Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Steubenville Atlanta Brings Teens Together In Faith

By STEPHEN O’KANE, Special To The Bulletin | Published August 16, 2007

As in years past, the Steubenville Atlanta youth conference provided an atmosphere for teens—and adults—to give praise and worship to God in the way they feel called. The event, organized and sponsored by Life Teen, offered upbeat music, inspirational speakers and the ability to experience Jesus in the most holy Eucharist, and urged the attendees to access God’s grace throughout the weekend, all while meeting new people and making new friends.

“All Access” was the theme of this year’s Steubenville Atlanta, which was held July 20-22 at the Gwinnett Civic Center in Duluth. More than 2,700 youth came from different parts of the country, but all for the same reason—to give God glory through his presence in the Eucharist. As the theme song stated, “We come from every corner, we come from afar. We’re on a restless journey seeking to fill our hearts. And we are gathered here together in one place, each needing something different, all longing to see His face.”

The event opened Friday night with a talk by Lisa Epperson, the Eastern regional and international director for Life Teen and the co-founder of “On the Deck,” a ministry for Catholic college students. A time of adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament followed, completing the night’s session with the first chance to experience God through the Eucharist.

“Adoration is probably the one thing the kids look forward to the most,” said Kat Gartung, a group leader who brought teens from St. Luke’s Parish in Smyrna, Tenn. “To see the power of the Holy Spirit work in these kids is just amazing. This is the most rewarding thing I do in my life.”

The teens were then given time to discuss the evening in small groups and also were offered the first of many opportunities to go to confession.

Saturday opened with separate men’s and women’s sessions both entitled “VIP: Value. Integrity. Purity.” John Beaulieu, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and director of youth and young adult outreach at the college, led the men’s session, while Kelly Pease, a young Catholic musician and experienced peer leader who has served as a “Young Apostle,” led the women’s session.

The groups then joined together in the main conference hall for praise and worship. Matt Maher, a contemporary Catholic artist, led the band and the teens with songs such as “Forever and Ever Etc.” and “Sing Like the Saved,” in order to prepare them for the Mass.

Father Tim Hepburn, a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese who has served as Catholic chaplain at Emory University, celebrated the Mass and encouraged the participants again to access the grace of Jesus through the Eucharist.

Following lunch, the teens and their leaders were offered a choice of two sessions: “PR: Personal Relationships” and “Access Denied.”

Epperson led the first session and began with several icebreakers that the attendees visibly enjoyed. She discussed the importance of relationships and how they can be difficult, but said that all are called to experience relationships, and they should mirror one’s relationship with God.

Charlie Cantrell, who has been actively involved in youth ministry for eight years, led the “Access Denied” session, where he addressed several things that might get in the way of one’s relationship with God. He reassured the teens that no matter what, God is always accessible.

Between the afternoon sessions and dinner, Pease performed with her band to an appreciative crowd. She opened up with a cover of John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World To Change,” which was followed by many of her original compositions, including some from her album that is due out next spring.

The Saturday evening session began with a peaceful solo by Maher to set the mood for the session. The soft music led into a skit performed by the Young Apostles, the leadership team for the conference that consists of teens from around the country. The poignant drama depicted the importance of confession and dramatized that no matter how many times people fall into sin, God is always accessible through his gift of forgiveness.

“This week we did a lot of prayer and training and have been working very hard to pray for the conference attendees,” said Ashley Rhodes, a Young Apostle from St. Rose of Lima Parish in Milton, Fla. “I have had a smile on my face the whole time. I’m so proud of our team and everything we have done. We have been inviting the Holy Spirit into everyone and into everything we do. We’ve been giving glory to God all week as we’ve experienced adoration and reconciliation.”

Maher returned to the stage with the band to build on the message that was given in the drama. After a few songs, the music softened, and Maher encouraged the teens to worship God in whatever way they felt comfortable.

A few minutes of soft, instrumental meditation followed, and then one lone voice cried out, “I will not be quiet! Every breath is worth His love!” Another voice joined in with “I love you, Jesus!” Soon the hall was full of youthful voices praising God. The band joined in with a powerful version of “Here I Am To Worship,” and then left the stage so Cantrell could deliver the evening’s talk.

Cantrell expressed how profound the meditation had been and then moved into stories of his life in Louisiana. Paralleling his experiences to the meaning of the weekend—“All Access”—he delighted the crowd with his funny stories and made sure to get his point across: that all have access to God, but many times people do not give God full access to themselves.

The evening ended with a period of adoration, which gave the youth a chance to reflect on everything they had experienced over the weekend as well as time to meet in small groups and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

Sunday featured final men’s and women’s sessions given by Cantrell and Epperson. Praise and worship led by Maher followed, and a closing Mass was celebrated that inspired and encouraged the teens to keep everything they learned in their hearts and to take it back to their families and friends.

Steubenville Atlanta, one of the many Catholic conferences for youth sponsored by Franciscan University each summer, continues to give teens the chance to express their Catholic faith and to experience God with other young men and women from the region and country.

“Steubenville Atlanta is an opportunity for Catholic youth to come together and be a part of the bigger church, while being fed in their Catholic faith,” said Barb Garvin, director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “It centers around eucharistic adoration and the reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, and is a powerful tool for youth that are looking for a charismatic experience of their faith.”