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Feeling Rocked to the Core

– Kristina Johnson Dernier 

The ELCA Youth Gathering is a transformational event that impacts literally thousands of young people and their adult leaders for their entire lives.  When I was a junior in high school, I got to go to the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans. I’m a lifelong Lutheran and an active “church nerd,” but my home congregation did not have a steady youth director. Since I didn’t have a steady youth director at my church, I did not get to have the opportunities that my friends were able to have with their churches.  But when I was in high school, there were some adult volunteers from my hometown that led the trip to the New Orleans Gathering. I was blown away when I walked into the Dome for the first time.  All of these people that were my age were worshiping the same God at the same time; I did not feel alone.  That was a feeling that rocked me to my core.   

I don’t remember the speakers (I do remember Lost and Found and “Lions,” however), but I remember that feeling. I pray that every young person and adult leader that participates in the Gathering has that feeling when they walk into the Mass Gathering. Because of that prayer, I said yes to the fantastic opportunity to be the Gathering Coordinator for the Northwestern Minnesota Synod.  I get to walk alongside adult leaders from my synod and make sure they have the information they need for this particular Gathering so they can be the best for themselves, their adult leaders, and their young people.   

If you have any questions, please contact me or my fellow synod coordinators, we would LOVE to help you! 


Kristina Johnson Dernier is the Northwestern Minnesota Synod Gathering Lutheran Youth Organization Advisor and Synod Gathering Coordinator.  


The hands and feet of faith

God's Work. Our Hands.

God’s Work. Our Hands.”

And feet.

This is what the hands and feet of some ELCA teens looked like midway through their

service project planting wetlands grasses 75 miles south of New Orleans. The outreach

was part of the 2009 Youth Gathering. Three miles of wetlands can stop water from rising

 a foot, according to Bayou Rebirth, the agency that hosted ELCA youth.  Rebuilding

wetlands is critical to protecting New  Orleans from another devastating hurricane.

God's Work. Our Hands. (And feet)



Doing God’s dirty work

Taylor, Mackenzie, Alex, Rylee

During the 2009 Youth Gathering in New Orleans, these 16-year-old youth from Holmen, Wis., had one of the messiest service projects — which they embraced with enthusiasm.  They planted wetlands grasses in a muddy area 75 miles south of New Orleans.

Pictured from left to right are: Taylor Pederson, Mackenzie Schriver, Rylee Drugan and Alex Brown. They say getting dirty is all part of doing “God’s Work. Our Hands.” (more…)


A change of heart

PatrickWhen I first met Patrick Allen, he was sitting in a hotel lobby, quiet and unhappy. He’d come to New Orleans for the 2009 Youth Gathering looking forward to helping with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

On work project day, his group was assigned to clear litter and weeds from a neighborhood hit hard by Katrina four years ago. Patrick had hoped to do hands-on work that was more than “cosmetic.”

“I didn’t think it was worth our time and effort,” he told me in the lobby. The 18-year-old from Richmond, Va., felt that he’d somehow let the people of New Orleans down.

After I wrote about Patrick’s disappointment, people from New Orleans posted comments saying the effort had made a difference. They seemed to sense the sincerity of this young man in striving to serve others as Jesus commanded.

One reader wrote: “You have NO IDEA how much a CLEANED LOT, or one gutted house, one slab removed, affects us in our spirit to GO ON, to know that God is there.”

After reflecting more on his experience, Patrick sent these comments along, describing the spiritual transformation that happened for him in New Orleans. Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your thoughts:



“You have been God’s hands”

Warren and Clarence

Clarence McGee, a wiry man in knee high boots, shoveled dirt with the precision of a cake decorator. In a graveyard where bodies are stacked upon bodies, he had no room for error.

Graves are only four feet deep and dug by hand at Holt Cemetery in New Orleans because the cemetery is at water level. Sweat dripped from McGee’s brow as he struggled to find footing on the sloshy ground.

His co-worker, Warren Ernest, 44, stood ready to relieve him. In the background, dozens of orange-shirted teens from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America busied themselves cleaning the historic African American burial site.

The city owns the cemetery and Ernest was on the maintenance staff for 18 years. After Hurricane Katrina struck four years ago, the city said it wouldn’t maintain the grounds any longer.

Ernest lost his job. He still digs, for a minimal fee.

On this hot, humid July day, he points across the grounds to a pole where an American flag is hanging.

“Over there,” he said. “That used to be my station.” (more…)


Gwennyth’s dilemma

Gwennyth's House

Hurricane Katrina whacked Gwennyth Thomas twice.

First, Katrina washed away or ruined everything in her home. Not a sock or piece of tile could be saved.

Then, as Thomas tried to put her house back together, she fell victim to one of the bad Katrina contractors.



Letting it shine

SuperdomeThe crowd outside of the Superdome resembled Black Friday.

That’s the phrase used for the day after Thanksgiving. Shoppers crowd outside of malls in the wee hours of the morning for the door-opening bargains.

It was like that Saturday in New Orleans. Masses of Lutheran teens crowded around the doors of the ‘Dome hours before they were scheduled to open.

But the teens weren’t looking for bargains. They were standing in the blazing sun willingly for a chance at the best seats at a program all about Jesus.

“It’s like a concert,” explained Jack Pike, 18, of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Dana Point, Calif. “But it’s much more than that. There’s talks, skits and speakers. The kind of speakers that you want to listen to — who really get you to think about your values.” (more…)


A New Orleans’ sentiment

Another popular bumper sticker in New Orleans.




A generational issue?


The 2009 Youth Gathering is over, and the ELCA Churchwide Assembly is only days away.

Many teens wondered if the harmony and goodwill generated from their work in New Orleans will be undone by dissension among the church’s adults in Minneapolis.

The denomination’s national assembly is Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Voting members of the ELCA may consider whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed partnerships to serve as clergy. The denomination presently allows for celibate gay and lesbian clergy.

Jenna Goldenne voiced what many teens at the Youth Gathering in New Orleans this week said about the issue.

“People should be able to love who they want,” said the 14-year-old Chicago area teen. “It shouldn’t matter if they are gay or straight. It’s not really an issue for people my age. ” (more…)


The saints go flying home

All Saints

Meet Seth Moland-Kovash (standing), a funny and thoughtful pastor from All Saints Lutheran Church in Palatine, Ill. He led a group of youth from the congregation to the 2009 Youth Gathering in New Orleans July 22-26. (more…)