More than 100 balloons fly through the air in Seattle Pacific University’s Upper Gwinn Commons. Orange, red, blue, and black, they’re batted around by youth ministry leaders from around the Pacific Northwest — all ages, many in their 20s. You’ve just walked in on a game called balloon hockey.
This is Open Seattle: a gathering of 144 youth ministers and leaders from Seattle, Eastern Washington, Idaho, British Columbia, and beyond. An “open-source” conference, no paid speakers have been brought in. Instead, each session is led by a conference attendee. Everyone is an expert and can contribute ideas.
“Anybody could come and share and have a platform,” says Morgan Schmidt, a Seattle-area youth pastor and the founder of an ecumenical student ministry called Youth Collective.
Schmidt was one of 10 speakers leading 40-minute breakout sessions throughout the October 26, 2013, event hosted by SPU and youth ministry organization Youth Cartel. Topics included the media’s over-sexualizing of women and its effect on teens, and how best to help a young person who is struggling with doubts about the Christian faith. During a session on “hot topics,” the group discussed issues such as marijuana and homosexuality.
“We thought carefully, rigorously, academically, and culturally about ministry,” says Michael Langford, assistant professor of theology, discipleship, and ministry at Seattle Pacific. With so much asked of them, Langford says, youth leaders don’t get the chance to think in this way on a day-to-day basis.
Conference participants came from many denominations and backgrounds, says Tony Vasinda, a youth minister at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Edmonds. This diversity of Christian traditions was one of his favorite parts of the conference. “We all came out to do this together.”
This was the second-ever Open Seattle; the first was held at SPU in 2012. Since Open Seattle 2013, Youth Cartel has gone on to host more events — including Open Boston and Open Paris.