Moving Toward Normal: 2022 Vertical Three Conference
By Derek Altom, Vertical Three Director
The 2,237 attendees of the Vertical Three Conference are a big reason Free Will Baptists are moving towards normal. One of the things I enjoyed most during my first convention as Vertical Three director was walking through the Renasant Center and simply watching people. I like to “people watch.”
Perhaps the most significant thing I observed was how normal everything seemed. In 2020, the global pandemic destroyed “normal.” The turn of the calendar to 2021 brought hope of returning to some sense of normalcy. From my perspective, the 2021 Vertical Three Conference was a significant step. To be clear, things are not back to where they were prior to COVID-19, but we are moving in the right direction. We are moving toward normal.
CTS Ministry Expo: A vital part of the Vertical Three Conference is the CTS Ministry Expo. Having to cancel the 2020 expo thwarted the hard work of students across the denomination. However, even though the 2021 CTS Ministry Expo saw a significant decrease from pre-pandemic levels, 1,085 participants competed throughout 592 entries. Things are moving toward normal.
Truth and Peace Student Leadership Conference: According to Truth and Peace Director Allen Pointer, it was 600 days from the selection of the students in the 2021 Truth and Peace Student Leadership Conference to the beginning of the conference. (Students selected in October of 2019 were automatically accepted for 2021 after the 2020 conference was canceled.) However, things began to look normal again as Truth and Peace students opened doors for competition, worked the Vertical Three store, and successfully completed many other tasks necessary for the success of the conference.
All of this occured after ten days of intense leadership training at Randall University. A huge thanks to the dedicated staff of Truth and Peace and to Allen Pointer, who just completed 24 years directing Truth and Peace.
Worship: Each year, the highlight of the Vertical Three Conference is the nightly services. It was a joy to walk from room to room each night and see preschool students, elementary students, upper elementary students, middle school students, and high school students encountering Jesus in age-appropriate ways. I loved watching Katie Greenwood and her preschool team love children the way Jesus does. I loved seeing Johnny Miller and the whole team engage with students in first through third grade with fun activities and biblical truth that will help them encounter who God really is. I loved peeking in and observing Steve Greenwood and the 456 worship team impact students with the gospel in practical ways. The services all seemed very normal, and I could not help but smile.
Throughout the week, middle school and high school students were challenged by dynamic musical worship led by the National Youth Evangelistic Team. This group of talented students set the stage well for speakers David Mizelle, Quinn Norman, Trevor Holden, Victoria Paffile, and Jon Forrest. In each service, you could sense attendees were thrilled to be gathered once again, and things were getting back to normal. You could also sense students making decisions to be “Resolved” like Daniel, the theme of the 2021 conference.
The conference concluded with an evening of laughter as comedian Jonnie W. performed. He kept his audience on the edge of their seats wondering what hysterical thing he would say next.
Conclusion : As I stood in the back of the auditorium on Wednesday evening during the annual missionary service, my eyes filled with tears. It was not because I was sad. Instead, I was filled with joy. I was with family. I was with my Free Will Baptist brothers and sisters again. Things felt normal again.
If 2020 taught us nothing else, let it teach us we should never take things like gathering as a denomination for granted. We should thank the Lord we are moving toward “normal.”