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Scenes from a Street Car: Created to be Disciples

Saturday, July 20 – Created to Be Disciples

Today was our closing worship for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering, and what a week it has been! This Gathering, filled with deep and meaningful conversations, laughter, and the Spirit’s palpable presence, has truly transformed us all.

Throughout the week, we’ve heard from incredible speakers who each brought something unique and necessary to our hearts. Walking through the streets, engaging in Community Life, and participating in Interactive Learning, I witnessed groups buzzing with excitement and deep reflection. This Gathering, and the vibrant city of New Orleans, have challenged, supported, and inspired us in ways only this experience could.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton captured the essence of our journey during the final morning’s worship. She declared, “We made it! What a week! We’ve learned a lot, we met new people. We’ve learned about how it rains in New Orleans all the time. So now here we are—we’ve been brave, authentic, free, disruptive…and now we’re going to be disciples.”

Bishop Eaton shared the story of the Good Samaritan, reminding us that our neighbors are not just those we choose, but anyone God places in our lives.

She emphasized, “We don’t get to pick and choose who those people are. Those people are whomever God sends to us in our lives—people we might never ever meet.”

Friends, I have to share a story with you about a man, who I now know is named Robert. This is one of those stories that intersects in ways that only the Holy Spirit can orchestrate:

On Friday morning, I was running late to the convention center. As I hurried out of the hotel, I smiled at a man sitting in a wheelchair on the corner of the street. He said something to me, but I didn’t quite hear him. Despite my rush, I felt compelled to stop. This kind man looked at me with caring eyes and asked me to help him put his shirt on. As I helped him, I noticed it was a blue shirt given to him by another group from the Gathering. We exchanged smiles, and I wished him well before continuing on my way.

Later that day, in the Interactive Learning space, I met a group from Christ Lutheran Church in Brenham, TX. When telling me about their Gathering highlights, they shared their own encounter with a man they had met just that morning. Their youth group had stopped to give a man wearing a blue shirt bracelets and pray with him. My eyes widened as Avery continued the story. Their youth leader, Sharon, asked this man his name, and the group prayed for him, leaving with hearts full of God’s love. As they walked away reflecting on their encounter, Stephen shared how he and his group were reminded of Austin Channing Brown’s powerful message from the previous night. Her words about addressing the root of issues rather than trying to change individuals deeply resonated with them. I learned the name of this man in the blue shirt, now adorned with Gathering bracelets, name is Robert.

If this was all there was to the story, it would be remarkable! The connections continued as Sharon sought me out later to tell me more. You see, later in the afternoon, this group from Brenham, TX, learned even more to the story. They encountered Silas, who had handed the man wearing a blue shirt and Gathering bracelets, a cup of water while they were praying for him. Silas, part of the ELCA Advocacy booth, recounted that in his busy morning, he was also late to the convention center. But having been asked for a cup of water, Silas knew helping this man was more important than being on time. And now Silas knows Robert’s name, too. And so do you. 

Pastor Emily Harkins from the Dwelling spoke about the importance of being known by name. “When we truly see one another, then and only then, will we truly see Jesus. See me. See you. See them. See us. See Jesus.” In Robert’s kind eyes and brilliant smile, we all saw Jesus that morning.

This living Good Samaritan story beautifully exemplifies the message Bishop Eaton preached about in closing worship. It’s a testament to how we are called to be disciples, recognizing and loving our neighbors, regardless of our differences. This encounter with Robert brought the teachings of this week to life, demonstrating how we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in our everyday actions. Through the spirit of courage, compassion, and community, we are called to disrupt what is wrong and work for what is right, seeing Jesus in everyone we meet.

This week, we’ve heard powerful stories and testimonies of the Holy Spirit at work. We’ve danced like no one was watching, sang at the top of our lungs, witnessed moving lyrical dances, tasted the rich flavors of New Orleans, and immersed ourselves in its vibrant culture. This past week at MYLE, the tAble, and the Gathering has been life-changing. As Joe Liles told us at the beginning of the week, we are leaving as new people. We are changed, and friends, we ARE!

Now, in the words of Joe:
We must Walk. This. Out. in our own unique ways.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Courage to serve in new places. Walk this out with the Spirit of Conversation to engage with those we’ve never met. Walk this out with the Spirit of Challenge to embrace uncomfortable faith. Walk this out with the Spirit of Curiosity to ask God who you are becoming.

