Laura Stover is proud of her reputation.
Among the many ways she has served in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the veteran Christian educator is perhaps proudest to be known as the Presbyterian Youth Triennium’s biggest cheerleader.
"Triennium is the best thing our denomination’s got going," Stover said. "I am the best P.R. person for Triennium in the whole church."
Stover, who attended the PC(USA)'s first Triennium as a 19-year old in 1980, has missed the gathering only twice in 30 years.
"I can still remember seeing that article in 1979 announcing the first Presbyterian Youth Triennium," Stover said. "It was right after I had graduated from high school and started nursing school. I was so pumped that there was going to be this gathering for 15 to 19 year olds that I could hardly wait."
The Presbyterian Youth Triennium — which last month brought together some 5,000 high school-aged youth at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. — is an event co-sponsored and held every three years by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Churches (CPC and CPCA) to gather Presbyterian and Reformed young people from all over the United States and the world for worship, prayer, play and community. Gina Yeager-Buckley, associate in the General Assembly Mission Council's office of Ministries with Youth, serves as Triennium’s director and administration team leader.
Triennium is supported by funds from the Pentecost Offering, which serves to meet the needs of children at risk, youth, and young adults.
In 1979, as Stover eagerly awaited further details about how she could apply for that first Triennium, she was approached by her home presbytery — the Presbytery of Prospect Hill — to serve as a Youth Advisory Delegate to the General Assembly. Stover, who had never been on an airplane, took a week off from nursing school to fly to Detroit for the 192nd General Assembly (1980) of the former United Presbyterian Church in the USA.
"I fell in love with the church then," she said. "I remember thinking, 'I want to be a part of this. This is my church in action making decisions.'"
Later that summer as Stover boarded a school bus bound for Triennium — with her sister and 18 other youth from the presbytery — to set out on the 17-hour drive from Iowa to Indiana, she already knew that God was at work in her life, redirecting her path.
Along the route, Stover’s bus stopped to pick up youth from North Central Iowa Presbytery. She met "two awesome friends" — Linda Wright Simmons and Margaret Kerr Myers — both of whom went on to pursue church vocations.
"With General Assembly and Youth Triennium all in six months' time, I said, 'God, you are so reshaping my life,'" Stover recalled.
Among the speakers at the 1980 Triennium whose powerful messages changed Stover's life were civil rights leader Andrew Young and the Rev. Joan SalmonCampbell, who in 1989 was elected General Assembly moderator. At closing worship, Stover recalled having an "aha moment" as she prayed with hands open and palms up.
"Margie and Linda and I were all praying, wondering what God was calling us to do," she said. "All three of us were so open, maybe not for the plans we had for our lives, but the plans that God had for us. It really impacted our lives."
Upon returning home, Stover completed her nursing degree and began full time work on a hospital's night shift, which allowed her to pursue further education at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. It was there that she knew she was called to Christian education.
"It was one of the best years of my life, knowing that God was leading me in this new direction," she said.
Since earning her B.A. in Religious Education, Stover has served three congregations, including First Presbyterian Church, Fort Dodge, Iowa — which in 2005 received recognition as one of three exemplary youth ministries in the PC(USA) — where she is currently the director of Christian education.
Not surprisingly, she has sung Triennium’s praises not only to her congregation — which with a delegation of 43 sent the largest congregational group to this year’s Triennium — but to her family as well.
"My family knew their whole lives that I wanted them to have this experience," Stover said. "Because I had my three children all three years apart — all born in Triennium years — they all get to go twice."
2010 was a banner Triennium year for the Stover family. Stover’s daughter Martha, age 21, attended for the third time, son Joel, age 18, counts this year’s event officially as his second — although he did attend in 1992 as a 6-week old baby — and son Andrew, age 14, made this year his first. Stover’s husband Curtis — to whom she has been married for 24 years — has attended Triennium three times as an adult chaperone. This year marked Stover’s fifth time in the role of small group leader.
“In getting my kids pumped for Triennium, the first thing that I noticed was that it became a real team effort to raise money as a group to go to an event like this,” Stover said. “I love that there is this collaborative effort to come together to experience something bigger than what we know in normal life.
I asked my youth to journal their highlights on the bus ride home and every single one of them wants to go back in 3 years. How’s that for a testimony!”
"One In the Spirit" is a monthly e-newsletter from General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine to leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)