Imagine standing in a giant room with hundreds of other Lutherans belting Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands so powerfully that you get chills? That is the opening Divine Service. How about sitting in an auditorium shoulder to shoulder with those same Lutherans learning about the meaning of O Living Bread of Heaven? Well that is the second plenary session. Oh, and how about making the impossible decision of trying to pick only six of the sixty classes offered that are taught by our own LCMS pastors and church workers? Those are the breakaway sessions. All three of these events and more occur at Higher Things—the best experience I have ever been privileged to attend and participate in.
To me, Higher Things is a conference offered to high school students who want to grow more in their faith while learning about what it means to be a Lutheran, well, with hundreds of others who want to do the same. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I myself, as well as my fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, know and are being exposed to similar teenagers who are trying to get through this part of life as best as we can, and have this blessed experience available to learn the truth and how to navigate the stormy waters of this life through a confessional Lutheran perspective. Higher Things gives the opportunity to meet new people, and get to know them in order to create a lifelong, inseparable bond. For example, my new friend Bonnie and I talk every couple of weeks, and we hope to reunite at a future Higher Things conference.
As I previously mentioned, you do learn…A LOT! The catechesis is broken into two main categories: plenary sessions and breakaway classes. First, the plenary is a lecture given once a day by one of the two selected pastors to teach about the theme of the conference. It is a superb lecture that helps us high school students understand a central part of the Christian faith. This year we learned how Jesus is the Bread of Life and a lot about The Lord’s Supper. It was great! I certainly learned a plethora of information that I can take home to my church and apply on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Second, the breakaway classes are a series of class periods that you get to choose which you want to attend. The classes offered include the big topics that teenagers want to know more about, such as vocation, marriage and dating, and the LGBT community and how to address these things as confessional Lutherans. However, in addition to these quintessential topics, there are many classes on a variety of interesting subjects. My favorite breakaways that I attended were explaining creation and the eighth day and the gift of time, and a synopsis of the book of Amos in an hour. They may sound boring, but they weren’t and I’m so glad I went to them. The way that the pastors teach make it easy to understand and possible to take away what you learned and live by it.
Another surprisingly wonderful experience was private confession and absolution. It was optional, but I did it in spite of initially feeling a little scared and worried about it. We come face to face with our sin, and see how fallen we are. But then we hear God’s merciful words through the pastor and we receive the gift of forgiveness and grace and love. It is recommended you confess with your pastor there at the conference, but if you are not comfortable with it, there are plenty of other pastors who will hear your confession.
If I had to pick only one favorite memory from the conference that would be nearly impossible, but if I had to choose, it would have to be the worship. Singing alongside so many other Lutherans is such an astonishing experience. We worship just like this back home, but at the conference, we unite across states and countries and come together as one! I have no words that can truly grasp how striking and remarkable it is. Each of the 36 hymns made me realize the magnificence of praising God with so many others, but totally together. As we sing that final hymn during the closing Divine Service, you feel like you never want to leave. You’re left imagining the choir of heavenly hosts before our Lord, and how mindboggling that is. What could be more beautiful than that?
This was my third Higher Things conference, and each one has its own place in my heart. This particular conference has truly been a blessing to me, and has changed my life. I not only grew closer to my youth group and pastor, but I also grew closer to God and learned His love for me and the forgiveness that He so freely bestows on us poor, miserable sinners.
Higher Things provides an incredible opportunity to learn about what it means to be a Lutheran through services and classes. We young confessional Lutherans aren’t alone. Attending a conference provides the chance to see and experience that, even for only four days, but the understanding and faith strengthening we acquire in invaluable. It is the highlight of each whole summer and I look forward to it and talk about it the remainder of the year. I strongly encourage every Lutheran youth to attend at least one Higher Things conference. I’m sure that it will profoundly affect you and you will remember those four days for the rest of your life.
Lindsey Casey is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church of Pensacola, FL and president of the youth group. She enjoys playing volleyball and runs track as a sophomore at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology.