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Why “Created to Be?”

A message from the Director of the ELCA Youth Gathering, Deacon Tammy Jones West– 

I have been a part of many theme discernment spaces for synodical events, but this was my first time bringing together young people from around this church to discern a theme for an event that is two plus years away. What might be relevant at that time? How might the theme speak to the young people attending the event?

In the room were four youth, four young adults, and two adults. It was a diverse group, and it was pure joy to watch them wrestle with the task at hand. We started in prayer followed by conversations about past themes and time delving into the texts from our host synod, the Gulf Coast Synod, around their core values: Following Jesus, Walking Together, Making Disciples, Speaking the Truth in Love, Maturing Theologically, Growing Passionate Leadership, Welcoming Everyone, and Accompanying the Poor.

We also spent time telling our truths.

  • God, I don’t understand _____.
  • God, please fix _____.
  • God, I trust you with my future even if _____.
  • God, I will praise you even when _____.

(Taken from The Innovative Church by the Rev. Dr. Scott Cormode)

The group spent time together generating ideas and then in prayer time alone. They spent time with the question – what do we want youth to leave the city of New Orleans knowing about themselves and God?

We talked a lot about a tapestry of gifts, hurts, harm, grace, and love.

This theme just felt right. We loved the ability to pick daily themes around ways we are created— brave, authentic, free, disruptive, and disciples. Our hope is that every person that engages with this ministry will be able to walk away knowing that they were created by the Holy One to be themselves.

We can’t wait to explore this theme deeper in resources and stories over the next year and a half. We invite you to join us!


Meet Ed


Hello Gathering community! My name is Ed Kay, and I have the privilege of serving as the team leader for the Curriculum Team for the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering. This is a new team for this cycle, and it a project-based team, focusing on several important areas of the work of the Gathering:

  • We helped to edit the latest version of the The Official Gathering Handbook: Tips & Tricks for Adult Leaders, a resource filled with helpful resources and guidance for having an amazing Gathering experience. 
  • We developed a resource of Getting Ready Materials (launching June 22), a series of 10 sessions for groups to use to form and prepare their group for Minneapolis. There are sessions to use each month in the school year leading up to the Gathering, which can also be organized to use in a retreat format or other gatherings with lots of church groups. Be creative in how you use them, but makes sure you don’t overlook this important time. There will also be a group of sessions to use as your group comes back home in August, 2022 to process and share your Gathering experience.
  • We are preparing the Final 15 materials, which is how your group will debrief and process your daily experience at the end of each day.
  • During the Gathering on your Interactive Learning Day, all Gathering participants will get to experience an immersion into the daily themes and Scriptures of the Gathering. We’re calling it Voyage, and it will be sure to be a highlight of your Gathering experience! Filled with music, video, fun, and meaningful engagement, you will get to experience that day’s focus in a whole new way. This is also going to be live-streamed, so your community at home can experience it as well.

I am so excited for this Gathering, and for the work of the team I get to lead. We are working hard to help you prepare your group so you have the best experience possible, and so your time in Minneapolis will be all that it could possibly be. 


Ed Kay is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), serving at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lutherville, MD; he is also the team leader for the Curriculum Team for the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering. Ed makes his home with 2 amazing children, a greyhound, and a cantankerous cat.



Meet Tom


The ELCA Youth Gathering is like nothing else I have ever experienced. I have had the honor of walking alongside young people for over 43 years, including 35 years full time at Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino, CA.  We have always had a big emphasis on service and inclusion and the Gatherings have always been a large part of our rhythm.

Our youth group motto is “to provide a place where youth are loved and accepted with Jesus as our example.” While we are not very ethnically diverse, we celebrate a great diversity of gender identity and sexuality. We continue to encourage our congregation to be more actively inviting. My prayer has always been to have each Gathering participant understand that the Gathering would be incomplete without them.

For the 2022 Gathering, I have the privilege of serving as the team leader for the Tech and Talent team. This team manages all of the AV & IT needs throughout our venues in Minneapolis. We also manage all of the musical “talent” in all venues and in partnership with the Mass Gathering team. We have about 12 key team members and work with every other Gathering planning team.

The entire team is made up of servants who breathe hospitality and who are very competent at their tasks. We also really value and advocate for youth leadership from all of our stages and venues. 

This cycle we are hopeful about building the Gathering’s relationship with the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE). One way we hope to accomplish this is by having the MYLE house band be the host for our premier talent stage in the Minneapolis Convention Center. We are excited about creating a space where all truly feel welcome and that they belong.

