Quality over Quantity
National YAL Conference Shows Three Days and 150 Young Adults Can Still Make for a Great Time
July 21, 2006
The biggest surprise of last weekend’s National YAL Conference in Nashville, TN, wasn’t the low-turnout but just how much fun and fulfillment Nashville could offer 150 or so mostly Greek Orthodox young adults. Nashville probably scared many out-of-towners away and without an indigenous Greek young adult population to add to the numbers, this was the lowest attended National YAL Convention in recent memory. Still, without any ground support a small group of organizers from all around the country were able to offer the best of what Nashville and the Archdiocese had to offer in three very full days.
Friday night started with an icebreaker preceded by an unannounced vesper service in the hotel’s makeshift chapel. (The amount of young adults who attended this service instead of exploring the vast Opryland Resort Hotel was inspiring.) The icebreaker at the hotel bar led to after hours trips into downtown Nashville with mixed results depending on the which of the dozens of bars was hit. Some featured live country music atmosphere or the kind of karaoke one would come to expect from Music City, USA, and others were just plain dance clubs worse than anything back home.
The difference between the National YAL Conference and Clearwater or the YAL DC Weekend is the focus on discussing the Greek Orthodox faith through a series of workshops, typically on the Saturday afternoon. After a welcome breakfast featuring Archibishop Demetrios, who was there along with the majority of all the other clergy in attendance that weekend for the following week’s Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, YAL Conference participants were offered their choice of two of three workshops for the afternoon. The most surprising of these workshops was offered by his Grace Bishop Savvas of Troas – a discussion that ended in finding parallels to Christ in the Superman movies and other pop culture references.
Saturday night’s social event was a unique road trip to the highest point in Nashville, the Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University. A surprisingly elaborate passed appetizer dinner featuring some twists on southern favorites like pulled pork barbecue, sausage biscuits, and grits was followed by a Nashville tradition of bringing together several singer songwriters who traded turns performing the songs they had written and telling the stories behind them. Although it seemed that we were watching some local has-beens, or never-wasses, these unassuming guys had written songs for Garth Brooks and others, and one of them, Tommy Sims, wrote Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.” After the concert, the telescope at the observatory was open for public viewing of Jupiter and some star clusters.
Sunday morning featured perhaps the largest liturgy most of us had ever been to with the YAL participants joining over 1500 participants of the Clergy-Laity Congress. There were seemingly 40 priests and bishops serving with the Archbishop supported by over 80 choir members and chanters. There were two big screens set up so those of us 50 rows back could see everything. They even managed to bring in an iconostasis the length of the basketball court to place up on stage. It was a four-hour service with absolutely nothing left out.
The only real unstructured free time was Sunday afternoon. About 20 young adults hung out around the outdoor pool at the resort, the first time the group had seen unfiltered sunlight all weekend. (The resort was like a Vegas casino without the gambling with huge glass ceilings and air conditioning set at 67 degrees all day long.)
Sunday night’s finale was a trip to downtown Nashville to BB King’s Club with a southern buffet dinner and a performance by a Greek singer originally from the West Coast who turned down an invitation to Hollywood to be on American Idol to instead come to Nashville to make her way in the music business the old fashioned way. Cynthia Anderson was a sultry opening act and welcome change of pace to the traditional last-night-of-a-conference Greek Night. DJs Chilly and Dennis, the hardest working guys in the YAL conference circuit, spun a good mix of Greek and Top 40 dance hits that had three-quarters of the crowd dancing, a rarity for any conference.
It’s a shame that more people didn’t attend this conference and that the National YAL Conference will now be held every two years in conjunction with the Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress. With the rise in interest and attendance in the regional YAL events, the National YAL Conference will more than likely assume its place as a quality event that will provide the small group that attends the most complete YAL experience possible.