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How in the world do you select a host city? 

Announcing the city of the ELCA Youth Gathering, Multicultural Youth Leadership Event and the tAble is a fun and somewhat interesting task. In this blog post, we’ll give you a behind the scenes look at the process of selecting a city to host this life changing faith formation event in.  

First, cities bid on the event years in advance. We’ve already selected a city to host the 2027 Gathering and we are close for 2030. If that doesn’t instill terror in your planning hearts, think about it.  

  • What might this church look like in 2030? 
  • What will our youth groups look like in 8 years?  
  • How many hotel rooms and ballrooms will we need to contract?
  • What type of venues would best suit our participants?

It’s one of the things that makes us lose sleep over. Why do we need to plan so far in advance, you might be wondering? Really, this isn’t so far in advance to cities. They are consistently planning 10 years out on what groups will come to their city. Gathering leadership selected New Orleans to be the 2024 host city all the way back in 2017. So, in a nutshell, the city isn’t chosen based on need, political leaning or any of the reasons consistently rumored about. It’s impossible to predict what will be happening in our world 5-10 years in advance.  

Next, let’s narrow down the cities that can host the Gathering— sadly, it’s not just any big city. In the most recent cycles, we’ve searched for a city that has a closed stadium or large venue arena in close walking distance to a large convention center. Additionally, places for all of you to sleep (yes, even if it’s just for a few hours a night). It’s a lot of rooms we need—all within a certain distance from our venues. New Orleans is an amazing city to host our event because it’s a walkable city with all our hotel properties close to the convention center or the stadium. Transportation is simplified (and cheaper)—which means we can spend those dollars on exciting programming for you and your young people.  

Some cycles, the number of cities that bid is high and the CVBs (Convention and Visitors Bureau) can offer the moon to get you to sign with them. Sometimes, the hotel rates we are requesting are too low when they could get better rates from business travelers, and cities choose not to bid. It just depends.  

Every cycle we hear something along the lines of “Oh, (insert host city here) needs us. I’m so glad we are going there.” We get the sentiment, however, let’s be clear on one thing— we are not going into the city to fix it. In our five short days in the city, we might inspire others, learn from locals doing great work, give new eyes to a problem, or even pitch in for a short-term win but we go into a city knowing God is already working, already on the ground and we are invited in to watch, learn, listen, pray and maybe get our hands dirty—or not.  

Every Gathering cycle, leadership spends a good chunk of time listening to those in the city before we arrive so that we do more good than harm and hopefully, our young people leave loving a city and its culture, the locals and thinking differently about issues of justice and peace.  

Another thing we often hear is, “Why would we spend our money in that state, etc.?” With contracts and a commitment that our church will show up in these cities 5-10 years in advance, it’s impossible to know what the city or state might be like when the event happens. It’s hard. However, we see it as a chance for us to join with those on the ground in a state that might be hard to serve in and where God might be calling us to advocate on behalf of the least of these.  

Well, that’s a snapshot of what happens 5-10 years leading up to the Gathering. It’s a daunting, yet thrilling task. New Orleans is an amazing place. We look forward to welcoming you in 2024. 

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Behind the curtain…

A message from Deacon Tammy Jones West, 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering Program Director—

First, there is no curtain but for a peek into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the ELCA Youth Gathering, let me start with my first few months on staff.

Let me introduce you to the people who are called to serve this ministry at the Churchwide office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am Deacon Tammy Jones West and I serve as the Program Director for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering. Alongside me is Justin Wilson who was originally hired as communications/social media person but has wowed us all with his ability to step up into so much more. That’s it friends. Justin and I aren’t singing – just the two of us but it’s true – sort of. (Plus, Justin is way too young to even know the line to that song.)

That’s just those of us at the Churchwide office. We plan to hire another staff member to help with registration/housing in the coming months, and soon the Churchwide organization will be searching for the person God is calling to be the next program director to begin planning for 2027 and beyond.

Now, there’s another group of people who you need to know, and we’ll be announcing these individuals shortly, but the group formerly known as Team Leaders, now Directors, are the backbone of this event. Nine people who will build teams, supervise managers, and make the magic happen. What are those roles?

Directors of…

  • Accompaniment
  • Community Life
  • Interactive Learning
  • Logistics
  • Mass Gathering
  • Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE)
  • Gathering Synod Champions
  • the tAble
  • Volunteers

Serving alongside the directors and forming what we call their core team will be managers of…

Safety and Security, Medical, Transportation, Operations, IT, Justice/Advocacy, Service Learning, Cultural Immersion, Bible studies, Tech and Talent, Champion’s Square, Partners, Administration, and more.

That’s not all friends. Once the Gathering lands in New Orleans, implementation teams join the family. That’s 99 additional people, who will help make these teams work and thrive.

One more important group to remember— our volunteers. 415 volunteers give up a week of vacation to serve this ministry and be with our young people as they explore God’s grace and love.

And finally, adult leaders. Those who really make this ministry happen. The planning, praying, fundraising, details, love, and care that adults who bring our young people provide is invaluable. So, it’s just the two of us and thousands more.

Let’s do this friends— we’ll see you in New Orleans!

