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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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Scenes from the Street Car: Day 1 from MYLE and the tAble

Saturday, July 13 – Day 1 from MYLE and the tAble

Good Morning, New Orleans!

Day One kicked off with a dazzling start to the Gathering in the vibrant city of New Orleans! 

Picture this: 684 enthusiastic youth and their caring adults checking in to the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE), rocking some of the craziest, most whimsical hats you can imagine for Crazy Hat Spirit Day. The air was electric with excitement and creativity as participants let their imaginations run wild. The day was packed with games, laughter, and a burst of color, making it impossible not to smile.

The evening worship was a true highlight. Rev. Albert Starr reminded us that, “even in the heat (yes, even in the heat of the bayou), God’s love is inexhaustible.” We danced and grooved, shaking the floor with the Holy Spirit’s energy. Joe Davis’ spoken poem resonated deeply, giving everyone permission to show up as their most authentic selves. His words echoed in our hearts: “Here is where we give you the permission you may have not given yourself to show up and bring your most authentic self. Cause you can cry here. You can take your time here… we shine brighter when we all shine here.”

Meanwhile, at the tAble, 38 youth and their 40 loving caregivers checked in with a mix of excitement and nerves. Even in their exhaustion, participants were still smiling, embodying grace in action—in the smiles, the hugs, the shared stories, and the newfound friendships. This is what grace looks like, and it’s beautiful. Workshops provided a sacred space for participants and caregivers—both together and apart to connect deeply, sharing hopes and dreams, and cultivating a community of support and understanding. The chocolate chip cookie metaphor resonated deeply: we may all look different, but we are all uniquely delicious and perfectly made. ❤️

Both MYLE and the tAble celebrated the unique individuals God has created, and the joy of being wHoly ourselves. What a fantastic start to our journey together! Looking forward to a bright new day in the Crescent City.

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
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Beyond the Beads: Unveiling the Spirit of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, with its vibrant colors, soulful music, and rich foods, is more than just a party that disrupts the everyday life—it’s a celebration that surpasses the ordinary, captivating the world with its infectious joy. The soulful tunes of jazz, blues, and traditional brass bands infuse the air with a distinctive musical flavor, while the rich, flavorful foods, from gumbo to king cake, create a culinary carnival in every bite.

Yet, beyond the lively parades, Mardi Gras is the heartbeat of New Orleans, deeply entwined with the spirit of community. It’s a time for locals to come together, strengthening social bonds, and fostering unity. The parades, featuring diverse community groups, schools, and organizations, exemplify the inclusivity that defines this celebration. Mardi Gras provides a space for people to revel in their individuality, to show up authentically as they truly are created to be and share in the collective joy.

As the last float passes and the city cleans up the confetti, the spirit of Mardi Gras lingers—the unity of the community, the echoes of brass bands, and the stories shared over hearty meals. It’s more than a party; it’s a reflection of rich history, cultural diversity, and communal spirit. Mardi Gras is a testament to New Orleans’ resilience, diversity, and unyielding spirit. As the city looks ahead to the upcoming year’s festivities, one can’t help but wonder—what stories will Mardi Gras unfold next? The potential is as limitless and dynamic as the celebration it embodies.

 

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

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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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