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CONCERT FEATURES A ROCK OF ANOTHER SORT

Wednesday's United Methodist youth gathering at the Salt Palace Convention Center had all the makings of a memorable rock concert: screaming kids, loud music and an atmosphere that many participants say was, well, divine.

"There's an electricity here tonight at our Opening Worship that can only come from the spirit of the Lord," said Steve, one of some 4,000 teens in Salt Lake City for the four-day Youth '95 conference of the United Methodist Church.Following a rousing 45-minute performance from the Christian rock band Say-So, Bishop Mary Swenson, leader of the Denver Episcopal Area, admonished participants to "Come to the rock of our salvation."

Recalling a recent bike tour along the Oregon Coast, Bishop Swenson said she looked for familiar rocks rising from the ocean to direct her travels.

"The rocks let me know where I was," she said. "The (rocks) gave me a guide and a way to navigate . . . it was something I could count on. You, too, can count on the rock. Jesus is the rock."

Expect an encore performance of Wednesday's Opening Worship as teens gather over the next three nights for song, prayer and dance following a day of workshops and service projects.

Teens came from throughout the United States for the conference, which has as a theme, "Let's Rock! Building up the People of God."

Lucy Mends, 18, of Houston, a member of the Design Committee for Youth '95, is among some 4,000 young people who are gathered for five days of religious, educational, service and social activities.

The conference, she said, offers youths a great chance to come together, to meet others with similar beliefs and to have the time to "worship, to learn and to grow spiritually and emotionally."

Mends, whose family immigrated to Texas in 1982 after a military coup in Ghana, West Africa, said she "hopes to become closer to God, to understand my denomination more and to achieve greater understanding of what it means to be a member of the United Methodist Church."

The Texas teen, who will enroll this fall at Boston's Tufts University, said her church involvement "has taught me to be an advocate for myself and other youths and to be more accepting. The United Methodist Church is very accepting of other people's beliefs. We believe that God gives his grace to every individual."

James Sewell, 15, Salt Lake City, serves on the Christ United Methodist Church Youth Council and is a member of the Wesley Bell Ringers. A junior this fall at Cottonwood High School, Sewell said he was impressed with the number of young people who gathered for spiritual and other renewal.

He said drugs, alcohol and gangs are probably the major problems facing young people today. Hopefully, the conference will help steer them away from these activities and the tendency that some have toward premarital sex. Also, the conference should help to increase their awareness of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, Sewell said.

Michelle Wirth, 17, Littleton, Colo., also a member of the Design Team, said she is excited to get to know so many Methodist youths who come from different backgrounds and cultures.

"We have a lot of differences, but we are all similar because of our faith," said Wirth, adding that she and others at the conference are eager to participate in service projects while in Salt Lake City.

Sewell said he might have the chance to join in a building project sponsored by Habitat for Humanity.