As you leave New Orleans and return home, carry with you the Spirit of bravery, authenticity, freedom, and disruption. Be the disciple God has called you to be.

Until we meet again in 2027 in Minneapolis for our big Lutheran family reunion, remember who you are Created to Be—wHoly and beautifully, loved and beloved.

Weekly Recap Video

See you in Minneapolis, Friends!

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Scenes from a Street Car: Created to be Disruptive

Friday, July 19 – Created to Be Disruptive

Today, the final full day of the Youth Gathering, was a whirlwind of excitement and engagement. Participants immersed themselves in the theme “We are created to be disruptive,” working for justice for all.

The energy was palpable in the Interactive Learning Center as students explored educational exhibits from ELCA ministries and partners. This holy space allowed participants to engage with a variety of learning styles and sensory experiences, from fun activities like the Acolyte Olympiad Relay to the profound lessons of the Disaster Relief Kits.

Rev. Nicolette Peñaranda, Director of Interactive Learning shared, “this year through Interactrive Learning, we really wanted to merge our Created to Be theme with New Orleans culture. Through theme and geography, we hope participants had the opportunity to tap into their own spirituality and see the ways their interests and faith intersect. Our community partners and implementation teams worked incredibly hard to curate spaces that engage different learning styles and promote creative outlets.”

McDonough 35, A second-line marching band disrupted the space mid-day with a lively parade that Gathering Participants participated in. This holy disruption added to the dynamic atmosphere, reflecting New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade culture. Other second-line bands featured this week: Roots of Music and Algiers Charter.

At the Naming Project booth, participants relaxed in the colorful Garden of Eden, receiving sparkle blessings from local Drag Queens. Deacon Ross Murray’s message was clear: everyone is known and loved by God and the church just as they are. At the Civic Life and Faith booth, students were inspired to think about social issues and how their voices can shape the future. A student from San Gabriel Lutheran Church, Alvarado, TX, shared that the experience opened their eyes to the many issues still needing attention and dialogue. Another student learned the importance of crafting statements that genuinely make a difference.

Formation Village offered an interactive game where young people were invited to consider what life might look like after high school. Many students don’t even know that there are so many options to them!

Over at the Lantern Hill booth, students painted ceramic tiles for a new school in Mexico, embracing their creativity and commitment to global education. They also engaged in interactive experiences on migration and disaster response, learning about resilience firsthand. Avery from Christ Lutheran Church, Brenham, TX, beautifully summed up the day’s impact: “Even though we’re here for the Gathering, we’re also making an impact in the world.”

   

Tonight, the final full day of the Youth Gathering, the Arena buzzed with an energy that reflected the profound impact New Orleans had on our youth. Despite a long four days with some groups walking an average of 8-10 miles a day, the participants’ spirits were higher than ever as they sang, danced, and filled the space with a vibrancy that could only be of the Holy Spirit.

Puerto Rican-born, Orlando-based contemporary Christian pop singer Blanca, kicked off the evening with an energetic concert, including songs in Spanish. She debuted her new song “Worthy” and shared her testimony, highlighting the night’s theme of “disruption.” Due to a nationwide disruption in flights, an IT failure almost prevented her keyboard player from being here. However, Sam, the sound tech, stepped in to play the keys like no other, showcasing how disruptions can lead to unexpected blessings.

The speakers tonight were powerful, moving, and genuine as they talked about holy disruption. 

Sally Azar, the first female Palestinian pastor in the Holy Land, shared her remarkable journey from attending the ELCA Youth Gathering as a student in 2012 to addressing 16,000 people at the Smoothie King Arena 12 years later. She said, “To be created to be disruptive means to figure out which rules shouldn’t be rules in the first place…We are not called to follow unjust rules; we are called to disrupt injustice. God created us to be a disruption!” Her powerful words emphasized the importance of challenging unjust rules and working for justice and peace in her country, deeply moving the crowd. She then invited the other Palestinian youth and staff with her on stage, where they received a standing ovation.

