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From Newbie to Prepared

– Shelbe Kukowski

I’m pretty new to this whole “youth leader” thing. In fact, I ended up winning an award at the most recent Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza for working with youth the least amount of time (only three months). This newness is why it was so important for me to attend the Extravaganza in Houston—it not only served as a learning and equipping workshop weekend for me, but it also allowed me to enroll in the “How to have a Great Gathering” Intensive Care Course (ICC).

The ICC was a two-day course led by very knowledgeable teachers (who happen to sit on the planning committee for the Gathering!) that went through the history of the Gathering, what to expect, how to prepare youth for attending such a life-changing event, and hosted a panel of speakers so we could see, hear, and ask questions directly to the Gathering staff.

What’s some of the stuff we learned? How about the most common reasons youth end up in the medical tent?

  1. Hurt toes: make sure youth wear closed toed shoes.
  2. Dehydration: make sure youth are drinking water at least every hour…you too.
  3. Upset GI: if someone needs privacy to poop in a hotel room, get their roommates out the door!

I know, I know. You’re laughing, but as a newbie I needed all of that veteran advice. The ICC teachers were very serious when informing us of the “troublesome three.”

Not all of the ICC was classroom work, though! We took buses around the city and listened to local guides tell the history of Houston.

Did you know Houston is the most diverse city and fourth most populous city in the United States? Or that there is an underground pedestrian tunnel system? Or that all of us going to the Gathering will book up almost every single hotel room in the city? Neither did I.

We drove through The Galleria, stopped by NRG Park, rode the METRORail, and saw many of the beautiful art murals found throughout the city.

Overall, I entered the ICC as a Gathering newbie and left the course prepared to lead youth to Houston this summer.


Shelbe Kukowski  is a newbie youth adult leader in Seattle, WA and is super excited to attend the Gathering with youth from Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church. 


An Extravaganza of Preparation

– Todd Buegler

My first experience bringing a group to the ELCA Youth Gathering was in San Antonio in 1988. I brought a group of nine young people, along with one other adult leader.

Our experience in San Antonio was okay. Good. Fine. Not great, but good.

After the event, I talked with our young people about their experience. I compared notes with colleagues from other congregations who brought groups to the Gathering and heard about their great experiences. I came to realize something after these conversations: the good and decent experience we had in San Antonio wasn’t the fault of the Gathering planners and organizers. It was my fault.

It was my fault because our group wasn’t prepared to receive what the Gathering offered and to recognize how God was at work. I just wasn’t prepared.

The Gathering isn’t meant to stand alone as an event. It is intended to be contextualized for your community.

Everything experienced from the main stage, the interaction center, and the service opportunities are intended to be interpreted for your unique youth group. And you… we… the adult leaders… are the interpreters.

I’ve been a part of every ELCA Youth Gathering since 1988: as a pastor bringing a group, as a planning team member, and as a team leader.  These experiences have affirmed for me that our group’s experiences are still dependent on how well we are prepared to receive what God brings through the Gathering. Pressure? Yeah, maybe some.  But here’s words of hope: you are not alone in this.

We have a Network.  The ELCA Youth Ministry Network is the organization that supports adults who work with children, youth, and families in ELCA congregations, The Network focuses on renewal, education and networking.  We connect with each other to create a culture of learning and support, so that the work we do as interpreters of the Gathering, of other ministry experiences, and of God’s work in the lives of young people can be transformative for those we are called to serve.

From January 26th to the 29th, almost 1,000 adult leaders will gather for the annual Extravaganza in Houston for worship, learning, and to connect with each other.

Prepare yourself and your group for the Gathering.
Strengthen your ministry.
Learn all you can learn.
Know the material.
Ask questions.
Wonder about what God is up to.

I invite you to join the Network!  We are a community centered around faith formation for the young, and our belief that God calls us to serve. Thanks be to God!


Rev. Todd Buegler is the senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, and also serves as the Executive Director of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.