It was 1971. Apollo 15 was headed for the fourth manned landing on the moon. The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had just been certified, reducing the voting age to 18. President Nixon announced a 90-day freeze on wages, prices, and rents.
That year, Dale Knepper, of York, Pa., attended Brethren National Youth Conference for the first time. The annual event now known as Momentum was held on the campus of Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. It was a highlight of the summer and an opportunity to make friends from around the country.
At age 14, Dale had just finished his first year of high school. He remembers staying at McKee Courts, an old motel that once was located in the center of the island near the Grace campus. “It was a pit,” he remembers.
A year later, his brother, Dave, then a 13-year-old, joined him. He also stayed at McKee Courts. “I slept on a desk,” he recalls.
Since then, Dale has not missed a youth conference and Dave has missed only one. (The brothers are pictured above with their wives, from left to right, Dale, Ginny, Sue, and Dave.)
Both quietly transitioned from student to staff member, taking on varying roles of responsibility. Today, Dale coordinates sound needs during the week, while Dave currently serves, with his wife, Sue, as a dean, taking responsibility for the care and safety of the students who attend the event.
It was a natural progression. Their parents, Dale and Annette, were long-time volunteers at the conference and set the example. (Dale Sr. died in 1994.)
Dale Jr. admits it was easy to follow their pattern. “I never thought about it,” he says, noting that he also watched his parent’s involvement with the district Northern Atlantic camp. “This is what adults do.”
The brothers have seen numerous changes in the conference, including an increase in enrollment from 500 in the early ‘70s to a high of 2,600 in 2005. The tools have also changed. “We were showing 16mm films then,” remembers Dale, who started working at the sound board while he was a student.
But the message has always been the same.
Dave remembers morning Bible challenges in McClain Hall that were led by Grace Brethren missionaries and pastors like Don Hocking and Charles Lawson Sr. Evening sessions were held jointly with the adult conference, that was meeting over the hill at Rodeheaver Auditorium during the same week. (The two conferences are now held on two different, but consecutive weeks.)
“There was always a challenge – what are you doing with your life? It’s the same kind of challenge we are hearing today.”
The conference has been a centerpiece in their lives. Dale readily admits that much of the practical experience he has gained through the years at youth conference has been on-the-job training that translated to his professional life. He holds a degree in engineering and is the facilities coordinator for a school system in York.
Both men met their respective spouses at the conference. In 1981, Dale met Ginny Torian, although he says he’d talked with her on the phone previously. Dave met Sue Hays in 1982. Today, Dale and Ginny have a daughter who recently finished the 8th grade. She has accompanied her folks to youth conference nearly every year. “She couldn’t wait until she was old enough to be a ‘kid’ here,” says Dale.
Dave and Sue’s four children have also been involved. This week, their 20-year-old son is at home working, while their older daughter also is on the Momentum staff, having just finished a summer as an Operation Barnabas leader. Their younger daughters, a senior and a freshman in high school, are participating in the week’s programs.
They also value the significance of the conference.
“It’s the largest gathering in our fellowship (of churches),” stresses Dale. “If our students catch the vision of what it means to be part of a greater fellowship … as a result of being here at youth conference, (then) that means the future of our fellowship.”
“We need to continue to … help each other and work together,” he adds. “Then we can accomplish much more.”
Dave, now a structural engineer at a nuclear power plant, remembers coming from a small youth group. That same group continues to meet without a paid youth pastor at their home church, the Grace Brethren Church of York, Pa. (Dan White, pastor) and Momentum offers programs that might not otherwise be possible in a smaller church.
“This provides a venue where I can be exposed to things that our church could never pull off,” observes Dave, who is the current church moderator at York. He lists programs such as Operation Barnabas and the TIME program, a short term ministry opportunity. “Those are opportunities I would have never gotten if I’d stayed in my local church.”
For more of a walk down the memory lane of Brethren National Youth Conference/Momentum, click here.