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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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10 things to know as you prepare

 

 

Many congregations are just now getting things ready to attend the 2022 Gathering, so if you haven’t started yet– you aren’t behind! Here are 10 things to know as you prepare to bring a congregational group to the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering.

  1. Utilize the Gathering’s promotional materials to get your community excited about this faith formation experience. We have PowerPoint templates, flyer templates, posters, promotional videos and logos for you to download and use. Consider inviting past participants to share a testimony as well!
  2. Download the Official Gathering Handbook: Tips & Tricks for Adult Leaders. This resource is jammed-packed with pro-tips, sample covenants, timelines, budgets and more. If you’d like a printed version, you can purchase one from our partners at Old Lutheran.
  3. Thinking about raising funds to attend the Gathering can be daunting. However, we know from the testimonies of young people and adult leaders that it’s totally worth it. Depending on your community’s guidelines for COVID-19, you might need to adapt and think creatively on how to raise funds. Early in the pandemic, the Gathering curated a resource of virtual and socially distanced fundraisers.
  4. Connect with your Gathering Synod Coordinator (GSC)! These individuals are trained on all things Gathering and are your go-to contact for your synod. You can contact your GSC by sending them an email on the Gathering’s website.
  5. Sign up and attend the pre-Gathering webinars. Gathering leadership will share what they are planning for next summer during these monthly webinars. Visit the Gathering’s website to see recordings of past webinars or sign up for future ones.
  6. Download the Getting Ready Materials. This curriculum was designed to help introduce your congregational group to the daily themes of the Gathering and start bonding.
  7. There is still financial assistance available for young people attending the Gathering. Up to $300 per youth participant may be provided with a max of 10 youth per congregation. The primary adult leader should apply on behalf of the young person via the application.
  8. Our team is hard at work making plans to ensure that the 2022 Gathering is a safe for our participants. All youth and adult participants, team members, volunteers, staff, and Interactive Learning partners will be required to submit proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test (likely 72 hours before arriving). More information around how this information will be submitted will come spring 2022.
  9. Gathering leadership is continuously monitoring the pandemic and guidance for events of our size, but confident that we will have a safe Gathering next summer in Minneapolis. If we get to a point where we are unable to have a safe event and the Gathering is cancelled, deposits will be refunded, with the option for congregations to donate some or all those funds towards the ministry of the Gathering or to forward their deposit to the 2024 Gathering. Visit our COVID-19 page for FAQs and more info.
  10. Don’t do it alone. Invite another trusted adult in your congregation to join you in the planning and logistics!

Know that Gathering leadership is praying for you and your community as you consider attending the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering. We know that this ministry changes lives and enriches congregational youth ministry, and we hope your congregation will join us.

For more information on the 2022 Gathering, MYLE and the tAble, visit: elca.org/Gathering.

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Reflecting on “Made Free”

 

The Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE) will gather under the theme of “Made Free” in the summer of 2022. Gathering leadership asked a few people to briefly reflect on what it means to be “Made Free” and to live into the scripture verse of “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

 

Isabelle El-Yateem from the Association of Lutherans of Arab and Middle Eastern Heritage

Isabelle El-Yateem, Association of Lutherans of Arab and Middle Eastern Heritage

“As an Arab American youth, I think the theme of “Made Free” is awesome. We need to be released from all the things in the world that hold us back from our true potential. We need to be freed to call out for and demand justice and equality for all people, in all places and in all times!”

 

the Rev. Joann Conroy, President of the ELCA American Indian/Alaska Native Lutheran AssociationThe Rev. Joann Conroy, ELCA American Indian/Alaska Native Lutheran Association

“Paul in a letter to the Galatians said, “…we should use that Freedom (of Christ) to serve one another in love and live a Spirit-filled life.” As we come to MYLE, we come sharing the freedom that Christ gave to us – love through a Spirit filled life rich in our Lutheran traditions and celebrating all of our Indigenous gifts of culture with the church.”

To learn more about the 2022 Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, visit our website: elca.org/MYLE.

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Lighthouse

 

Walking off of the Mass Gathering stage after speaking at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering, I don’t think I fully understood the magnitude of what I had just done. It was a life-changing experience that felt so wild but the deeper layers of what I had just done were only beginning to unfold. I stood up on stage to show others how you can take some of your worst moments such as my terminal diagnosis and use them to help remind others they do not have to feel alone in all of this.

After sharing I was privileged to meet a young woman at the Gathering who had the same diagnosis as myself. She never met anyone with her diagnosis until she heard me speak. That was the rewarding experience that made everything I did worth it. It is a reminder of why I advocate by sharing my story through all the suffering I endure. I get to be that little lighthouse that reminds others to know they are not alone in all of this.