Lori Fuller, Pastor of Palms Deaf Church in Palm Coast, Fla., spoke through sign language and an interpreter. She shared her experience of discovering God’s love at age 21 in a deaf church and highlighted the need for inclusive worship. She taught the crowd to sign “I am not a mistake, you are not a mistake,” urging them to help disrupt the notion that there’s only one way to experience God’s love.

ELCA youth Nati, from Ethiopia, shared his powerful testimony about being orphaned, coming to America at age 7, and finding a bridge between his two worlds through soccer. His story highlighted the resilience and connections that can emerge from disruptive moments, showing how he walks between his two homes.

The evening was electric, filled with inspiring music, dance, and messages. As the night concluded, the realization that tomorrow’s worship would be the last gathering sank in. 

Friends, as you leave New Orleans and return to your lives, remember these words from Pastor Sally Azar, “Do not be afraid of God’s calling. You are created to be a disruption: to disrupt what is wrong and to work for what is right: for life, for hope, for justice, for peace.”

 

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Scenes from a Street Car: Created to be Free

Thursday, July 18 – Created to Be Free

Today, over 5k Gathering participants in bright orange shirts launched into the city for “Accompaniment Day,” a day dedicated to walking alongside and supporting the people of New Orleans. Participants engaged with community leaders who are making significant impacts locally and globally. Each project was crafted by local leaders to deepen their missions, highlighting the importance of partnership and continued impact.

Accompaniment involves more than physical tasks; it includes learning about culture, food, and justice-centered work. As we engage in God’s mission, building relationships is essential to proclaiming the Gospel. Participants cleaned parks, painted playgrounds, cleared storm drains, and beautified the New Orleans Women and Children’s Shelter.

Dr. Kristen Contos Krueger, Director of Accompaniment, shared, “I want them to learn that the problems they see in New Orleans are not exclusive to New Orleans. Racism, social justice, and environmental justice are issues everywhere. The experiences here are lessons to take home.”

Some participants attended Color of Grace’s workshop, encouraging youth to be instruments of God’s love and justice. Pastor Aaron from the Southern Ohio Synod expressed his hope for the future. “These young people have the love of Christ and the ability to change the world.” Ian from the Virginia Synod shared his commitment to using his voice for good, saying, “I am created to be bold in a better way to reciprocate God’s love.”

Other students participated on-site with various groups including ELCA Witness in Society. Amy Reumann, ELCA Senior Director for Witness in Society, led discussions on local concerns and the role of public policy in breaking down or reinforcing walls. She inspired students to become advocates, saying, “We can bring the stories of our communities to impact the laws that are passed.”

Some participants worked with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) by supporting CRCL’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program, which collects shells from restaurants and public drop-off sites to build oyster reefs and shoreline habitats. Additional participants engaged with Let’s Be Bigger, a non-profit focused on building relationships for a bigger future. Founder Malik Baloney emphasized the importance of mutual service – aiming to create a bridge between Gathering students and St. James Parish residents. Students learned about the area’s history, engaged with local high school youth, and experienced authentic Louisiana cuisine, including home-cooked jambalaya. Through this cultural learning experience, participants became part of something bigger, gaining new perspectives and understanding a culture different from their own. This experience marked a crucial first step in breaking down barriers and building bridges, inspiring them to foster unity and empathy.

   

Today, miraculously after Accompaniment participants returned from their sites, New Orleans experienced torrential rain and flash floods. Yet, with God’s grace, the rain stopped just in time for participants to head to the Smoothie King Center for the third night of Mass Gathering. The rain did not dampen the spirit of this Lutheran parade as participants entered the arena filled with energy and excitement for the evening.

E-L-C-A 🎉 E-L-C-A 🎉 E-L-C-A 🎉 echoed through the arena as emcees hyped the crowd, who responded with enthusiasm. The arena was alive with the jazzy beats of the “Two Horn Jazz Duo” featuring Ryan Thibodaux on trumpet and Michael Hotstream on saxophone. The House Band and dancers got everyone moving to “Praise the Lord, oh my Soul,” and DJ CJ kept the crowd grooving, even dancing to the Macarena.

We also had the privilege to hear from phenomenal speakers tonight. 

Drew Tucker, executive director of HopeWood Outdoors, spoke about his struggle with an eating disorder and the freedom found in being true to oneself. He encouraged students, saying, “You were created to be free from the burden of being someone else because you were created to be free, fully and wholly yourself.”

