The Gatlinburg Convention Center in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was the site for the 2016 Smoky Mountain Jubilee Senior Adult Retreat, held April 26-28, 2016. A registered 1,324 persons age 50 and older, gathered for two nights and a day and a half of fun, fellowship, music, and worship.
The 2016 Jubilee began with a Tuesday night concert featuring comedian/ singer/ songwriter Aaron Wilburn and the renowned Southern Gospel trio, Greater Vision. Bishop James E. Cossey, executive administrator of USA Missions who served as the director of the retreat, opened the Tuesday night session and set the tone for the venue by singing the title song from his new CD, Don’t Hang Your Head and Cry! Cossey challenged the delegates with the words of Solomon, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), saying that “this is a time for laughter and celebration!”
On Wednesday, delegates participated in the 26th annual Senior Parade of Talent as 66 musical presentations were shared and adjudicated, along with 16 creative writing entries, and 47 works of creative art. Patterned after the Church of God Teen Talent program, the musical competition featured senior adults vying in areas such as piano, strings, woodwind, brass, and percussion as well as vocal solos (both male and female categories), vocal ensembles, and choirs (both local church choirs and state choirs). There were a total of 139 talent entries compared to 117 in 2015. A panel of professional musicians, professors of art, and experienced writers comprised the list of adjudicators. Talent delegates represented their individual states or regions, where earlier state/regional competitions had been held to determine state winners to be their representatives in Gatlinburg. Fourteen states or regions were represented in the 2016 Parade of Talent.
For the first time in 22 years, the Jubilee, including the talent competition, had a new emcee. Phillip Looney, Multigenerational Ministries Pastor at Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, replaced Terrell Brinson, who stepped down amid the travel challenges of his position in Church of God World Missions. Looney’s natural humor and vibrant personality gave him instant rapport with the Jubilee delegates.
On Wednesday night, the songs of Ryan Wilson and the Wilson Family Singers from Hiawassee, Georgia, and Janice Hill from Cleveland, Tennessee blessed the delegates. The message of Dr. Wallace J. Sibley also challenged the senior adult delegates to keep their focus on the Lord. He urged them to go home declaring to everyone, “Have you heard the latest? Jesus is the greatest!” Words of commendation for the sermon could be heard throughout the convention center following the service with several saying they had never heard Dr. Sibley preach, and those saying they had never heard him preach better! Prior to the message, Dr. Cossey, on behalf of USA Missions, presented a beautiful redwood plaque to Dr. and Mrs. Sibley in recognition of more than fifty years of leadership to the Pentecostal movement and for their service to the Division of World Evangelization. The delegates honored the Sibleys with a standing ovation.
Thursday morning was the capstone of the event, with the awarding of the plaques to the runners up and winners of the Senior Parade of Talent, and recognition of superlatives: Senior Adult Ministry Couple of the Year, Senior Adult Lay Couple of the Year, Senior Adult Single of the Year, and Senior Adult of the Year. Prior to the event, all local Church of God pastors were given an opportunity to nominate persons to the superlatives, and the selection was made from those submitted by local pastors to their state offices and/or directly to USA Missions. Additionally, a $100 door prize was awarded to the oldest man present (age 93) and to the oldest woman. Two women present were age 92 and only a few weeks apart in age, so a $100 prize was given to each of them. A total of $5,900.00 in door prizes was given away during the retreat in denominations of $25, $50, and $100. At the conclusion of the Thursday session, the grand prize of $500 was given away. Unfortunately, the person holding the winning number had already departed, so the $500 went to the blessed owner of the second number drawn. Church of God State/Regional Offices and local churches donated all the door prize money and the Church of God Foundation, Dr. Clayton Watson, president, gave the $500 grand prize.
Just before the conclusion of the retreat, because it is the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Vietnam conflict, Dr. Cossey led the delegates in recognizing the Vietnam veterans who were in attendance. A suggestion made by Mr. Ric Metzger, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates (and one of the registrants of the Jubilee), this gesture brought more than 50 men to the front of the auditorium where the congregation sang, “God Bless America.” Dr. Cossey said, “Fifty years ago, you and your comrades came home from an unpopular war, with nobody there to greet you and say thanks. On behalf of the USA Missions Office of the Church of God, and the Smoky Mountain Jubilee…Welcome Home!” The delegates erupted in a tearful standing ovation!
Upon the announcement of the date for the next Jubilee (April 4-6, 2017), and the benediction, the convention center quickly cleared, and more than 1,300 delegates headed back to their respective homes, states, and local churches, with gratitude for a church that would provide its seniors with such an edifying event.
For more information on the Jubilee, contact USA Missions at 423-478-7103 or online at www.usamissions.com.