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The Mission and Goals for the Gathering


The Gathering’s mission, faith formation in teens, is the hub from which all things come for the tAble, MYLE, and the Gathering. Our goal is to create environments and opportunities for faith formation through worship, Interactive Learning, Bible study, Service Learning, and fellowship. While some of the experiences can be replicated at home, some are unique and special to the Gathering because of the size and scope of this ministry.

There are five core goals that we have for this ministry. We hope that all participants can be both affirmed and challenged in their faith, experience new perspectives, ponder their vocation, bond with their congregational group, and learn more about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

While some participants may accomplish these goals during our two pre-events, MYLE or the tAble, some will at Mass Gatherings, where participants come together for music, speakers, and worship. Others might tackle these goals in the Interactive Learning space, where they can experience exciting things that the ELCA and our partners are doing. Or maybe it’s being God’s hands and feet in the Twin Cities on their Service Learning day. It might even be during Synod Day, where participants are in community with those geographically close to them or it might just happen during the nightly congregational devotion and debrief called Final 15.

Wherever it happens, we know that this is a powerful and transformational ministry if you are brave enough to let your guard down long enough for the Spirit to enter in, if you can be quiet long enough to listen to someone different than yourself, if your prayer is to be open to what God is calling you to, if you realize the strong roots of a community will ground you no matter the strength of life’s storms, if you imagine yourself as part of something bigger than you.


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.


Gatherings: Life-Changing Events

– Sherry Ferne

After graduating  from Central High School in January, 1961, I worked at the State of Ohio Library. I was saving money for college at Capital University and also to attend the 1961 Luther League Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. I looked forward to both. The Convention would be a real adventure for someone who had only traveled to Michigan and West Virginia. I took a train to Washington, DC and then to Miami Beach, Florida; a whole train full of Lutheran teenagers! Yet “Colored” bathrooms and drinking fountains at the railroad stations in the south surprised and shocked me.

We stayed at the very upscale Fontainebleau Hotel. The sessions were terrific with all of the young people: the enthusiastic singing was inspiring.  The speakers were thought provoking.  Most impressive of all was a black pastor who spoke with such passion and authority, and with the certainty that he was doing what God was calling him to do.  I don’t exactly remember his words, but I do remember that his message was powerful.  He was so impressive. 

To this day, I wonder how the American Lutheran Church was able to convince Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to address this group of teenagers.  It certainly was a pivotal moment in my life as I carefully followed his few remaining years.

The convention in 1961 made me a huge proponent of our ELCA Youth Gatherings.  I heartily encourage every young person in the ELCA to attend as many Youth Gatherings as they can.  My 15 year old grandson attended his first gathering in Detroit and he looks forward to attending the Houston Gathering with his younger sister.  They are life changing events!


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?