Sianna, a young adult speaker, reminded everyone that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Quoting Romans, she emphasized, “Nothing, and I mean nothing, can separate us from the love of God. Our past mistakes, losses, confusion, or even our insecurities. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” She encouraged everyone to embrace their true selves, saying, “Be free, I mean it… BE FREE!”

Austin Channing Brown, author of “I’m Still Here,” delivered a powerful message to students of color, emphasizing their inherent worth. She declared, “People of color, you are not the work. Racial justice is the work.” On a night centered around the theme “Created to Be Free,” her words resonated deeply, highlighting the call to honor human dignity and strive for systemic change. Channing Brown urged us to reframe our thinking, stating, “People who are homeless are not the work. Housing is the work. People who are hungry are not the work. Food insecurity is the work. Those in toxic neighborhoods are not the work. Environmental racism is the work.”

Austin was a tough act to follow, but incoming freshman Jada took the stage tonight with such poise and beautifully delivered a piece that she wrote herself. This 13-year-old was strong and eloquent as her spoken word performance about Jesus’ commitment to justice, calling everyone to “fight for justice with love and care.”

The night ended with Keats Miles-Wallace, who spoke about discovering their true self in college and the freedom of being loved by God as they are. Keats inspired everyone, saying, “God created you to be free. Free to be your truest selves, free to be proud of who you are, free to be weird and different and unique.”

As you go out into this world, remember Keats’ words, “You have the power to help make a world where everyone gets to shine in whatever colors, patterns, or shapes God designed for them. You can make a world where everyone experiences the way God delights in them.”

You are created to be FREE!

Day 3 Recap Video

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Scenes from a Street Car: Created to be Authentic

Wednesday, July 17 – Created to Be Authentic

Today, the spirit of authenticity radiated through the streets of New Orleans as colorful ELCA youth and their adult leaders energetically spread throughout the city. 

Regions 1 and 3 gathered for Synod Day, marked by an exhilarating scavenger hunt where participants explored the rich history and culture of the city while bonding through the GooseChase Hunt. Missions ranged from reflective moments at the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial to vibrant photo ops with city murals. Lagniappe Stations were sprinkled around the city, embodying the Cajun term for “a little something extra.” These bonus spots provided congregations a place of respite where they could even try on Mardi Gras costumes and take in great storytellers and New Orleans jazz. Bishop Eaton eagerly joined in on the GooseChase, too, bringing energy to the missions and sharing conversations with students over beignets about what it means to be a Bishop while experiencing New Orleans together.

A couple of youth participants from Faith Lutheran in Waconia, MN, shared, “The scavenger hunt was super cool and showed us something new. It encourages you to see things you wouldn’t do by yourself.” Local interviews were among the students’ favorite missions. One group learned about a powerful story of surviving Hurricane Katrina, while another heard about the 1984 World Fair. A group from Renton, WA, interviewed a local jeweler. David, a youth participant, shared, “Yesterday, we visited the first and only Voodoo Museum in the United States.. Today, during the GooseChase, we visited a jewelry store and were shown a voodoo stone that changes colors in different lighting. We’re very happy that one of the missions led us to this store!”

During Region 3’s worship with the six synods of Minnesota, Bishop Regina Hassanally of the Southeast Minnesota Synod inspired the crowd, saying, “The forces of fear do not dictate our actions; the promises of God do. You have been created to be brave and authentic.” This theme was woven into every part of the day, reminding everyone of their unique value and purpose. Pastor Sawyer Vanden Heuvel reflected that after such a long time of not being together in one space, it was enjoyable being with the three synods of North and South Dakota all in one place. “It felt like a big reunion. We were created to be together.” Unable to attend due to illness, Bishop Shelly Bryan Wee of the Northwest Washington Synod sent participants of the five synods of Region 1 this blessing: “May all of you remember how beloved and amazing you are and that God has created you to be.”

Director of Synod Day, Dannica Olsen shared, “Our hope for Synod Day this cycle was that congregations would have equal opportunity to explore the city, learn about its history and culture while having fun in this incredible place! Synod worship became region worship, and we’re thrilled with the change. The energy and excitement for larger gatherings have been so fun to experience, and GooseChase hunts got participants into the city and interacting with the richness of New Orleans.”

