace Student Leadership Conference
According to Truth and Peace director Allen Pointer, it was 600 days from the selection of the students that form the Truth and Peace Student Leadership Conference (students were selected in October of 2019 and moved forward to 2021 after the cancelation of 2020) to the beginning of the 2021 conference. However, things began to look normal again as Truth and Peace students opened doors for competition rooms, worked the Vertical Three store, and completed many of the other jobs that are necessary for the Vertical Three Conference to be successful. All of this happened after 10 days of intense leadership training at Randall University. A huge thanks to the dedicated staff of Truth and Peace and to Allen Pointer who just finished year 24 of directing Truth and Peace.
Vertical Three Services
The highlight of the Vertical Three Conference are the nightly services. It was a joy to walk from room to room each night and see preschool students, elementary students, upper elementary students, middle school students, and high school students encountering Jesus in age-appropriate ways. I loved watching Katie Greenwood and her preschool team love on children the way Jesus would. I loved seeing Johnny Miller and the kids’ worship team engage with students in first through third grade with fun activities and biblical truth that will help them encounter who God really is. I loved peeking in and observing Steve Greenwood and the 456 worship team impact students with the Gospel in practical ways. This all seemed very normal, and I could not help but smile.
Middle school and high school students were challenged, beginning on Sunday morning, through dynamic musical worship lead by the National Youth Evangelistic Team. This group of talented students set the stage well for speakers David Mizelle, Quinn Norman, Trevor Holden, Victoria Paffile, and Jon Forrest. You could really sense in each of these services that attendees were thrilled to be gathered together once again and that things were getting back to normal. You could also sense that students were making decisions to be “Resolved” like Daniel was. This was the theme of the 2021 conference. The conference concluded with an evening filled with laughter as comedian Jonnie W. performed keeping attendees on the edge of their seats wondering what funny thing, he was going to say next.
As I stood in the back of the main service on Wednesday evening during the joint worship service, my eyes began to fill with tears. It was not because I was sad. It was because I was filled with joy. It was because I was with family. I was with my brothers and sisters across the Free Will Baptist denomination. It was because things felt normal again. If 2020 taught us nothing else, let it teach us that we should not take things, like gathering together as a denomination, for granted. We should no longer take “normal” for granted.