Danika Thiele

Contributing Writer


A crowd of anxious, well-dressed teens gather in Lakeland’s Polk Theatre. They are there for different reasons. Some are there to seek Jesus. Some just came with friends. Whatever the reason, all of them immediately rise to their feet as the music starts.

Slamming and twisting into a repeated melody, it transforms into gospel lyrics. Some teens raise their voice to sing while some stay quiet.

After a few songs, a man wearing a sleeveless hoodie and jeans takes the stage, preaching about Jesus. The crowd goes quiet. Some raise their hands or shout in agreement to what the man says. The conference ends with more song and dance, the teens shaking the floors and walls of the old building.

Southeastern University, well known for its Christ-centered education, held its annual SEU Conference Feb. 10-12 in downtown Lakeland’s Polk Theatre.

The event featured a litany of inspirational speakers in addition to SEU’s Campus Pastor Andrew Gard. Also present was the iTunes’ gospel chart-topping SEU Worship band, bringing the audience to their feet throughout the conference with their religious music. Titled “So All The World Will Know,” the conference was a mixture of praise, worship and song.

“The whole experience was really emotional for me,” Florida Southern College freshman Patrick Schuerger said. “I’m glad I went. The speakers were amazing.”

Schuerger attended the conference on the final day and livestreamed it on Monday.

Speakers touched on subjects that motivated and encouraged their audience of mainly college students. With themes ranging from “how to handle the heat” to “prioritizing your life to be generous,” they incorporated Christian beliefs into everyday experiences, inspiring shouts of faith and many raised hands from the audience members.

“What I got from the conference was deep spiritual thinking,” SEU freshman Andre Morissea said. “It’s about changing who you are in Him…allowing Him to have your entire life: past, present and future. I first went to the event as a part of the filming crew, but it quickly changed every night…it became less about me getting my own glory of filming and more about Jesus.”

Gard is the local pastor and speaker for SEU’s “First Chapel,” a weekly service that takes place every Monday night on Southeastern’s campus. This service is open to the entire Lakeland community, not just SEU students.

According to its iTunes Preview page, First Chapel finds purpose “in seeing Christ formed in those who attend,” helping them to change the lives of the people they come in contact with.

In addition to Gard’s speaking, First Chapel is also made up of the SEU Worship band. Together, Gard and the SEU worship band worked to organize this year’s SEU conference.

“My favorite part was the worship. It was unbelievable, the presence of God felt after being so far from it for such a very long time. It was a divine connection between creation and creator,” Morissea said.

Guest speakers included Chris Hodges, John Gray, Robert Madu and Carl Lentz, who concluded the event the last night.

Lentz, a pastor from New York City, preached about the difference between “going to church” and “being a Christian,” He spoke about the college student’s need to have a relationship with Jesus, inciting various responses from the audience.

Lentz said that he left the crowd eager to help the world and become leaders themselves. He challenged them to do something great.



Photo via http://www.seu.edu/conference/