As evening fell, we gathered at the Smoothie King Center for the Mass Gathering, experiencing our first storm in New Orleans. The atmosphere was charged with energy as students filled the arena, excited to be back with our newest friends. Worship opened in prayer to the One who reminds us that we are whole and wHoly as we are.

Today’s theme, “Created to be Authentic,” was woven throughout the music and speakers’ messages. Andrew, a recent high school graduate, shared the story of Hagar, reminding us that “God sees you.” Rebekah, one of the emcees, spoke about LGBTQIA+ inclusion and the intersection of faith and identity, emphasizing that authenticity means embracing and being seen as our true selves.

Pastor Emily Harkins shared the poignant story of “The Mayor,” highlighting the importance of identity and being seen.

“To be named is to be loved. And to be loved is to be seen,” she declared. “And to be seen is to know that the full you—the shiny you, the messy you, the confused you, the strong you, the awkward you, the everything you—is so deeply and wildly loved. Is so deeply and wildly enough.”

Speaker Jacqueline Bussy shared that we all know sometimes this world tells us we are worthless, less-than, and not enough. “The next time the haters hate, God wants you to remember you are a flipping miracle anyways.”

As we continue this journey, let’s remember the words of Pastor Emily: “See and love God’s people for who they are. See and love yourself for who God created you to be. Bent and beautiful.” 

My friends, go out and be authentically and beautifully you!

Created to be Authentic Daily Recap Video

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Scenes from a Street Car: Created to be Brave

Tuesday, July 16 – Created to Be Brave

Today, the streets of New Orleans were alive with color and energy as over 16,000 youth and their adult leaders filled the city. Excitement buzzed in the air as old friends reunited with joyous screams and new connections began to form among youth and adults arriving at the airport and engaging in Holy Play in Community Life.

Community Life was vibrant and full of energy. All five gaga ball pits were filled with not only youth but their leaders as well. Students played inflatable wack-a-mole, hungry-hungry hippo, and ran through giant inflatables. We witnessed bravery in action as kids gathered the courage to ask others to play with them, embracing the playfulness that God intends for them.

Cassie Overcash, Community Life planning team member,  shared her hopes that this week, youth would get the opportunity to try something new, play games, and build relationships in a safe and accessible environment. The intentionality behind the activities was evident, with accessible gaga-ball pits, courts with lower nets, and inclusive inflatables like the Wrecking Ball and Soccer.

Community Life is an opportunity after Mass Gathering that features dances, quiet spaces with board games, craft supplies, devotional materials, and Q&A sessions with speakers in four different hotels. Cassie hinted at a youth band concert on Thursday night, adding to the excitement.

As the Mass Gathering kicked off for the first time this week, the Smoothie King Center buzzed with energy and excitement as students and their leaders arrived from across the United States, , the Caribbean, and even a congregation from Canada. Participants from the tAble, MYLE, and the first-ever Young Adult Gathering attended the show. The atmosphere was electric with energy and excitement. The wave rippled through the arena, and participants danced to the theme song “Walk This Out.”
The Holy Spirit’s presence was palpable as the arena filled with cheers and joy.

Bishop Michael Rinehart, of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, welcomed everyone and acknowledged the native Chitimacha Tribe, urging us to remember the history of the land and challenge systems of oppression. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said that she often hears people ask, “Where are the Youth and Young adults?” “Well, here you are. And you are not the church of tomorrow. You are the church of right now. YOU make a difference. You can make a change. You can be disruptive!”

Tonight’s lineup of speakers delivered a powerful and inspiring message, sharing their stories and encouraging us to be brave, reminding us that we are never alone.

Speaker Joe Liles powerfully emphasized to everyone that you can’t keep the Spirit of God inside you. He said,

“We all need to walk. This. Out. In our own way:
Walk this out with the Spirit of Courage to serve in a new city.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Conversation to talk with people you have never met.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Challenge to embrace uncomfortable faith.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Curiosity to ask God who you are becoming this week.

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, we come together with a group of close friends for worship. This year, it’s happening in New Orleans. The Holy Spirit was vibrant and alive, filling the arena tonight as we worshiped with over 16,000 of our siblings in Christ. This is just the beginning, and as Joe Liles said, by the end of the week, we will be changed!

