Youth Gathering Blog

citizens with the saints – 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering

YG Director’s Blog.July,2011: Will the Gathering be different than 2009?

Posted on June 28, 2011 by heidi

One of the Gathering synod coordinators recently passed along questions that she has been receiving from congregations trying to decide if they are going to invest in the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering. Questions like, “Will the stage in the Superdome be different?” and “Will there be a well-known speaker this time?” made me wonder how we can help young people think about how their perspective on the world leads to these kinds of questions.

 Is it just me, or does anyone else think those kinds of questions come out of a consumerist approach to the Gathering? Don’t get me wrong; I understand that attending the ELCA Youth Gathering is a substantial investment for youth, their families and congregations, so questions of value should be asked. Alongside those questions, though, I think we have an opportunity to invite young people to ponder questions that help them determine if they are hoping to be overwhelmed by the stage in the Superdome or filled with the Holy Spirit present in the gathered community of the faithful?

 That raises a question for me about how some North American Lutherans approach participation in church in general. Many of us who attend congregations where there are multiple pastors and/or musicians, make decisions about attendance on Sunday morning based on who is preaching or on what choir/group is leading music. There is nothing wrong with personal preferences per se, but what if we went to church on Sunday being open to being encountered by the Holy Spirit in whatever form that may take? What do we lose spiritually when we make worship about us and our preferences?

 At the Gathering we are always open to who God may provide to proclaim the word in our midst. The word may come to us from the witness of a celebrity or an undocumented immigrant; from a published ELCA pastor or a Baptist lay person. I wonder if adult leaders could use the question of desiring a known vs. unknown speaker to ponder what it was like for people to listen to the young kid from Nazareth born out of wedlock when he stood in the midst of elders in the temple saying he was the son of God, or when the King of the Jews made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a stinky donkey and not in a stretch limo flanked by security guards. Would we think God duped us because the path God’s son followed was a path of randomly strewn branches and not a red carpet?

 The Gathering is an impressive ministry to behold, yet those of us called to care for this ministry also strive to be good stewards of the resources participants invest in it. For that reason, the stage in the Superdome will be different, but the structure will utilize the same footprint. Saving money by not having to redraw the rigging plot or reconfigure staging or order new drapery allows us to be better stewards and put our energy and resources into other areas of this Gathering. We are trying to strike a balance between the “wow factor” of the Gathering’s productions in the Superdome and creating justice experiences that connect youth and adult participants with New Orleanians who need to know God’s people are still there for them.

 Am I a fuddy duddy for hoping that all of us can see beyond the fog of consumerism that prevents us from recognizing the things that really bring us closer to God? Am I out of touch with what teenagers need to feel connected to God? Am I resisting some kind of generational change in some way? Those are questions with which I invite you to help me wrestle in the comments section below.

 I feel strongly about helping people, myself included, discern what is of the Spirit and what isn’t; what draws us closer to God and what turns us in on ourselves. If having a glitzy, technically cutting-edge stage, the hottest band, and the hippest celebrity speaker helps us worship the eternal God and bear fruit in the world, then we keep them. If those things lead to narcissism or to an obsession with having the best, most impressive, revolutionary stuff, then we need to loosen our grip or even let go of them completely.

YG Director’s Blog, June, 2011:Why are be going back to NOLA?

Posted on June 1, 2011 by heidi

Why are we going back to New Orleans? I can’t tell you how many timespeople have asked me that question. The first few times I answered, Ihave to admit I did it with a bit of an attitude, a kind of hand-on-one-hip “why wouldn’t we?” response. And every time – yes, every time – if the person asking had been to New Orleans for the2009 ELCA Youth Gathering they had their own long list of reasons why weshould go back. They just wanted to hear my reasons. That’s easy.

  1. Because it’s the right thing to do.
    God calls us to accompany God’s people. Just as we are the desire of God’s love, so too, by the grace of God, we love our neighbors. And who doesn’t respond when a neighbor is in need? Some New Orleanians have found their bearings since Katrina, but mostly those are white people who have access to resources and power. New Orleans still has a disproportionately high level of people of color living in poverty, people whose voices remain unheard, children who deserve a good education, and parents and grandparents who need sustainable employment. Until all people have adequate housing and are food secure, God’s people can’t rest.
  2. This is a golden moment in time.
    I believe we have been given an opportunity to capitalize on a moment in time to teach young people an enduring lesson of faith, the difference between charity and justice. When we were there in 2009, New Orleans needed us to focus on immediate needs so we provided direct service. In 2012, our focus will be on the root causes of the problems to help create the world Jesus promised. Will groups still participate in service projects? Yes, but there will be an intentional added component of reflection on the systemic issues that trap people in poverty, or that threaten the environment or that ignite violence in youth.
  3. Because we were invited.
    New Orleans is known for its hospitality and its food. In 2009 we were invited to the dining room table and were served up a huge New Orleans welcome. In 2012, we are being invited back, and this time we’re welcome into the kitchen where the family gathers. People still talk about those orange t-shirts that invaded the city in July, 2009. ELCA youth are equated with love and kindness in New Orleans. They have embraced us like members of their extended family. What family member wouldn’t accept an invitation to dinner?

Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together. (Ephesians 2:14-20 – Gathering Paraphrase)