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New Orleans & the ELCA Youth Gathering

Since the start of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) in 1988, New Orleans has hosted the ELCA Youth Gathering and pre-events three different times. The city has a unique blend of history, culture and beautiful venues that are within walking distance of one another— making it a prime location for the 2024 Gathering.

Emphasizing the Mississippi River and connecting it to our Baptism, River of Life was the theme of the 1997 Gathering. It was a time when less than 40% of the population had a cell phone and none of them were smartphones. Pictures were taken on a camera that then was taken to the store to develop and then later to relive the memories of a time together.

Most notably, under the theme of Jesus, Justice, Jazz in 2009, the Gathering attempted something no other group has ever attempted nor to our knowledge still has— have every attendee participate in a Service Learning experience. It may seem normal now, but at the time it was something that had never been attempted. Heidi Hagstrom, the former Gathering Director said “I think the best words for the Gathering are ‘bearing witness.’ We would love it for young people to come to (New Orleans) and hear stories, learn the history, and discern how God has been present in the disaster that has happened there.” Prior to the 2009 Gathering, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city of New Orleans causing catastrophic damage and at the time was the worse natural disaster to hit the United States.

“Bearing witness means that you need to step into the story of another person, to understand the call to justice and be a part of the need in the city for a long time and witness to that,” Hagstrom said.

When returning home after the Gathering, participants will be asked to share the story of how God is present in New Orleans and look for ways to live like Jesus. The Superdome that hosted Mass Gathering each night had once been a place where people had sought shelter, and some had unfortunately lost their lives just a few years earlier. During worship one evening, Bishop Mike Rinehart of the Texas – Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod declared the Superdome as a sacred space and a place for healing. It was a bold task to provide service projects for that many people, but there was a ton of work that we were called to do to help our neighbors in that moment.

In 2012, we returned under the theme of Citizens with the Saints. After listening to community leaders in the city of New Orleans, participants responded by showing up to learn justice, to walk justice, and then practice justice by being in the community in various ways.

Instead of being called “Service Learning”, this cycle young people went out to “Practice Justice” through literacy camps, neighborhood cleanups, absorbing information about injustices in the city, experiencing unique cultures, painting murals, backyard gardening and more. There was even work that wasn’t finished from 2009, that we were able to finish in 2012. All connected to God‘s restorative work that was ever living and connected with the people of New Orleans. Other daily themes focused around “Practice Discipleship” and “Practice Peacemaking.”

In the evening, participants came together in the Superdome to hear inspirational speakers such as the Rev. Yehiel Curry (now Bishop of Metropolitan Chicago Synod), the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, activist Shane Claiborne, and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee. We also sang and danced to performances from Rachel Kurtz, AGAPE*, as well as many local jazz bands and artists.

The stage is set. We’re headed back in 2024 to listen and learn from our neighbors in New Orleans, to grow in our faith and be inspired to live like Jesus.

A group of faithful young people and adults will soon be gathering to discern a theme for the 2024 Gathering. To help their discernment, we invite you to provide a few suggestions through a Google Form.

Until then, be safe, love your neighbor and live like Jesus.

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I’m just, It’s just…

A message from Tammy Jones West, 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering Program Director—

I’m just, It’s just… 

Hello world. My name is Tammy Jones West. I am a Deacon in this church, from North Carolina, and I am serving as the Program Director for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering. I am honored to have been asked to serve in this way and a little terrified at the responsibility and scope of the work. I also know the impact and importance of this ministry and I will do my best to encourage, support and clear a path for the thousands of volunteers who make this event a reality. 

I’m just overwhelmed by the welcome and support. I want the adults who accompany our young people to this event to be just as overwhelmed – in a good way. Overwhelmed at the privilege it is to walk alongside them as they experience the magnitude of God’s grace, abundance, and love. That is holy ground and adults, you are walking it. As people of faith, you matter in their faith journey. You are there in their laughter, joy, tears, and pain. I am in awe of each of you. That’s why I will stop you if you ever say in my presence – “I’m just a volunteer.” You are so much more.

I hope Betty Lohr never uttered those words because she was so much more than “I’m just”. She took me to my first Gathering at Purdue University under the theme of “Power in the Cross”. She loved me even as a bratty teenager and she is literally why I was involved in youth ministry. She cared and kept taking me to all the events that shaped my friend circle, my world view, and my faith.  

This event happens because of you. Adult leaders, volunteers, and partners make the Gathering more than just an event.  

It’s just a time to widen our perspective on what a Lutheran looks like.  

It’s just a time to be a part of something bigger than ourselves as we learn about partners such as ELCA World Hunger, and so many more. 

It’s just a time to get to know our congregational group and share our lives with one another.  

It’s just a time to worship in new ways and understand that worship might look differently in other places yet it’s still worship. 

It’s just a time to experience scripture differently, shared by different voices, and heard in a new way. 

It’s just a time to go somewhere new, experience a different city, learn about the history and the stories of their people.  

It’s just a Gathering led mostly by volunteers. Full stop – it’s so much more and you are too. Thank you for your ministry and I hope to see you in 2024.  

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