As we go out this week, let’s remember the powerful words of Dr. Michael Chan: “You were precious long before you could prove it. You are precious, just as you are created to be.” Let’s walk this out into the City of New Orleans, praising God, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Go in peace and BE Brave!

 

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Scenes from a Street Car: Day 4 from MYLE and the tAble

Tuesday, July 16 – Day 4 MYLE and the tAble in Closing

Today, MYLE and the tAble came to a close. Students were in disbelief that their time together was over, but excited to join their youth groups for the Gathering. Over these past four days, the power of community was undeniable. When asked to describe their perfect sense of community, one student from the tAble simply said, “This place here. Right here, with these people.”

At closing worship, Bishop Felix Malpica spoke about God’s history of miraculous disruptions. He reminded us that Jesus consistently reached out to the marginalized, declaring, “I see you. You matter in this kin-dom of God.”

The tAble celebrated the richness of diversity, providing a space where students felt wHoly accepted just as they are. Today, as students built Lego figures representing themselves, they learned that everyone has a place in the body of Christ. It was particularly moving when a young man asked for help putting his Lego figures into wheelchairs, a powerful reminder that everyone is created in the love of God. This heartfelt moment underscored the profound importance of inclusivity, showing how deeply it matters for each person to be seen, valued, and embraced in all their uniqueness.

When asked about God moments at the 2024 tAble for the week, Director Jonathan Vehar shared that while there were so many, it’s the in-between time, that stood out to him. “Nothing that we planned, but in the freedom came their interests and passions that allowed them to better know one another.”

Vehar also shared, “A highlight of the week is for something that hasn’t happened yet, the road trips now being planned to meet up with best friends, even if they’ve only known each other a few days. It’s such an incredible thing to see how quickly friendships are formed when you find people who understand part of your story without saying a word. The tAble will continue to make an impact on those who came.”

MYLE Director, Dr. Kelly Sherman-Conroy, shares her hopes for the students this week saying, “I hope the youth left feeling more connected and stronger in their faith. I hope that the spaces created at MYLE helped them create a strong sense of community. Most importantly, I hope they remember that they continue to celebrate that they are “Created to Be” the amazingly wonderful and authentic selves they are. Go out and positive difference in the world.”

This week, the tAble and MYLE showcased the unending love and grace of Christ through youth who love and accept like Jesus. The connections built and friendships made among people who had just met for the first time were incredibly powerful. The Spirit is indeed up to something good and continues as we move into the Gathering. Enjoy the in-between times and be brave!

 

MYLE 2024 Recap Video
the tAble 2024 Recap Video

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Scenes from the Street Car: Day 2 from MYLE and the tAble

Sunday, July 14 – Day 2 from MYLE and the tAble

Good Morning from New Orleans! 

Yesterday was an epic day full of story, rhythm, creativity, laughter, connection, and growth. Today, we got to witness the power of being in community in mighty ways, where we fully lived into being created wHoly and beautifully ourselves, both individually and in community.

At MYLE, students engaged in worship, sang songs, and listened to inspiring speakers. They also co-created an artwork installation, adding mini Lego figures of themselves or as the superheroes, ninjas, wizards, or Jedi they imagine themselves to be. Meanwhile, after morning worship with Bishop Eaton, students at the tAble learned about natural disasters, particularly those in Louisiana. They created disaster relief kits filled with items to help New Orleanians in the days immediately following a natural disaster.

During free time, students from the tAble enjoyed knock-out basketball, volleyball with a giant blow-up ball, and silly relays featuring fantastic dance moves. Before dinner, they went to Fulton Bowling Alley, where they cheered each other on, strengthening bonds and celebrating each other’s successes.

In the afternoon, MYLE participants explored various workshops designed to inspire and empower them. They delved into topics like storytelling, identity, and social justice. One workshop, “Dancing for the Lord with a Biblical Dance Party,” encouraged participants to live out loud and proud through movement and dance, guided by Bible stories. After an upbeat, jazzy choreography session, leaders reminded them, “Whether you have rhythm or not, who you are is perfect. You are created to be exactly who you are. You are not too much of anything, and you’re not, not enough of anything. The rhythm you have is your expression, and that’s what’s so beautiful!”