These days I still try to push that sentiment even while things have looked really different. Our world feels as though it is falling apart, there is the pandemic, political unrest, natural disasters, the explosion in Beirut, and other unspeakable tragedies 2020 has brought us.

During these hard times it is easy to focus on the bad, to believe things may never get better, or think that God has abandoned us but, in these moments, we must remember we are not alone in all this. God is with us– always. Once we remember this, we too can be that lighthouse. God’s grace is here for us all as we continue to walk through the difficult storms ahead.

Michaela Shelley is the founder of an online support group for adolescents and young adults with chronic and/or terminal illnesses. Currently, Michaela is working towards a Master’s degree in social work. You can watch her 2018 Mass Gathering talk here.
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Juneteenth: We Will Breathe

by Joe Davis

Juneteenth commemorates a day when my ancestors could breath a little more freely. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, enslaved Africans were read federal orders that they were freed, even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed over two years prior. They didn’t know they were free because, in spite of the law, they were still brutalized by those who weaponized power. This was this liberatory announcement that initiated the joyful reunion of long-separated loved ones and the work of reconstructing after centuries of being held down by the harsh American slave system. 

Today, families of African descent throughout the United States celebrate this Freedom Day, which gave us a brief moment to inhale deeper than before. However, as a Black artist and educator living in Minneapolis, MN during an uprising that has sparked freedom demonstrations around the world, I know that oppressive powers have only shifted their weight on the necks of vulnerable Black bodies as we cried out to breathe. 

I can only imagine how profoundly the Giver of all life and breath (1) must become enraged and grief-stricken every time the breath in our bodies is snuffed out by violent power. But I needn’t imagine this response, as Jesus incarnated this reality when he protested abusive authority decrying those holding power through violence as hypocrites and snakes (2) and damaged temple property when it was being valued more than the humanity of his people (3). Although divisive and controversial to corrupt religious leaders and exploitative lawmakers, Jesus embodied a form of justice not rooted in revenge or retribution, but instead in restoration and healing. Even though he could have commanded an army of angels to battle on his behalf (4) his love for the most vulnerable was held so deeply in his body that he lived and died among them in a communion of shared vulnerability. Jesus gave his all, his last breath, to empower them, and to empower us, to rise again. His desire was that we would all be freed from the grips of power-hoarding, death-dealing systems and breathe in the abundance of life-affirming community. 

Jesus intensely understood the soul wound and how violence, at its core, is a spilling over of trauma and suffering from one body to another. Resmaa Manekem, body-centered therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hand: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, describes the soul wound as trauma routinely passed on from person to person and from generation to generation. The only way to stop the cyclical pattern is not punitive force but reparative action and a commitment to the practice and process of healing. This calls for the healing of the oppressor and the oppressed, as stated by Dr. Joi Lewis, Twin Cities healer, author, and founder of the Healing Justice Foundation. Dr Lewis states, “Oppression is not an inevitable state of affairs and no human being would agree to oppress another person or agree to be oppressed if they weren’t already hurt.” 

The wounds of violence reach the innermost essence of our beings, it viscerally impacts our flesh and becomes ritualized in every part of society and culture from policing to politics. When we heal the systems that live inside of us, then we can also heal the systems that live outside of us. And that is the path to collective liberation that Jesus calls us all to embody (5). 

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, speaks to this call, an ancestral echo of the struggle for freedom heard in the litany of voices throughout history. If we listen, we can hear it resonating in the song of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—among countless other scriptural leaders —organizing themselves and their people to escape the slave system of pharaohs and kings who denied their demands for human dignity until death was too close to home (6). Once their lungs were no longer constricted by the tyrannical rule of empire, they had enough space to breathe new life into prophetic visions of Jubilee, where prisoners could be liberated, debts forgiven, and the land renewed (7). 

I long to live in a world not of crippling dependence on guns and cages as lethal enforcers of systemic injustice, but a world where our bodies and our institutions rise with the deep, slow rhythms of healing. We don’t live in that world yet, but it’s worth working for with every breath we have.


Joe Davis is a nationally-touring artist, educator, and speaker based in Minneapolis, MN, whose work employs poetry, music, theater, and dance to shape culture. He is the Founder and Director of multimedia production company, The New Renaissance, the frontman of emerging soul funk band, The Poetic Diaspora, and qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory. He has keynoted, facilitated conversation, and served as teaching artist at hundreds of high schools and universities including New York, Boston, and most recently as the Artist-in-Residence at Luther Seminary where he received a Masters in Theology of the Arts.


