I wasn’t going to give time to the rumors that are flying around the church about two pastors who will speak at the Gathering because it gives those spreading such salacious information more press. However, I’ve had to write to enough people who have reached out to us wanting clarification that I thought it would be more efficient to post information to my blog.
As far as I can tell, anxieties have been raised because of allegations that the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber and the Rev. Andrena Ingram, two people who will speak in the Superdome, are bad role models and examples for youth because of the “things they’ve done” in the past and in their congregations. If past actions were the criteria for allowing anyone to proclaim the gospel, I am guessing 98 percent of our clergy, and the rest of us, wouldn’t be eligible.
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber and Pastor Andrena Ingram are two out of several speakers who will be contributing to a carefully crafted, multi-dimensional program designed to inform/form faith in adolescents, focusing on Ephesians 2:11-20. Pastor Nadia has been asked to speak about the radical hospitality that Jesus offers to all people. She will do so by sharing her own story of God’s grace lifting her out of the cycle of addiction and calling her to serve the church as a pastor.
The focus for the first night of the Gathering is to establish the corporate identity of those gathered as a community of people marked by God’s grace, a community into which all are welcome. Pastor Nadia will offer a message of God’s redemption for all people through the lens of God’s saving power in her own life. She will tell ELCA youth about her own experience of God visible in the life she once took for granted, and how, as a forgiven and loved child of God, she now shares her story of the power of God’s grace and mercy with the people she meets each day. Pastor Nadia’s call from God reaches into the gutters and alleys where most would choose not to go. She speaks with the strong conviction of her faith and a refreshing directness in her desire to tell the life-saving story of her Savior, Jesus. Her story is one of hope for what God has done, is doing and will continue to do in the world unfolding around us each day, with the reminder that the message of God in Jesus Christ is for all people, both the saint and the sinner.
On Saturday night, serendipitously while world leaders gather in Washington, D.C., for the International AIDS Conference, Pastor Andrena Ingram will tell the story of her personal experience as an HIV-positive individual who chose to not let her HIV status define her life but instead challenged herself to become all that God dreamed for her life. She will share the message of God’s incredible grace in her own life while at the same time confidently standing on the bedrock of God’s mission of justice for all the people of the world. Pastor Andrena will be the voice that reminds us to speak truth into the world in which we live each day. We will be challenged to look past the color of skin, gender, and the name of a disease, which still carries with it much stigma, to see the incredible image of God brought before each of us in the people we meet each day. Over the years, Pastor Ingram has reached many people in places and situations that are “the road not taken” by most of the church’s focus and attention. And for those concerned, Pastor Ingram WILL NOT be passing out condoms at the Gathering, which is the rumor that seems to have most people alarmed.
There are many components to the Gathering, each of which is deep enough to stand on its own, but I realize that the mass events get the most attention and cause the most anxiety for some people. I take very seriously the fact that when someone speaks to young people in a venue like the Superdome they assume their church is speaking to them. There is no opportunity for response or dialogue in that venue, so it is our commitment to shape the remarks from the stage around the biblical text and theme we are focusing on each night and not a particular issue. The ELCA Youth Gathering is not a legislative event of the church. Its mission is to support adolescent faith formation. I have always understood the Gathering to be a tool that congregations can choose to use as they fulfill the promises they made when baptizing children, which is that they will rear those children in the faith.