Closing worship at MYLE was incredibly moving. The MYLE director, Dr. Kelly Sherman Conroy, reminded youth that water connects us through story. Students poured water from their homelands into a collective bowl, honoring the water from their homes and the land it nourishes. Rev. Alejandro Mejia acknowledged that we each carry our own burdens that dampen our peace and dim our light. He urged, “Be You.” Do not let the world define you by its standards. Remember, you are wonderfully made in the image of God. Each of you has a light that can shine brightly even in the darkest places. Believe in your worth and let your light shine for all to see.

While MYLE participants spent the afternoon grooving to their best dance moves, students at the tAble ended the night in NOLA fashion with a masquerade dance. The ballroom was filled with laughter and pure joy wearing beautifully created masks and dancing our own rhythms and expressions as One Direction reminded us, “That’s what makes you beautiful.” 🎶

In the words of Rev. Mejia, “Don’t be afraid of shining, my beloveds. Be proud of your body. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of your sexual orientation, your gender, your ethnic background.” He invited us to leave believing we are unique, that we can overcome and succeed, making a difference just by being authentic. “Shine brightly, thrive, and be you. Amen.”

 

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Dear Youth Leader: You are Brave!

Dear youth leader,

As you prepare for the Gathering, you might be feeling a mix of excitement and anxiety. The task of planning and leading a trip for your group can be daunting, especially knowing that thousands of youth and their leaders from various congregations across the ELCA will be converging in New Orleans in just a few short months. The pressure to ensure everything goes smoothly, from travel logistics to group dynamics, can feel overwhelming. Know that these feelings are completely normal, and you are not alone in this journey.

We recognize the immense effort you are putting into planning this experience. It’s no small feat to organize travel logistics, accommodation details, and a full schedule of activities while also keeping your youth engaged and enthusiastic. The unknowns and potential challenges can add to your worries. Remember, your dedication and hard work are deeply appreciated, and you are making a significant impact on the lives of these young people.

Here are a few thoughts to help you navigate this journey:

  1. Your Presence Matters: How you show up—your attitude, your energy, your openness—will greatly influence the experience of your group. Your youth look to you for guidance and reassurance. Even when things don’t go as planned, your calm and non-anxious presence can help keep the group grounded.
  2. Embrace Curiosity: Approach this experience with a posture of curiosity. Encourage your youth to ask questions and explore. It’s okay to admit when you don’t have all the answers. Use these moments as opportunities to brainstorm together and discover solutions as a team.
  3. Flexibility is Key: Let your group know from the start that things might not always go according to plan. Emphasize the importance of being flexible and open to change. Challenges can be valuable learning experiences. Ask, “What can we learn from this?” and use setbacks as teaching moments.
  4. Be Prepared: While it’s essential to have a solid plan, it’s equally important to be ready to adapt. Have backup plans in place and stay nimble. Be prepared for the unexpected, and trust in your ability to navigate through any hurdles.
  5. Encourage Leadership: Empower your youth to take the lead. Trust them to handle responsibilities and make decisions. This not only alleviates some of your burdens but also helps them grow in confidence and capability.
  6. Prioritize Self-Care: The summer heat in New Orleans can be intense. Ensure both you and your youth stay hydrated, wear sun protection,  and take necessary breaks. Your well-being is crucial for the success of the trip.
  7. Be Authentic: Show your true self to your youth. Your authenticity will inspire them to be genuine and open. Be brave in sharing your own experiences and feelings.

Dearest youth leader, hear these words: you are capable! You have been called to this role because you have what it takes. Trust in your abilities and the support around you. You are enough! You don’t need to have all the answers or be perfect. Your presence, care, and leadership are more than enough. You are brave! Stepping into the unknown with courage and an open heart is a testament to your bravery. Your willingness to lead and support these young people is admirable. You are making a difference! Every effort you put in, every moment of guidance, every word of encouragement—it all matters. You are shaping lives and making a lasting impact.

Amidst all the planning and preparation, remember to take moments to breathe, reflect, and recharge. Your efforts are seen, and your dedication is making a difference. As you lead your group this summer, may you find strength, joy, and fulfillment in the incredible journey ahead.

Take care, be brave, and may you and your youth find inspiration and growth in who God has created you to be.
We’ll see you in the bayou!

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Created to be… Authentic

We are each uniquely created in the image of God. Take a moment and hold up a mirror, or turn your cellphone on selfie mode and look at yourself.

You, in all your glorious beauty, are made in our Creator’s image, perfectly imperfect and uniquely you. We are each created to bring our whole authentic selves to the table. But what does that look like? 

We had the chance to ask a few young people what it means to know that as beloved children of God they are Created To Be Authentic. We also wanted to know when they feel empowered to be their most authentic selves and if they have a community or church that not only supports them in this but also encourages them to live out their God-created identities?

Here are some of their responses—

David from Washington shares:
To me, the word authentic means being myself no matter what others say or think, authenticity is being as real and true to yourself as you can. Being created to be my authentic self means that I am perfectly imperfect and created in the image of God to be exactly who I am, not bending or changing my core values or morals to match others I don’t agree with. It also means that I can choose when to listen to what others have to say about me. At the end of the day, I’m the one making those decisions on what I believe would be most authentic and true to myself and my beliefs. I believe that a community that supports my authenticity is one that doesn’t have harsh rules, standards, or codes and understands everyone is unique in their own way and brings their own personal experiences and knowledge to the table at every conversation and in every action they make. I feel most empowered to be my most authentic self whenever I’m around my friends hanging out, being around the people who make me laugh and smile every day really lets me be my true self and shed away any fake personality I put on around others and be my real most comfortable self.

This is a photo where I felt most myself. I was hanging out with a friend and I had make-up on, and I really liked the outfit I had on. I felt like I was expressing my true self in that moment.

Ryan from Nevada shares:

What does the word “authentic” mean to you?
To be original. Represents faithfully.

What does it mean for you to be created to be your authentic self?
I don’t really know. Maybe just be myself. 

What does it look like for you to have a community or church that supports you in your authenticity?
Sr High group, I feel comfortable with them. 

When and where do you feel empowered or comfortable being your most authentic self?
Cooler classrooms and at church and being on stage leading worship.

Photo Explanation: I felt happy of graduating from high school. I was a senior in 12th grade through the school year of 2022-23, and I graduated at Thomas & Mack Center at U.N.L.V.


Jordyn from Nevada shares:

 I, myself—Jordyn, feel most empowered at anytime, anyplace, and anywhere. I won’t and will not let anything stop me from showing myself to the world. The empowerment that I feel is in making my own decisions. Feeling that I can do anything and not have much doubt in myself is a true gift. Being an African American woman, it is a blessing and honor to see how far I will go to achieve my goals in life. To me, having a community that empowers me to be my true authentic self, means always having back support and moral support. Having people to cheer you on along the sidelines through the thick and thin. Always giving compliments, or even starting a conversation and just giving input without feeling hated. I’ve experienced this kind of support in my school and church.

Oliver from Missouri shares:

The word authentic has taken many different forms throughout my life—from a basic textbook definition to what it is today, my view on the word “authentic” is constantly changing. For me now it means being genuine, even when it hurts. Being authentic starts with being brutally honest with yourself and coming to terms that not everything in your life is going to be fair. Accepting there will be struggles and pain is all a part of being human. God created me to be changed in many ways. God always has a plan and even if we as humans can’t understand it, living out your story and sharing it is all a part of the mission God has sent us all on. Having a community that supports me in my authenticity is something I’m still trying to find. While I’ve grown up in the same church since I was born, all the actions people try to pass as okay due to religion has made it hard to trust. As a transgender individual, I have had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone will love and accept me for who God made me to be. I have realized that church camps are where I have found “family.” Even though we don’t live near each other and can only worship together a few weeks a year, the family we have built with God beside us is what truly matters. I feel my most authentic self at these camps like Leadership Lab. Being able to connect with other youth holding on to their faith through torment and pain makes me not feel alone. These are the places I hope to spread all over the world and create the environment all the time. To me, being authentic is about being truthful to yourself first and a lot of us need others to support us while making all these large realizations. 

This picture was taken in a dorm at Confirmation Camp. I was there as what is called a Mentor Camper; it’s a small group of high schoolers who work with the adults at camp to run small groups and engage the kids. I instantly felt at home. I was loud and energetic and non-apologetic. Normally I am reserved and scared but during this and almost every other week that I have spent at youth camps, I have felt free to be me!

Thank you for sharing! How are you created to be authentic? Where have you found spaces that allow you to be your full authentic self? 

 

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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