Youth Gathering Blog

citizens with the saints – 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering

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)

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!

The hands and feet of faith

Posted on August 2, 2009 by Len Mason

God's Work. Our Hands.

God’s Work. Our Hands.”

And feet.

This is what the hands and feet of some ELCA teens looked like midway through their

service project planting wetlands grasses 75 miles south of New Orleans. The outreach

was part of the 2009 Youth Gathering. Three miles of wetlands can stop water from rising

 a foot, according to Bayou Rebirth, the agency that hosted ELCA youth.  Rebuilding

wetlands is critical to protecting New  Orleans from another devastating hurricane.

God's Work. Our Hands. (And feet)

Doing God’s dirty work

Posted on August 1, 2009 by Len Mason

Taylor, Mackenzie, Alex, Rylee

During the 2009 Youth Gathering in New Orleans, these 16-year-old youth from Holmen, Wis., had one of the messiest service projects — which they embraced with enthusiasm.  They planted wetlands grasses in a muddy area 75 miles south of New Orleans.

Pictured from left to right are: Taylor Pederson, Mackenzie Schriver, Rylee Drugan and Alex Brown. They say getting dirty is all part of doing “God’s Work. Our Hands.”

A change of heart

Posted on August 1, 2009 by Len Mason

PatrickWhen I first met Patrick Allen, he was sitting in a hotel lobby, quiet and unhappy. He’d come to New Orleans for the 2009 Youth Gathering looking forward to helping with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

On work project day, his group was assigned to clear litter and weeds from a neighborhood hit hard by Katrina four years ago. Patrick had hoped to do hands-on work that was more than “cosmetic.”

“I didn’t think it was worth our time and effort,” he told me in the lobby. The 18-year-old from Richmond, Va., felt that he’d somehow let the people of New Orleans down.

After I wrote about Patrick’s disappointment, people from New Orleans posted comments saying the effort had made a difference. They seemed to sense the sincerity of this young man in striving to serve others as Jesus commanded.

One reader wrote: “You have NO IDEA how much a CLEANED LOT, or one gutted house, one slab removed, affects us in our spirit to GO ON, to know that God is there.”

After reflecting more on his experience, Patrick sent these comments along, describing the spiritual transformation that happened for him in New Orleans. Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your thoughts:

“You have been God’s hands”

Posted on August 1, 2009 by Len Mason

Warren and Clarence

Clarence McGee, a wiry man in knee high boots, shoveled dirt with the precision of a cake decorator. In a graveyard where bodies are stacked upon bodies, he had no room for error.

Graves are only four feet deep and dug by hand at Holt Cemetery in New Orleans because the cemetery is at water level. Sweat dripped from McGee’s brow as he struggled to find footing on the sloshy ground.

His co-worker, Warren Ernest, 44, stood ready to relieve him. In the background, dozens of orange-shirted teens from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America busied themselves cleaning the historic African American burial site.

The city owns the cemetery and Ernest was on the maintenance staff for 18 years. After Hurricane Katrina struck four years ago, the city said it wouldn’t maintain the grounds any longer.

Ernest lost his job. He still digs, for a minimal fee.

On this hot, humid July day, he points across the grounds to a pole where an American flag is hanging.

“Over there,” he said. “That used to be my station.”

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.

Gwennyth’s dilemma

Posted on July 27, 2009 by Len Mason

Gwennyth's House

Hurricane Katrina whacked Gwennyth Thomas twice.

First, Katrina washed away or ruined everything in her home. Not a sock or piece of tile could be saved.

Then, as Thomas tried to put her house back together, she fell victim to one of the bad Katrina contractors.

Letting it shine

Posted on July 27, 2009 by Len Mason

SuperdomeThe crowd outside of the Superdome resembled Black Friday.

That’s the phrase used for the day after Thanksgiving. Shoppers crowd outside of malls in the wee hours of the morning for the door-opening bargains.

It was like that Saturday in New Orleans. Masses of Lutheran teens crowded around the doors of the ‘Dome hours before they were scheduled to open.

But the teens weren’t looking for bargains. They were standing in the blazing sun willingly for a chance at the best seats at a program all about Jesus.

“It’s like a concert,” explained Jack Pike, 18, of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Dana Point, Calif. “But it’s much more than that. There’s talks, skits and speakers. The kind of speakers that you want to listen to — who really get you to think about your values.”