Next summer promises to be a great Gathering and we are excited to discover all that Minneapolis has to offer alongside you. 

Tom Hoegel has been involved with youth ministry for 43 years. He currently serves as a Youth Director at Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino, CA. He is passionate about helping people live their dreams and is a firm believer that “grace wins!”


Meet Jennifer


Voluntold – the first time I heard this word was over 4 years ago.  Voluntold – to be told by someone else to volunteer for something, in other words, not volunteering on your own.  While being voluntold to do something may happen a lot in life, Gathering volunteers serve, not because someone else voluntold them to but because they want to.

I have the honor of serving as the Team Leader for the Volunteers Team for the 2022 Gathering. I, along with the other leadership of the team, work with and train hundreds of volunteers to serve alongside participants, members of other Gathering Teams, ministry partners, and hotels. 

Volunteers serve at the Gathering because they want to, giving their time and energy to live out their faith in unique ways throughout most of the areas of the Gathering. Many volunteers were past participants or adult leaders of congregational groups and many seek to volunteer at more than one Gathering. They are servants at heart and they believe in the ministry of the Gathering and want to be a part of it. Gathering volunteers serve because they want to, not because they are told to.

The 2022 Volunteers Team is responsible for gathering volunteers to serve as Gathering Volunteer Corps (GVC) and Local Volunteers. Our volunteers serve in a variety of capacities and they need to be flexible to the changing needs of the Gathering.  If you are interested in applying to be a part of the Gathering Volunteer Corps or a Local Volunteer, please apply by visiting the Gathering’s website between May 22 – July 22, 2021. To learn more about these two volunteer opportunities as well as our Servant Companion program for young adult volunteers, visit:

 Jennifer Schultz is a pastor in southern California. This is the 3rd Gathering she has served on Gathering leadership. In 2015, she was Co-Team Leader and then served as the sole team leader in 2018 for Volunteers. She is super excited to have the Gathering in Minnesota, her home state! 



Let’s make powerful memories together.


“I am somebody!”  As a teenager at the 1979 Lutheran Youth Gathering in Kansas City, I had front row seats to hear Rev. Jesse Jackson lead us in his call and response of empowerment. (Trying to get front row seats is a longtime Youth Gathering tradition!) Then my world was rocked when I heard an African-American teenage girl sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Such powerful memories that stick with me even today. “The hymn is known as the Black National Anthem, but it’s more than that. It’s a history lesson, a rallying cry, a pledge of unity, and as people gather to fight for equality and justice, it is an ever-present refrain.”

Fast forward to the 2000 Gathering in St. Louis, I attended as an adult leader. We listened to Archbishop Desmond Tutu say “thank you” to US Lutherans and the rest of the world for standing with the oppressed in South Africa to end the apartheid. Twenty years earlier as a college student, my friends and I tried to get Concordia College to divest in companies doing business with the white South African government. Our little group of activists failed. And then, two decades later, at the Gathering, tears roll down my face when I hear “Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you” from Archbishop Tutu. Lesson learned: the larger church can be a powerful force. 

Are you excited to join us at the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering in Minneapolis? I hope so. Please don’t miss this opportunity to deepen your walk with Jesus and learn about your church and the world. You get to make memories with thousands of your new friends from across the ELCA! 

Let’s make some powerful memories together in Minneapolis.

Pastor John Hulden serves as the Assistant to the Bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod. He’s attended the Gathering as a youth, adult leader, pastor and currently serves on the Synod Day planning team. He’s super excited about Synod Day being hosted in local congregations this cycle!


Meet Jess


Hi everyone!  I’m Jessica Liles and I serve as the Faith Formation and Education Director at The Neighborhood Church in Bentonville, AR. I recently was ordained as a Deacon in the ELCA! My husband and I planted this church in 2012 and have watched it grow and move by the work of God and God’s people. When we aren’t busy at church, we enjoy spending time with our kiddos, Caylee and Landen going on hikes, playing sports and traveling.

My first experience at the Youth Gathering was in 2009, when I brought a group of high school students from Wartburg Theological Seminary’s program WYLS (Wartburg Youth Leadership School) to help lead a portion of Interactive Learning. I have also had the honor of serving on the Interactive Learning team in 2012, 2015 and 2018 in a variety of different roles. For the 2022 Youth Gathering, I’m excited to serve as Team Leader for Interactive Learning. 