1: Genesis 2:7 (CEB) the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 

2: Matthew 23 (CEB) Jesus Calls Out the Legal Experts and Religious Leaders; Matthew 12:34 (CEB) Children of snakes! How can you speak good things while you are evil? What fills the heart comes out of the mouth. 

3: Matthew 21: 12 (CEB) Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all of those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. 

4: Psalms 91:12 and Matthew 4:6 

5: Luke 17:20-21Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ Or ‘There is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you. 

6: Exodus 12:29-50 

7: Leviticus 25: 8-18

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Reflections on Volunteering in Minneapolis

 

It has been 3 weeks since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the city in which I call home. Unfortunately, the senseless killings perpetuated from racism are not uncommon. The outcry for justice, though, has been very common across the United States and countries throughout the world.

The George Floyd memorial on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis is holy ground where people gather. Gather to pay their respects, gather to lay down flowers, gather with advocacy organizations and gather around food and water. The words and artwork are a balm for the wounds that I, a white woman, cannot even begin to imagine.

The past couple weeks, I have spent time volunteering at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church just blocks from the epicenter. Since George Floyd’s murder, Holy Trinity has become a sanctuary for demonstrators, a medic station for the wounded, a place of support for local small businesses and a pop-up food and necessity distribution site. Streets have been lined with cars with donations and greeters. Pregnant women and people with disabilities were accompanied, to ensure their needs were met. I heard so many touching stories over the week. One of them that stood out, especially as a youth minister, is the confirmation students who purchased detergent and collected all the quarters they could find, so people could still do their laundry.

Something else that stuck out to me is seeing a mother taking pictures of her daughter in her cap and gown. I went over and started talking to her and she said, “this is her history.” I pray for this young woman and her family. I also pray for our community, our country. I pray that this moment and these pictures are the time that she can tell her children and grandchildren that this was the turning point in our history. “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

 

Kris Bjorke serves as the Service Learning Project Manager for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering. She lives in the Minneapolis area and enjoys drinking coffee with friends, being with family and pets, the outdoors, football and hockey games, travel (with a special affinity for National Parks) and quilting.

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Meet Matthew

by: Matthew Felbein

Hello! My name is Matthew Felbein and I am thrilled to be able to serve as one of the Gathering Hosts for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering in Minneapolis. This will be my second Gathering, and even though it is still about 450 days away (I might be counting already…) I couldn’t be more excited!

Currently, I am a junior in high school and I try to be involved in everything that I can. Music is a huge part of my life as well as my faith. I love sharing music at my church whether it’s in a brass group, the high school choir, or playing the organ and piano. I’m also involved with a lot of theater and music activities and my school.

I was absolutely blown away by the 2018 Gathering in Houston. From the first night, I felt named and claimed as a child of God more than ever. Seeing thousands of people of all different backgrounds from all over the country come together for worship, service, and lots of fun was an incredible experience. Without a doubt, it was one of the best weeks of my life and it really did change everything. When I left, I knew I wanted to be able to inspire people like I had been inspired by the emcees, speakers, musicians, and volunteers at the Gathering, and I am so blessed to have this new opportunity!

I can’t wait to see how God’s boundless love fills us in Minneapolis in 2021. See you then!

 

 

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Where I Belong

by: Adam Knudson

I am an ordained pastor and serve on staff at a Lutheran Church, but I am not an ordained ELCA pastor. My background is Presbyterian. My first Gathering experience was in New Orleans for the 2009 Gathering, Jesus Justice Jazz. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been to Louisiana before, I’d never attended such a large youth event before, I was afraid of what it would be like to lead a group of a couple dozen youth and adults around a city that I had never visited. Why did I agree to do this anyway?

Our church is in California and while there are MANY churches and many large churches in California, there are not a lot of Lutherans and even fewer large Lutheran churches. Attending the Gathering offers the youth from my church an opportunity to understand their place and their identity within a larger community. When the ELCA gathers tens of thousands of youth from across the country and beyond, some of our best values and our highest priorities are showcased, highlighted and lived in vibrant and compelling ways. 

When our youth attend the Gathering, I don’t need to teach a lesson, read a Bible story, or prepare a class on what we believe or how God calls us to live in the world. The core values of our faith are written large on giant screens, crowded buses full of folks with bright orange shirts ready to serve, and youth and adults willing to listen to the stories of our hosts as we enter their communities and their cities.

