Youth Gathering Blog

citizens with the saints – 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering

More Reactions from New Orleanians

Posted on August 4, 2009 by posted an article on the reactions of the people of New Orleans to what the JJJ09 youth brought there.  An excerpt:

We’re humbled. Humbled at their generosity. Humbled at the sight of so many young people traveling so far to do so much hard work during their summer vacation. Humbled that the “Katrina fatigue” felt by so many Americans was replaced, for a few days, with an enthusiasm even some of us find hard to muster some days. Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, these excited young volunteers were an inspiration, and just one of them accomplished more good than all the preachers and politicians in the world who saw Katrina as either perverse justice or crass opportunity.

Here’s the full article.

(Thanks to Carrie Draeger for bringing this to my attention!)

Winding down? Not Just Yet…

Posted on August 3, 2009 by

As far as I can tell, just about everyone is home from the Youth Gathering by now, but that doesn’t mean the experience is over.  For one thing, the ELCA’s Gathering website makes it easy to catch up on everything that happened in New Orleans, as pictures and videos from JJJ09 are still being added.

Speaking of which, the window of opportunity is still open for you to add your own pictures and videos to the ELCA’s official JJJ09 online media collection.  If you’ve got pictures you’d like to add to the greater good, send them in an email to with the subject line “jjj09″ and they’ll be added to the collection!

One further note: the Gathering is over, but the Jesus, Justice, Jazz musical tour is still ahead.  Agape, Lost and Found, and Rachel Kurtz will be touring the country from September through February, so take a look at the list of locations to see which one is nearest to you!

LutherTube: Soundbites

Posted on July 27, 2009 by

Courtesy of LutherTube: Soundbites from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

Sunday Worship at the Superdome

Posted on July 26, 2009 by

…is an experience to behold.  Lutheran worship is sometimes considered a restrained event.  Not so in New Orleans.  Sunday worship was as energetic an event as any of the evening mass gatherings earlier in the week, with youth arriving several hours early in an attempt to get a seat on the floor level.

One of the outstanding moments was the morning’s Communion.  Communing with 37,000 Lutherans at once is no mean feat, but the youth volunteers at the Superdome carried it off with grace.  Stations were set up throughout the Dome on the floor and in the balconies to guide thousands of youth, leaders, and volunteers through Communion with remarkable efficiency, distributing bread, wine, and the sign of the cross on foreheads.  Taking communion after a whirlwind time of learning and service in a space where so many once took refuge after Katrina was an awe-inspiring and humbing experience.

New LutherTube videos

Posted on July 26, 2009 by

LutherTube has a burst of new videos available: “Jesus, Buses, and Blisters,” “Welcome to JusticeTown,” “Interaction Center Fun,” and “Joe Brown Park Cleanup.”

Click “Continue Reading” below to see them, or peruse the whole gallery.

Reflections on Service

Posted on July 26, 2009 by

Thousands of young Lutherans are doing good in the New Orleans community.  Here’s what a few of them had to say after their time serving New Orleanians (namely, working up a dripping sweat doing manual labor for hours on a muggy, 97-degree bayou morning):

ServantLife: Making a Difference

Posted on July 25, 2009 by


Friday was the second day of the ServantLife events–JJJ youth going out into the New Orleans community to help out in countless different ways.  Ms. Pitts, a resident of the Lower 9th Ward, spoke with me yesterday about the impact of just one of the many service-minded groups: “Since we got back here in ’06…we’ve been, you know, trying to get our house together and everything.  And by the grace of God we’re getting everything together, and hopefully we’ll finish soon.”

This house was a part of a broad field of largely empty lots.  Youth Gathering participants spent a muggy morning gathering 4-year-old Katrina refuse that still remains scattered across the Lower 9th Ward, as well as bringing the waist-height grasses under control.

“They’re helping us out tremendously.  They’re picking up a lot of the debris that [was] around, and they’re cutting the grass.  They’re helping us out–that’s all I can say.  It’s been a blessing, and I thank them so very much,” Pitts added.

How do the youth feel about the task they were given?

“We’re cleaning up so the city doesn’t take these peoples’ land away from them.  They say they’re wanting to make this into big warehouses and stuff.  We’re trying to get people back to their homes.”

“It’s hot, but, I mean, it’s good work.  Good to know that you’re doing something to help other people, and it makes you feel good.


Posted on July 25, 2009 by

This afternoon, I was handed the following letter from the St. Bernard Parish President.  (St. Bernard Parish, just southest of New Orleans, still displays the devastating effects of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.)

Dear Orange-Shirt Brigade (Youth Volunteers),

I wanted to take a quick moment to welcome you to St. Bernard Parish and to let you know how much we as citizens of this great community appreciate you giving of yourself to assist us in rebuilding our community.

As you arrive at your various work sites, it may seem as though there is less need for help than one may have thought but keep in mind that we have a long way to go to recover our community to pre August 29, 2005 status.  Your efforts today will help more than you know and the true value of your time and energy is your gift of allowing our community to take another step toward uniting and reuniting families, friends, and neighbors.

I do offer one specific challenge to you.  our recovery has been divinely inspired over the last almost four years and the blessing is that the presence of Christ has been overwhelming since Hurricane Katrina.  As you go about your good wo0rks this week, I challenge you to find Christ in the activity that you do and the places and people you encounter- Your time as a volunteer may just turn into something that only He can make happen.

Thanks again for your partnership and God Bless you.


Craig P. Taffaro, Jr.

St. Bernard Parish President

Free hugs…?

Posted on July 25, 2009 by

The Youth Gathering has given rise to a number of traditions.  For example, every prayer session, from the Dome on down to ServantLife blessings, begins with “The Lord be with you,” “And also with you.”  But not all of the traditions are so formal.

A certain fad has been circulating for quite some time in public places worldwide: “Free hugs.”  The Free Hugs Campaign has apparently made its way to the Youth Gathering, as evidenced by fairly common handmade signs.

As of Friday, free hugs were no longer on the cutting edge: some Gathering participants have begun offering “Deluxe Hugs” for $1.  Shrewd marketing, but no word yet on what makes a “deluxe” hug.

High-fives between JJJ attendees–particularly as an introduction or between those who don’t know each other–are also common.

And just this morning, I met a JJJ volunteer on a smile campaign–asking everyone in sight to “give him a smile” and rewarding them with high-fives.  It made for a good way to add a little optimism to a roomful of JJJ youth still clearing the sleep out of their eyes.  (What little sleep they got, that is.)

Servants’ Departure

Posted on July 24, 2009 by

Lutheran youth have been pouring by the thousands into ServantLife projects throughout the city.  Listen to their thoughts on service as they go out to do God’s work with their hands: