Finding Jesus in a Circle Pit

A few years ago after a church service a Jr. High School Student came up to me and begged me to take him with me to the Cornerstone Music Festival in Bushnell, IL. I had only been a pastor on Hilton Head Island for about six months and had been convinced by some willing students and a parent that we should make the 16 hour trek, a journey I had made twice before in shorter duration, when I was serving in Ohio. This particular rising ninth grader seemed curious to me though because he wasn’t a professing Christian and he was practically begging me to let him go on this trip to a Christian Music Festival.

To clarify the curiosity a bit more, the student in question had recently been forced by his parents to partake in our church’s confirmation class. When supplied with a brief introductory questionnaire he wrote that he was “an atheist” who “talks about atheist stuff with his atheist friends”. Yet still, on his own volition, this kid approached me and pleaded with me – almost in desperation to let him go.

As a point of reference, I normally don’t allow kids to go on trips like this until they are rising sophomores. There are a lot of reasons behind such thinking but the main one consists of the fact that students have a lot of freedom these trips – and a lot of freedom can quickly lead to a lot of trouble. So, normally I like to make sure that I really know the youth that are going. Of course sometimes there are exceptions to the rules. As it turns out this was one of them.

I required a sit down with the student and his parents. It was understood that one misstep and he would quickly be put on a plane in Peoria and flown home at the parents expense. All was agreed to.

My only stipulation for my campers that year was that they had to attend the midnight concert of Flatfoot 56, a Celtic Punk Rock Band. This may seem like a weird mandate but what I knew about Flatfoot is that they always, smack dab in the middle of their show, make a time to proclaim the Gospel. Amid the bagpipes, pushing, circle pits, crowd surfing, and wild antics – the Spirit of God lives and breathes Jesus Christ. And since my youth were all from hoity-toity Hilton Head, I figured a good ole’ Christian ruckus might be just what they need to change their perspective on the vast reaches of the Kingdom of God.

As it so happens though some of the other kids camping with us came back to the camp one night and said that Flatfoot was playing an early evening show also that had just started. Intrigued, I dragged the rising freshman along and we showed up just as things were getting started. All of maybe 120lbs, the student looked wide eyed into a swirling sea of bodies that had engulfed the large space under the giant circus striped tent that housed the stage. I looked over at the student and said “are you ready for this?” – In a flash he was gone… into the circling crowd.

I didn’t see him again until about five minutes later when lo and behold I see him leaping off of the stage into the arms of the crowd below – which proceeded to pass him back above their heads to who knows where. That was the last that I saw of him until after the concert.

When I finally saw him again, he seemed to come out of no-where. Anyone could tell though that he had been in the heart of the pit that night. He was barefoot, missing his shirt and asking me in an exhilarated tone if I could help him find his shoes because he “thought that they might be under the stage somewhere”. Yeah, it was pretty much as crazy as it sounds.

But as we searched for his shoes the lead singer of Flatfoot, Tobin Bawinkel, spent a few moments talking with this student and I after the concert – and he reiterated the message of Jesus’ Love that he had conveyed earlier in the concert and took the time to pray for us both. That night in the circle pit and in the moments sitting on the end of that stage – a young man’s eyes were opened and his heart began to turn toward the Lord.

To say that that is all there is to the story would be foolish, for there were certainly other factors at play in the student’s life that summer – but there wasn’t any doubt in anyone’s mind that that circle pit and the time following the concert was where the spark was ignited.

The youth was later confirmed that next fall and has been an active part of our Youth Group since. This isn’t to say that he’ll never have ups and downs in his walk or that somehow he now knows all he needs to. It does show me though that sometimes those who we think least likely to hear the Gospel are simply in need of a different perspective of the grandeur of God. For some that glimpse comes through the sound of an organ and the reflection of stained glass, for others it comes from the wail of bagpipes and fists raised high… Regardless, we should be mindful that the Spirit of God is not confined to pews and steeples – it breathes life wherever God’s people are gathered together – in this instance – it was in the midst of a Flatfoot 56 circle pit. Epic.