The ELCA Youth Gathering has opened my mind to understand the great breadth and depth of what it means to be Lutheran. The Gathering has given me a chance to share this perspective with our youth, to hold up their faith as a mirror in which they can see who they are and in turn, our youth return home and share stories with our congregation. For me, the Gathering is an opportunity to participate in the kin-dom of God and to recognize God’s family as a place where I belong.

Adam Knudson has served as Youth Pastor at Hope Lutheran in Fresno, CA for thirteen years. He is involved in youth ministry networks in his community and Synod.

 

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Made Free

by: Kelly Sherman-Conroy, MYLE Team Leader

In October of 2019, the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event leadership team, including youth, young adults and adults, gathered at Luther Seminary to discern a theme for MYLE 2021. Before we began our conversations as a group, we took the time to learn about and understand the history of the land where MYLE will be hosted in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This was led by an effort from Healing Minnesota Stories, to bring healing between people of faith and the Native American people who call Minnesota home. Native people have suffered deep trauma over many years, losing their land, language and culture. While many people and institutions contributed to that trauma, it happened with the full participation of Christian churches. As Pastor Jim Bear Jacobs mentioned to our group, “We all still need healing, healing is doable, and churches have a role to play in healing.”

As leaders of MYLE we believe in the power of healing stories. Stories heal because they make invisible pain visible. The listener and storyteller are both healed by their acts. This was a needed experience for our team and our theme discernment. We learned that churches and all faith communities can play a key role in promoting and experiencing healing by opening ourselves to our own history and listening to the stories of Native people. Through the sharing and retelling of traumatic stories, we can create new positive ones.

And this is how our theme for MYLE 2021 was created. Made Free. Our stories, our experiences matter. And together as leaders, we want to be able to nurture community and inspire healing with all our MYLE participants, leaders and volunteers.  We realize that our ethnic cultures are rich in community and family bonds. Made Free to me is an understanding that our MYLE community can be a pathway for healing and brings a time for celebrating the diverse expressions and many facets of our community which are woven through the Holy Spirit.

The scripture chosen for this theme says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  What this says to me is that the Spirit empowers us and when we feel empowered, things begin to happen. The soul is very much a part of the body, and the Spirit awakens our soul and gives us life. As a body of Christ, our soul is not fully complete unless the rest of the body is also in harmony. Together at MYLE, we emerge as a community to listen courageously and create Spirit-Filled relationships of healing.

MYLE 2021 is going to be a space that will inspire and create liberating relationships with all in attendance and beyond. We want to characterize these relationships by equity, difference, mutuality, communion and oneness. MYLE aims to be an exciting Spirit-Inspired community, inclusive and accountable to all. Celebrating our cultures together we will literally be breathing Spirit into our own healing.

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God’s boundless promise

by: Claire Embil

This week, I had the opportunity to preach about the Baptism of our Lord in Matthew chapter 3. This is a story that perfectly exemplifies God’s boundlessness. Jesus is claimed by God as the beloved son before he has accomplished anything, no healing, no miracles.

In today’s society, it’s so easy to only present the image of ourselves that we want the world to see, and our worth becomes tied to clicks, likes and views. You could be smart, talented, beautiful, but the world says, “Ok, prove it.” I think a lot about how radical and spectacular it is to be claimed as beloved without having to prove yourself. We don’t have to prove ourselves for baptism. God’s grace knows no qualifications.

There is nothing we have to do, that could make us worthy of the love and grace that God extends to us through baptism. It is important to strive to be our best selves, but God already thinks we are worthy and beloved. God promises us this undeserved, unconditional, unending grace that we never had to earn because baptism is not about our commitment to God. Baptism is about God’s commitment to us.

That main theme of this text is particularly important to me because it took me a long time to learn. Back when I was getting confirmed, I think I did so begrudgingly, and not because I didn’t want to be confirmed. I very much did, but because I knew that confirmation is the affirmation of baptism.

I was baptized in the Catholic church and my family didn’t come to a Lutheran church until I was 2. The closer we got to Confirmation Day, the more I felt a nagging sense that I didn’t belong. As we talked more about our baptismal promises, I began to talk to my pastors and my youth leaders about getting re-baptized. I very quickly found out that’s not an option. Jesus wasn’t baptized Lutheran so why did I have to be? I knew that we “acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” but I still wanted to be re-baptized. I felt like I had to do something to fit into this family. It took me a little bit to learn that anything I thought I could’ve done was already done for me through the waters of baptism, the first time. No repeat needed.

Claire Embil is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying English creative writing, religious studies and photography. She is actively involved with the ELCA Young Adult Leadership team, the ELCA Youth Gathering, Wisconsin Campus Ministry, Lutheran Student Movement, and competitive gymnastics.

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