catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 10 :: 2006.05.19 — 2006.06.02


Snapshots of Jubilee

NOTE: Amy is a guest columnist for this issue of catapult.  If you'd be interested in writing a monthly column in this space, please send a writing sample to


I attended my first Jubilee conference in 1985 as a college freshman, and I haven't missed one yet. Every year for more than two decades now, I show up at the Hilton Pittsburgh at the end of February to enjoy the energy of hundreds of college students, many generations of them now, who gather to learn about why it matters that they follow Christ and how it can and should infiltrate every single part of their lives. The focus of Jubilee, which is sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach, is to help college students get a handle on how faith in Jesus Christ should be lived out through their particular fields of study, and ultimately, their vocational choices.

My own experience of Jubilee has changed over the past 21 years, as has the conference itself—not its intention or its focus, but its format and its atmosphere. Here’s what I remember as I flip through my mental Jubilee scrapbook:

February 22, 1985:  "Wait until you see the view!"

We had been crammed into a 15-passenger van for close to two hours and had just merged from I-79 South onto 279 North, toward downtown Pittsburgh. (These were the Dark Ages of the 1980s, in the days of western Pennsylvania before 279 extended north from downtown to Wexford.) As we approached the Fort Pitt Tunnel, our anticipation hit its peak. Throughout the relatively brief journey from Meadville, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, those upperclass students—who had been talking nonstop about something called "Jubilee" since I'd started my freshman year at Allegheny College back in September—continued to prime the pump.

They were right. The nighttime vista of downtown Pittsburgh is breathtaking when it bursts forth as you emerge from that long tunnel. But that was nothing compared to the controlled chaos that greeted this overwhelmed freshman when she stepped through the lobby doors of the Pittsburgh Hilton.

I paid $65 to attend the conference and stay at the Pittsburgh Hilton for the weekend. Having grown up in the surrounding suburbs, downtown Pittsburgh was an exotic land to me—completely unfamiliar and a little bit frightening. (Close to 20 years later, I live six miles from downtown Pittsburgh, and my point of reference—downtown's "true north"—continues to be the Hilton.)

Os Guinness was the keynote speaker. I'd never heard of him, but I remember being impressed by his British accent. The microscopic print in the Jubilee 1985 brochure reminds me that he spoke on the theme of "Mission Impossible?—Christian Calling and the Challenge of Modernity." Huh? (That was my freshman student response me talking there.)

And everything old is new again. The Tom Cruise movies remaking the classic TV show Mission Impossible hadn’t even been conceived then, and I imagine we could invite Dr. Guinness back at any moment to talk on almost the same topic…how about "Christian Calling and the Challenge of Postmodernity"?

For lack of a more relevant Saturday afternoon seminar, I attended the journalism workshop faciliated by Ken Heffner (who now serves as Student Activities Director at Calvin College). I wasn't convinced that I wanted to be a journalist, but as an undeclared English major, this seemed to me a better fit than applied sciences, business, or politics. It was interesting, but still over my head. I was still trying to figure out who I was, what I wanted to study, let alone a vocation—beyond being a student, that is.

I remember squeezing through the crush of people on the mezzanine level of the hotel, waiting what felt like hours for an elevator to my room, dining at McDonald's, and recognizing Becky and Patty—both girls I'd gone to high school with, who were now students at Grove City and Thiel College, respectively. We waved to each other as the current of the crowd carried us off in different directions. I searched frantically for another familiar face.

I can sum up my first-ever Jubilee experience in one word: overwhelming. Several years later, when I was working for the CCO at Gannon University, I unearthed my Jubilee '85 notes and was surprised how thorough and coherent they were, considering how clueless I remember feeling at the time.

February 21, 1986

Back to the Pittsburgh Hilton. This time, I was the one prepping clueless freshmen about the amazing nighttime view of downtown Pittsburgh from the mouth of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Dr. Anthony Campolo was making his second Jubilee appearance (not that I knew this at the time), and like Os Guinness, I'd never heard of him. He spoke on the theme, "The Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Christ." He didn't have a British accent, but he was really, really funny. Mark Heard provided the entertainment. I'd never heard of him either.

And that's all I remember about that.

February 26, 1988

This was my senior year and my fourth consecutive Jubilee conference. An Ocean City Beach Project '87 reunion. Conversations about coming on CCO staff as an intern. Bill Romanowski's farewell "The Heart of Rock and Roll" concert. Bad 80s hair (and I have the pictures to prove it). The student cost to both attend the conference and stay at the Hilton had increased to $70.

This was my best Jubilee conference ever, up to that point—not because of any earth-shattering keynote address or seminar, but because of relationships and connections I'd nurtured over three and a half years. I imagined this must be what heaven would be like—crowds of people worshipping the same God, trying to figure out how to serve Him faithfully in all our lives. This was a major contrast to my feelings of "lostness" at Jubilee '85. Now I belonged. Serious adrenaline high. I didn't want to leave. But I did have a few more clues about my own vocation.

February 28, 1988

Serious adrenalin crash.

Back in my student-slum apartment in Meadville, alone, I watched the closing ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and cried.

February 2006

I'll spare you the play-by-play of the 18 Jubilees I've attended as a CCO staff person. I used to be able to recite the keynote speakers for each year by memory, but I lost that ability more than a decade ago. I'm now more than twice the age of the freshmen who attend Jubilee, and I haven't missed a single conference since 1985.

As a college student, I basked in the fellowship, the worship, and the learning, and I always came away from the Hilton feeling pumped up, inspired to go out and change the world in the name of Jesus. But as I approach my 40th birthday, I’m less inclined to applaud Tony Campolo’s passionate plea to serve the poor, to take up my cross and follow Jesus. This is not because I don’t buy his message. It’s because I do, and I can see how far short I am falling from the life of discipleship Jesus continues to call me into.

I never stop learning from the speakers or reveling in the singing and the worship and the contagious excitement that permeates the Hilton every year on the last weekend of February. Jubilee really is a snapshot of heaven, I think—reunions with old friends, meeting new ones, and learning more about how to be faithful in my life and my work, and how to encourage others to do likewise.

This past February, yet another generation of college students was invited to become active participants in God's Kingdom work—right now, today, on their campuses, and throughout the rest of their lives.

And as I do every year at Jubilee, I thank God (with Paul, in Philippians 1:6) that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

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