‘It was just a good time’: Winter Blitz 2023 small but mighty!

February 05, 2023
By Alan Wild

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nearly 400 youth and their leaders – a larger-than-expected group – attended the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Winter Blitz 2023 held Friday-Sunday (Feb. 3-5) in the West Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center. 

Organizers were extremely pleased at last-minute registrations who bolstered attendance and proclaimed the event a success.

“I thought it went great. The Holy Spirit was moving,” said Rev. Michael Sweeney, who serves as chief coordinator of Winter Blitz in his role as chair of the conference’s Camp & Retreat Ministry Operational Team.

“It was just a good time. We focused on ministry and on our youth.”

A total of 385 people paid, Sweeney said. Of those, 282 preregistered and 103 registered at the door. With volunteers and conference staff, the total attendance was about 450, he said.

Attendance was virtually the same as last year, which came after a year’s hiatus in 2021 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than the COVID year, Winter Blitz has taken place annually since 1991.

The Winter Blitz Planning Team has adapted the venue to suit the smaller crowds, but many mainstays, such as a Sacred Space room (once known as the Prayer Room) and the Leaders’ Lounge remain important parts of the three-day event.

“It’s been good. Small crowd, but good,” said Bishop Leonard Fairley, who with his wife, Dawn Sparks Fairley, spent much of the weekend helping with registration and visiting with participants, as they do every year.

“I think it is a time for them (the youth) to see a positive side of the church,” Bishop Fairley said. “It gives them a deep sense of connection, and I think that’s the best thing we can offer youth now, because they can be so disconnected.”
That time of fellowship is always a highlight for Fairley, and he sensed that the smaller groups made it easier to share stories about past Winter Blitzes. “So that’s been good.”

One of those stories came from two last-minute registrants, Nick Dockery and his mom, Gina Dockery, members of First UMC in Franklin. They drove more than two hours after Nick got off from his job as a delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza.

“I just love it so much,” Nick, 20, said of Winter Blitz. He attended as a youth for 2016 to 2019 and was excited to return this year because it means so much to him.
“How can you say no to that?” his mom said.

Dawn Fairley has been involved with Winter Blitz for many years and has helped with registration since 2006. It’s more than just an enjoyable annual event for her, she said – it’s a sacred place where the only thing that really matters is the young people being ministered to. If anything, she added, that feeling is more profound than ever this year.

“This weekend is my favorite of the year,” she said. “It always has been and always will be.”

One of the things emphasized during Winter Blitz is summer camp at the conference’s two camps, Loucon and Aldersgate. In recent years the conference as adopted a “one-camp model,” but each camp has its own legacy and characteristics. Each camp had a table at the back of the exhibition hall with flyers and other information about summer camp.

Three summer staff members at Aldersgate, Kassidy Phelps, Kayla Koerner, and Nathan Jackson, worked the table during the weekend and also helped lead camp games Saturday afternoon during the breakout sessions. Many of the summer camp staff first started attending Winter Blitz back in the day with their church youth groups.

Jackson, a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, said it’s “really cool to see the other side of it” now that he’s helping to keep kids connected to camp. He said he was always the kid at Winter Blitz who would come up to the table and ask the summer camp counselor, “Do you remember me?” (Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t.)

Phelps and Koerner, both juniors at Lindsey Wilson College, are close friends as well as camp co-workers. Phelps said this was her second Winter Blitz and she loves it. Koerner agreed, “It was a recharge weekend, for sure.” (Koerner shared her story of being called to youth ministry in last year’s story on Winter Blitz.)

This year’s featured speaker was Rev. Aaron Calhoun, who serves as a church planter and lead pastor of Adventure Church in Tallahassee, Florida. The Asbury Worship Collective from Asbury University provided the music for the second year in a row, and Georgia-based GNTV again handled the media production.

Calhoun’s theme for his sessions was “Called to Follow,” based on Matthew 4:19: “Jesus called out to (Simon and Andrew), ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’”

Calhoun preached several times over the weekend, and Saturday night’s message was heavy on assuring the youth that no matter how lonely and isolated they might feel, they are never alone because Christ is always with them.

“If you don’t hear anything else tonight, hear this: When God gives you a ‘no’ today, he is preparing you for a ‘yes’ tomorrow,” Calhoun said.

Saturday night culminated with an altar call, led by Calhoun and Bishop Fairley. Several dozen youth came forward, including 19 who were responding to a call to ministry and went with Revs. Brad Smart and Shannon Boaz (superintendents in the Kentucky East and Northern Kentucky districts, respectively) into an adjoining room for a time of prayer and blessing.

During his message, Calhoun stressed the importance of being united in the Body of Christ: “When we are divided, it breaks God’s heart.” It was a message that Fairley also touched on during the altar call. In an indirect reference to the current turmoil in The United Methodist Church, he said that people often ask him if he worries about the church. “When I get to Winter Blitz,” Fairley said, “that worry goes away.’

As for future Winter Blitzes? The conference leadership is aware that it will need to continue to adapt to changing attendance and financial landscapes, but the event isn’t going anywhere. Sweeney put it succinctly after this year wrapped up:

“See you next year!”

See our photo gallery from throughout the entire #Winter Blitz 2023 weekend