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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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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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The Importance of Service

by: Kyle Lefler

Jesus walked. Miles & miles across the hills and valleys of the Holy Land. He and his disciples traveled great distances with little comforts to be with, among and beside the people.

While we need not always travel great distances to be of service to others, we are called to be out among our neighbors. We are called to listen for where there is a need, to pay attention to injustice and to respond in ways that further God’s vision of justice on earth.

My own faith journey has been deeply strengthened by participating in acts of service, both in giving and receiving. As a young person, my youth group served through acts of generous charity and our leaders helped us understand how that charity could move into justice work through education and systemic change. Any work of service is best done in mutuality, where we are listening and responding to a need, rather than offering our own solution. The Gospels provide us with dozens example of that mutuality, through Christ’s society-shaking, humble actions.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I attended the 2006 ELCA Youth Gathering in San Antonio and saw service in action on the largest scale I had ever witnessed. There were dozens of organizations educating young people about needs in the world and empowering them to participate in advocating for and serving those in need. Many of us had never had the opportunity to learn and grow in such a way. We saw the Gospel being acted upon in tangible, accessible ways and learned about the calling we have as Christians to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. 

Since then, I’ve had the privilege of leading groups through their Service Learning day at the Gathering. We have WALKED  the streets of cities from New Orleans, Detroit and Houston, listening and learning from those communities, and serving in ways that respond to their needs. I have seen young people’s attitudes transform from tiredness and disinterest to excitement and desire to do more in the course of just a few hours. Together, we become better disciples when we humble ourselves to listen and give of our own gifts of time and privilege. I believe Service Learning can be the most powerful moment of the Gathering for many of the attendees, as they experience a new place and find God’s calling within themselves… then take that calling back home to their own community.

May we always boldly go and do likewise.

 

Kyle Lefler serves as the year round program coordinator at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp in NW Montana, overseeing year round retreat programming and onsite summer camp operations. Kyle is passionate about working with young people in God’s Creation and striving to create intentional community spaces where they are unconditionally loved & accepted, empowered & advocated for. She loves early morning lake swims, handwritten letters & the Avett Brothers.

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The Gathering Spark

– Zoe Clark

Hi, I’m Zoe and I’m 19 years old. I had the opportunity to go to two Gatherings and I am so excited to share a little bit about how the Gathering changed young adult life.

In New Orleans, I was one of the youngest participants in my group. I did not know what would await me, but I knew that it would be great. In New Orleans, the Gathering showed me that I was part of a community much larger than myself. It ignited my desire to do service and step up in leadership. When I returned home, I knew that the next time I went to a Gathering, I wanted it to be a different experience.

In Detroit, I was one of the oldest participants. I had a little bit more knowledge going into the event. Because of that, I felt that it was important make the Gathering an inspirational experience for others since I had already had the experience for myself. I reached out to leaders in my community. I was lucky enough to assist in leading Synod Day, where I found myself in a role that made the Gathering so different from the one I attended before.

For Houston, my third Gathering, I am helping to write the Pre-Gathering curriculum. I plan to volunteer at the Gathering as well. I always find my way back to this event, each time in a different role. My involvement with the Gathering is coming full circle, exactly as I had hoped after experiencing New Orleans.

When I first heard, “Why the Gathering?” my answer immediately was, “Why not?” That’s not really an answer, considering that it gives zero insight.

The Gathering sparked something inside me I did not know I had; it made me feel part of something bigger than I knew existed. The Gathering enabled me to grow in my faith, leadership, and service, along with providing me with the ways to do so.

The Gathering theme for Houston, “This Changes Everything,” has never been more accurate in my life and the lives of so many who have gone, served, and experienced. It’s time to see what the Gathering will ignite in you.

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An Aha Moment

– Natalie Zielinski

Once you experience the Youth Gathering, you keep wanting to come back.

I was lucky enough to attend the past two Gatherings. They were both were life-changing experiences for me. The Gathering helped me find my faith at a time where I was struggling. When I went to my first Gathering in New Orleans, I was getting ready to be a freshman in high school. I spent the past year battling an illness no one could figure out, and I was being bullied for having to use crutches and a wheelchair to get around. I was depressed and felt very alone, and I needed something to help me feel like I belonged.

Everyone I knew talked about amazing experiences at a Gathering and how it had changed their lives. I just hoped maybe it would change my life, too. It ended up having a bigger impact on my life than I ever imagined. When we got there the first night, I was amazed at the sheer number of youth that were surrounding me. Just standing in the sea of youth was such a powerful experience all on its own.

After hearing people like Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shane Claiborne, Leymah Gbowee, and so many others speak throughout the week, I had an “aha moment.” I heard all of the different stories and struggles other people faced and I started to not feel so alone.

The Gathering made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who felt out of place and didn’t know where to go. I realized I was part of a bigger story.

The Gathering made me realize that God has a plan for me, even if I don’t understand or know all of the plan.

I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if I hadn’t been to a Gathering.

