After a very busy late-November (Spirit Day and then the Centennial Celebration at GM Place a week later), I was looking forward to the first weekend in December, when I would attend 2 conferences back-to-back: the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) in Cleveland and the Canadian Youth Workers Conference (CYWC) in Toronto.
So it was with great anticipation and excitement that I met Gerard at the airport at 4am on Thursday morning. The anticipation and excitement was more for my trip and not really for Gerard, though I was happy to see him too…haha. After checking in, we reminisced about some of our memorable trips together: Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, home to the now-famous MuchMusic appearance.
The airline gave us each a lunch voucher for $7 and a new flight that would get us into Cleveland the next morning. There was a mad rush to the phones as travelers scrambled to make alternate arrangements. Luckily, Gerard was quick on the draw and was able to secure 2 of the last seats for us on a flight that went through Minneapolis to Cleveland. So we grabbed another bite (my Pizza Hut lunch cost $7.25 so I had to reluctantly shell out a quarter) and then boarded plane #2.
Thankfully the connection to our final flight was fine, and we finally landed in Cleveland at 9pm, a full 5 hours later than scheduled. After quick deliberation and debate, we decided on taking the subway into downtown, as it was much cheaper (ah yes…we are good stewards of the Archdiocese’s resources. As long as our stewardship doesn’t get us mugged!!!).
Finally, we were at Gerard’s hotel by 10pm and mine by 10:15pm. By then, the general session had ended and the exhibit hall was closed. So, remembering a generous invite from a certain awesome keynote speaker and good friend of mine, we made our way up to the suite of one Mr. Mike Patin, who was hosting a shindig for 50 of his closest friends. Even before we made it to the door, we were greeted by the always-hospitable Scott Miller, who welcomed us with this gem:
“They really gotta do something about border security.”
And with that, we said hello and he led us into the room, announcing “Canada is in the houuuuuuuuuussssssssssssssse!”
Mike’s wife Marlene served us with some delicious gumbo, and soon fellow Canadians Warren and Mary had joined us. In greeting me with a big hacksaw-like hug, Warren actually knocked my gumbo from my hand, sending soup and rice hurling to the floor. Thankfully it was easy to clean up and thankfully it was my 2nd helping.
Later that night, I met up with Dan and John, who were to be my roommates through Gene’s generosity. It was quite funny actually as we quickly deduced that there were 3 of us but only 2 beds. It was a fine display of Christian charity, as each of us took turns offering to either sleep on the side-chair or the floor. Each offer was genuine, but it would have been funny if someone answered: “Yeah good idea, you sleep on the floor and we’ll take the beds.” We went around in circles for about 10 minutes before John suggested that he stay with another friend. Turns out the beds were huge, and the guys were small (well at least those 2 guys are) so we would have been okay either way. As long as it wasn’t all 3 of us on one!
Friday was my only full day at the conference, started off with a spirited Mass celebrated by Msgr. Ray East. It set the tone for a great day; a day that I spent most of hanging out in the APeX Ministries/Joia Farmer booths selling t-shirts and CDs and convincing people that I wasn’t Brad or Gene (or Joia for that matter). Needless to say, people didn’t need much convincing.
We spent the evening at the historic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where spiritandsong.com hosted a benefit concert for the poor. It was a great night of music and nostalgia, and there was something cool about seeing and hearing Matt, Jesse and Steve among others belt out rock and roll tunes from the stage. My favourite section was the one dedicated to Michael Jackson. I got to see his original sequined glove, his Thriller jacket, and the blue military-style jacket he wore to the Grammys. Thankfully, they didn’t have pieces of his nose.
It was also neat to see all of the Elvis Presley paraphernalia. As I went through the displays dedicated to the King of Rock and Roll, I couldn’t help but think of Dad and just how much he would have enjoyed it. I also shared with friends that I was either going to be named “Clayton Sean” or “Elvis Presley.” Let’s just say I’m glad my mom won the argument. Or else I would have been All Shook Up. That was a good one…Don’t Be Cruel.