The Interactive Learning team is working hard to provide a variety of activities where participants can express their faith in action. We are working to have our partners intentionally engage with the daily themes in their activities. One of my favorite things about Interactive Learning is having a space for young people to learn what our church is up to in the world and how they can get involved to grow in their faith and to make a difference. What are you looking forward to learning about during your time in Interactive Learning? 

We are so excited for you and your congregation to join us in Minneapolis in 2022 to discover what God will reveal!



Make Yourself Heard.


Similar to how God brought Jonah to Nineveh, I felt dragged to the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. I loved church, but doubted whether the ELCA was right for me. I was one of the only young Lutherans regularly active in my congregation and community. Older members dominated the conversation. Could I be a leader in this church?

The worship, speakers, and people that I experienced that week forever transformed my life. Jesus was present in every moment. Young people are not an afterthought in the Church. We are the Church here and now. The week’s theme “Rise Up Together” became a call to action in my life and completely changed my perspective.

Upon returning home, I claimed my faith as my own. I started reading my Bible more and doing what I could to keep that flame of the Holy Spirit from the Gathering burning in my heart. When seats came open on my congregation’s council, I was encouraged to run for one – and I won. I was the youngest person ever elected. All of the sudden, my voice and those of my young friends were heard on all issues – not just those related to youth. God equipped me and surrounded me with wonderful people as I grew as a leader and child of God.

I eventually got the opportunity to go to an ELCA Youth Leadership Summit and then to the 2018 Gathering. I now attend an ELCA college and am a leader in our campus ministry. I’m also involved in the ELCA Young Adults Abide program. Church is where your life happens. It is a community that should reflect all people, and that includes young people like you and me. Take and make every opportunity to get involved – you won’t regret it. God will guide your every step. The Church isn’t the Church without you and your voice. Make yourself heard.


Ethan Roberts is a junior at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He enjoys running, reading, and having fun with friends. He loves experiencing God through the ELCA and all of its ministries!


A boundless God

by: Sophia Behrens

What boundless: God beyond measure means to me is such a powerful feeling that it’s difficult to put into words. To have a God that’s boundless is to have a God that accepts and loves us all, no matter what we look like, who we love, or what we’ve done.

It’s to have a God that fills in all the empty spaces and gives each and every one of us the spiritual gifts we need to work together. And it’s to have a God so incredible that we can’t even list all the ways we see God in our lives, because God’s always just there.

As high school students, having God among us and beyond us is so important because we know there’s an endless love, patting our backs on the difficult days and pushing us beyond our limits on the easy ones. God is here with us now and back home with our families, growing our spiritual gifts through everyday life and allowing us to grow these gifts through experiences that also bring us feelings and love beyond measure such as the Gathering and the ELCA Youth Leadership Summit.


Sophia Behrens is a freshman at Valparasio University. Throughout high school, Sophia was active in the ELCA Youth Core Leadership Team, her home congregation and supporting ELCA World Hunger. Sophia was also a part of the 2021 Theme Discernment team for the ELCA Youth Gathering


A Gathering of Spirit: An Inferno of Action

– Naomi Krizner

Leaving New Orleans and looking back at my most eventful week, I realized the one thing I got most from the experience. I felt this renewed spark in me. Just seeing all those youth come together and focus solely on Christ and take their faith seriously was just a big wow for me. To see the results from all of us coming together just caused my spirit to become an inferno. I realized that youth are actually capable of having an impact on the world. I always had an impression that no one can do anything until they grow up and gain authority. But that is no longer true for me, and I intend to continue to put this in action.


I expected the Gathering to be more textbook oriented, to sit down and over-analyze the Bible. The minute I stepped into the Convention Center, those expectations flew out the window. I mean, you could actually play volleyball and ping pong! Exploring the Convention Center some more, we found there were really cool exhibits about issues that needed attention, like human trafficking, for instance. Reading real stories and seeing statistics just made me want to do something about it. And the evenings at the Superdome were filled with energy and spirit that can only be given by God.

I saw God almost everywhere that week. I saw God in all of the youth who were so willing to put forth their time and efforts towards people they never met. To me that is the real Christian. I saw God in the adults as they had to put up with the unending energy of the youth. I saw God in the speakers as we heard passion in their voices and saw it in their faces. To see God in that many places fortified my faith and pushed me toward devoting more of my life to God.

The Gathering changed me in so many ways. I can walk around with my back straight and say, “I know there’s a God. I know God exists.” I used to think no other young Christian took their faith as seriously as me. Because of that, I was afraid to show it. But now, I know that’s not true.


Naomi is from Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, PA