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Miembros de la ELCA se reunirán en Nueva Orleans para la Asamblea General de 2016

CHICAGO – Miembros de la Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en América (ELCA, por sus siglas en inglés) se reunirán entre el 8 y 13 de agosto en asamblea en el Centro de Convenciones Ernest N. Morial en Nueva Orleans. Reunidos en torno al tema “Freed and Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action” (Liberados y renovados en Cristo: 500 años de la gracia de Dios en acción) entre los asuntos de la asamblea se encuentran los preparativos para celebrar el 500 aniversario de la Reforma en 2017.
La asamblea —el más alto organismo legislativo de la ELCA— está integrada por 980 miembros con derecho a voto que asisten en representación de los 3.7 millones de miembros de la ELCA. Los 65 sínodos de la ELCA eligen a los miembros con derecho a voto que acudirán a las asambleas generales.
“Las asambleas generales son una combinación de sesiones legislativas, adoración, estudio bíblico, reflexión teológica y comunidad”, explicó la reverenda Elizabeth A. Eaton, obispa presidente de la ELCA. “Deliberamos, conversamos y votamos. Algunos dirían que es una forma engorrosa de llevar a cabo la obra de la iglesia, pero es un proceso maravillosamente abierto”.
Como parte de la planificación de la celebración de la Reforma, se invita a los miembros que no tienen derecho a voto a asistir a la Asamblea de Gracia, entre el 10 y 13 de agosto. Los participantes experimentarán los procesos de la asamblea y también se prepararán para las celebraciones del 500 aniversario en el marco de sus congregaciones y sínodos. “God’s Grace in Action Afternoon” (La tarde de la gracia de Dios en acción) ofrecerá un aprendizaje empírico sobre varios temas, con el fin de inspirar a los participantes a emprender acciones a su regreso a sus hogares, entre los que destacan: Música, justicia y paz; desde la doctrina del descubrimiento hasta #BlackLivesMatter (#LasVidasNegrasImportan); trata de seres humanos; cuidando de la creación, y seguridad alimentaria.
“Suele pasar que los miembros de las congregaciones no son conscientes del alcance de la más amplia iglesia”, dijo Eaton. La Asamblea de Gracia proporcionará a un número aún mayor de los nuestros la oportunidad de ver a toda la iglesia en acción. Podemos hacer mucho más juntos de lo que podemos hacer por separado. Y cerca de 2,000 luteranos cantando suena divino”.

 

Entre los puntos clave de acción en la asamblea se encuentran:

 

  • Elegir un vicepresidente de la ELCA. Carlos Peña, el vicepresidente actual, ha decidido no buscar un tercer mandato. Peña ha prestado sus servicios durante 13 años.
  • Considerar las recomendaciones del grupo de trabajo de Palabra y Servicio de que las tres listas de líderes laicos de la iglesia se unifiquen en un solo cuerpo conocido como diáconos.
  • Votar sobre las recomendaciones de la Estrategia de la ELCA para acompañar a los migrantes menores de edad con protección, incidencia, representación y oportunidades (ELCA Strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities, o AMMPARO).
  • Considerar “Declaration on the Way” (Declaración sobre el camino), documento que resume 50 años de diálogo entre luteranos y católicos, en preparación para el aniversario de la Reforma.

 

Los miembros con derecho a voto también recibirán:

 

  • Una actualización sobre la primera gran campaña de recaudación de fondos de la ELCA, Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA (Siempre siendo renovados: la campaña para la ELCA). Aprobada por la Asamblea General de la ELCA de 2013, esta campaña busca recaudar $198 millones de dólares con el fin de contribuir a ampliar los ministerios de esta iglesia.
  • Un informe de la obispa presidente y de los funcionarios de la ELCA.
  • Informes sobre los ministerios nacionales de la ELCA, incluyendo el Programa de la ELCA para Aliviar el Hambre Mundial y la Respuesta Luterana ante Desastres.
  • Propuestas (conocidas como memorias) de los 65 sínodos de la ELCA, entre las que se encuentran: repudiar la Doctrina del descubrimiento; profundizar en las relaciones con las iglesias negras históricas; un futuro energético responsable; apoyar al personal militar, los veteranos y sus familias, y paz con justicia en Tierra Santa.
  • Propuestas presupuestarias para los periodos de 2017 a 2019.
  • Saludos de invitados ecuménicos, asociados globales y otros.

 

Además de los miembros con derecho a voto, cientos más participarán en la asamblea en calidad de observadores de las congregaciones de la ELCA, invitados ecuménicos especiales y líderes globales, presidentes de los ochos seminarios de la ELCA y de sus 26 facultades y universidades, miembros asesores y de recursos, personal y más.
Los miembros de la ELCA y otras personas que no asistan a la asamblea pueden acceder al video en vivo de las sesiones plenarias en ELCA.org/ChurchwideAssembly.
La sala de prensa de la ELCA se ubicará en la Sala 227 del Centro de Convenciones Ernest N. Morial de Nueva Orleans. Están programadas dos conferencias de prensa durante la semana. El 10 de agosto, Eaton y otros hablarán de las consideraciones de la asamblea con respecto a la “Declaración sobre el camino”. El 12 de agosto, una conferencia de prensa presentará al nuevo vicepresidente de la ELCA. Se invita a los reporteros a participar en persona o por teleconferencia. En otro momento se proporcionarán más detalles sobre las conferencias de prensa.