I got a couple of hours sleep and then made my way to the airport at 5am with Matt and the band to catch 7am flights for Toronto and CYWC. I went with the direct route, arriving in Toronto just after 8am, while they went the scenic route through Philly, arriving at lunch time. The Westin in Toronto was very busy, as both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins were staying there for their Sunday NFL game.
The theme for CYWC was “Seriously Ridiculous,” an homage to our seriously ridiculous calling as youth workers and the seriously ridiculous grace that’s available to our lives and our ministries. Marko, the president of Youth Specialties wrote that “the truth that the Creator of the universe knows each of us and loves each of us – that’s serious stuff. Seriously amazing stuff. In fact, it’s so mind-blowing that it’s really the definition of ridiculous. Not ridiculous in a “that’s not true” sort of way, but ridiculous in a “this truth is cool beyond words” sort of way. Very cool. And true.
It was a busy day as I attended a general session and lunch for ministry leaders before returning to my room to prepare for my session the next morning. Then, Derek, Alisha and I went to Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral and then grabbed a quick bite in Eaton Centre. Derek and I thought we had lost Alisha as she wandered off without telling us, and wasn’t answering her phone! Thankfully, she showed up a few minutes later and all was good with the world. Not sure what was worse: Alisha taking off or us treating her like she was 5 years old!
After catching a bit of the late night entertainment, I put the finishing touches on my session. The alarm clock rang Sunday at 7am, and by 7:50am I was in my workshop room, preparing for the 8am session on “Surviving Youth Ministry.” To me surprise, there were quite a few people seated when I started at 8:05am, and there was a steady stream of people throughout the 75 minute session. I resisted the urge to start again every time someone new came in (as my opening was pretty good if I may say so myself…haha).
The conference ended with 2 more general sessions (sandwiching a workshop rotation in the middle). It was an amazing experience for me, and it gave me a greater appreciation for my brothers and sisters in Christ from other denominations. It’s nice to see so many different people involved, as we celebrate our commonalities as opposed to bringing forth our differences. Thanks Darian for inviting me to be involved and for trusting me!
After I helped clean up for a bit, Pat picked me up and drove me to his new place, where I saw Bernie and baby Natalie for the first time since September. Natalie made strange with me for a few minutes, but quickly settled down and allowed me to carry her and play with her. She must have sensed the “Daddy” in me. Either that or she thought I was going to give her money.
We had yummy Chinese food (despite Bernie’s fear that I would starve) and spent a wonderful evening catching up and watching the Canucks lose a heart-breaker to Colorado. Before going to bed, I warned them that I hadn’t had much sleep, so it might be a late start for me.
Sure enough, I awoke just after noon, and slightly embarrassed, I shared a spaghetti lunch with Bernie and Natalie. We made our way to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a place I hadn’t visited since 2002. We had a great time taking wrist shots, blocking slap shots, and sulking that there was barely any Canucks stuff to admire. We spent a lot of time in the TSN “Be an Announcer” booth as we had fun making our own recordings (see and hear mine here). The other highlight was seeing the Stanley Cup, and of course, taking pictures with it. We ordered sushi for dinner and had a nice quiet night at home.
On Tuesday, I woke up a lot earlier (okay…it was 11:45am) and I made my way to the Archdiocese of Toronto. I had a great afternoon meeting and catching up with old friends before returning to Bernie’s place via subway and a somewhat-direct trek through Eaton Centre. We rammed through a quick dinner at Burger Hero before I caught my shuttle to the airport, only to find my flight had been delayed by 90 minutes. I didn’t care, as long as I was sleeping in my own bed that night!
What a blessed week. I was part of 2 awesome gatherings, among a combined 3,000 fellow believers and youth ministers. It was perfect start to the Advent season, as it gave me great hope and reminded me just how blessed I am.
Trips and conferences have a tendency to have that effect on me: I return home committed to be better in all areas of my life: as a husband, as a father, as a director, as a youth minister, as a friend, and as a servant of God.
I say it all the time: I have a lot of serious responsibilities, yet I don’t take myself too seriously.
But I do think it’s time to get a bit more serious: SERIOUSLY RIDICULOUS.