 

Sobre la Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en América:

 

La ELCA es una de las mayores denominaciones cristianas en Estados Unidos con más de 3.7 millones de miembros en casi 9,300 congregaciones en los 50 estados y la región del Caribe. Conocida como la iglesia de “La obra de Dios. Nuestras manos”, la ELCA enfatiza la gracia salvadora de Dios por medio de la fe en Jesucristo, la unidad entre los cristianos y el servicio en el mundo. Las raíces de la ELCA se hallan en los escritos del reformista alemán Martín Lutero.

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On your mark…

Consider these helpful resources before leaving for NOLA–it’s getting close!

  • NewOrleansOnline.com offers these printable coupons good with your out-of town driver’s license.  They’re aimed at more traditional tourists, but a good share of them offer savings at various dining establishments.
  • Here’s a quick link to the New Orleans long range weather forecast.  (Hint: it’s going to be hot and humid.  You’ll definitely make use of those water bottles!)
  • Get a feel for local cuisine at WikiTravel’s guide to eating in New Orleans, including po-boys, gumbo, and beignets.
  • Read Lonely Planet’s tips for life in the Big Easy.
  • Take another look at the ELCA Youth Gathering main page–it’s undergone a lot of changes, including the addition of a Twitter feed.  Tweet with the hashtag #JJJ09 to get in the stream.
  • Make sure you have all the forms and materials you need, and read the JJJ Guidebook even before you get your printed copy in New Orleans!
  • Encourage your congregation to keep up on what you’re doing.  There’s no reason not to, because there are a lot of avenues of information flowing out of New Orleans.  The Twitter feed on the Youth Gathering page is a great way for anyone to add their thoughts, just by including “#JJJ09” with their tweets.  Anyone in your church, family, or friends can also follow @ELCAyouth on Twitter or subscribe on a mobile phone.  This blog will also be active throughout the Gathering, as well as other ELCA and youth bloggers.

And if you’ll be blogging at or about the Youth Gathering, leave me a comment–I’d love to add you to the blogroll.

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Preview: Donald Miller

My last post was on Lost and Found, one of the many musical attractions waiting for Youth Gatherers (still don’t have a technical term for this group of people) in New Orleans.  Next up: one of the speakers lined up for the event, Donald Miller.

Donald Miller is perhaps best known as the author of Blue Like Jazz, a New York Times-bestseller that’s inspired many to reexamine the way they think about religion, Christianity, and the nature of a relationship with God.  The book is made up of Miller’s “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality,” as well as his invitingly honest tales and his wry sense of humor.  The book is certainly about how Miller learned to relate to God, but his relationship is decidedly outside the bounds of “traditional” Christian perspectives.  He’s the type of person to explain his view of God in terms of metaphors about penguin sex and cartoons  starring Don Rabbit and the Sexy Carrot.

It’s very appropriate, though, that Don Miller is coming to speak at a Youth Gathering called Jesus, Justice, Jazz, because in a lot of ways, the book presents itself like jazz music.  I’m looking forward to arriving in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, and hearing from a man who reflected:

There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.

If you want to know a little more about Donald Miller or his other books, you can visit his blog or his official website.

On a slightly different note, I just finished Blue Like Jazz a few weeks ago after having several friends recommend it to me over months and months.  I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.  What I mean is that I like the book, but I’m not sure how much I agree with it, so I’m a bit torn.  If you’ve read it (or anything else by Don Miller, or heard him speak), don’t hesitate to drop off a comment–what do you think?

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Jesus, Justice, Jazz & Blogging

Welcome to the ELCA’s Summer 2009 event blog!  This is your one-stop shop for all things related to Youth Gathering 2009: Jesus, Justice, Jazz.  You’ll find news on the Gathering events, info on speakers and performers, and links to everything you want to know before you go.  (Don’t forget to weigh in and hear from other attendees by commenting here, of course.)  And that’s just before the Gathering gets underway.

Things will get even more interesting around here once JJJ begins.  This very blog will be host to you and everything you do in New Orleans.  Everyone you left behind to tend the home fires can visit the blog (every day–or even more often) to keep up on all the great things you’ll be part of at the Gathering.  Look for the stories of your ServantLife contributions; collections of your feedback on all the speakers, musicians, and other entertainers; and videos of anything and everything happening down on the Bayou.

To start things off, here’s a great collection of JJJ links you might not have visited yet:

  • Keep up with everything in New Orleans by following @ELCAYouth on Twitter–updated throughout the Gathering!
  • (If you’re into Twitter, you can also keep tabs on all sorts of things related to the Gathering with the hashtag #JJJ09.)
  • Join the Gathering group on Facebook.
  • Check out the full list of speakers and performers – and come back later for some feature articles on them.
  • Be ready to get packed for the trip.
  • Print off maps and read up on background info at the ELCA’s Learn about New Orleans page.
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