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[God’s] power in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine.
(Ephesians 3:21 CEV)

When we live into the limitless, we open ourselves up to taking risks, to trying new things, to see ourselves as important pieces in our world. Limitless is about removing the limits we often put on ourselves and others and to live into a potential that is far more than we dare ask or imagine.

After reflecting on the 2021 Gathering’s theme of boundless: God beyond measure, the tAble planning team was struck by this verse. We worship a God that is greater than anything we could ever fathom. Sadly, we frequently look inward and limit ourselves. When living in a world with less limits, we rely on God’s love, grace and power to make the impossible possible.

At the tAble, we will explore the story of Ester, who reminds us that we are wanted, valued but most importantly a needed part of our community. We are called to the places where our piece fits, where we can make a difference and are able to be something that is bigger than we can ever imagine. Esther also reminds us that we are called to be in community that pushes us to use what God has given us for advocacy and for helping others see their limitless potential.

the tAble is a pre-event to the Gathering that blesses and empowers young people who live with a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities so that they might grow as faithful, wise and courageous witnesses. To learn more, visit:


boundless: God beyond measure

by: Molly Beck Dean, Gathering Director

In April, a group of creative youth, young adults and adults gathered in Minneapolis to discern the theme for the 2021 Gathering. After reading through 2018 evaluations, listening to locals share about their city and much discussion about the spiritual lives of young people, the theme “boundless: God beyond measure” was chosen.

As I have pondered our theme over the last few months, it speaks to me more and more. It challenges me to think about how big God really is – from creation of the universe to crucifixion for sins, from death defying resurrection to the Spirit that continues to guide us today. It reminds me of the wonders of creation – certainly the beautiful Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, but also rolling plains, dusty deserts, crashing waves of lakes and oceans, lush forests and majestic mountains. God knows no bounds. God is all powerful and all knowing.

Our theme makes the almost incomprehensible hugeness of God personal. In our scripture verse, Paul writes “I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is.” Christ’s love for us is so abundant it can’t be calculated, quantified or even estimated. A love that couldn’t be contained in heaven so God came down and became human. A love so huge it was willing to suffer a gruesome death amongst taunts and jeers. A love so magnificent and glorious that death could not contain it and so Love was resurrected and changed everything humans knew about life, love and forgiveness.

To be honest, I don’t know all about Christ’s love or what it’s like to live a life filled with all that God is. I am bound daily by my sins and weighed down by the struggles of our world. But I have caught glimpses of it. I have stood on the beach and been brought to tears by the beauty and vastness of the ocean God created. I have held each of my new babies and cried because I have been entrusted with two of God’s miracles and in that moment knew a love greater than I could imagine. I have been in worship with a heart so full of the Spirit that my whole body danced in praise and my eyes glistened. I have been brought to my knees and cried the ugly cry over mistakes I’ve made and the wickedness that exists in the world, only to feel a calming in my heart and mind that could only be the forgiveness of God.

These brief moments of being filled with all that God is not only point me to the tissue box evidently, but give me hope for my life and our life together. God doesn’t hoard God’s boundless goodness, but rather shares it with God’s beloved – us – in real ways.

Paul’s words are my prayer for the young people of this Church.  As they prepare for this ministry and as they attend MYLE, the tAble and the Gathering, I hope they get closer to knowing all about Christ’s love and what it can look like and feel like to live a life filled with all that God is.

Molly first attended the Gathering in 1997 and has served at the Gathering in various capacities ever since. She’s worked at the congregational and synodical levels in youth ministry before transitioning to the Gathering Director in 2015. Molly enjoys beaches, spending time with her family and finding the best ice-cream shop in town.


“Big Dreams” on World Food Day


Announcing ELCA World Hunger’s Big Dream Grant Awards

This World Food Day, ELCA World Hunger is pleased to announce four ministries that have been awarded Big Dream Grants. ELCA World Hunger’s Big Dream Grants, one-time gifts of $10,000 to $75,000, support domestic ministries as they pursue innovative and sustainable approaches to ending hunger. As we reflect on the meaning behind World Food Day and our shared commitment to address hunger until all are fed, we celebrate the big dreams of these ministries and their commitment to excellence.

New this year, ELCA World Hunger’s Big Dream Grant recipients were identified in part based on the contributions of their work toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The SDGs are intended to focus sustainable development toward overcoming poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. ELCA World Hunger is pleased to partner with the Lutheran World Federation as part of its “Waking the Giant” initiative. “Waking the Giant” is a global ecumenical effort which aims to build the capacity of churches to contribute effectively to the SDGs. Churches and partners are focusing on five of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Goals 3, 4, 5, 10 and 16 – and the ELCA has an additional focus on Goal 2.

Ministries receiving ELCA World Hunger Big Dream Grants are:

IntegrArte, a ministry hosted in an ELCA congregation in Dorado, Puerto Rico, works with people of all ages to address mental health in a community where mental health services are otherwise inaccessible to many who need them, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. IntegrArte is building connections between church and community by expanding mental health services within the greater community. IntegrArte is preparing to realize its long-term dream of expanding into a community center that will host programming for older adults, a Montessori school and an emergency shelter.

Through its McClintock Partners In Education (McPIE) ministry, a partnership with the local middle school and community, Christ Lutheran Church in Charlotte, North Carolina fosters an environment where families have the opportunity to thrive through meals, clubs, camps and courses that open up pathways for both youth and parents. Christ Lutheran is increasing the ministry’s capacity to support the economic success of under-served populations in Charlotte through a commitment to bilingual support and the creation of the McClintock Innovation Lab & Library, which will focus on STEM programming.

The Table: A 1st Century Style Community in the 21st Century is a worshipping community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reducing barriers to food. The Table provides a place where families can learn to grow the food that they want to eat and fosters learning and entrepreneurial opportunities for community members. Looking ahead, The Table will further drive economic development and empowerment through expanding programming and a longer growing season made possible by new greenhouses.

End Hunger in Calvert County, based in a rural area in Maryland, is a coalition of local churches and other organizations working together to end hunger in the community. End Hunger Calvert County connects food-insecure communities with hunger relief options and works to reduce systemic poverty through a robust workforce program. Now, the organization is blazing new trails as it develops a mobile app to connect low-income families to comprehensive services.

We celebrate the work of these ministries and thank you for your support of ELCA World Hunger as we work together to fight hunger and poverty in the United States and 60 other countries around the world. To learn more about ELCA World Hunger’s approach, visit

At the global level, the “Waking the Giant” initiative provides churches and church-related actors with tools and training to relate their on-going work to the SDGs. At the national level, churches and ecumenical partners set up implementation mechanisms for taking stock of their existing work in relation to the SDGs and engage in joint planning for direct action and advocacy. “Waking the Giant” is currently focused on four target countries: Colombia, Liberia, Tanzania and the United States. The ELCA is hosting and funding the initiative in the United States. To learn more, watch the video below or visit



Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

by: Brittany Horton

Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

This verse is a constant reminder that God makes no mistakes. We are all made in the image of God just as He intended for us to be. As someone who has 50% hearing loss in both ears, I often thought people were staring at my hearing aids or making fun of the way I talked even though my disability was not as visible as others. When I got older, I became more comfortable with who I was and my growing faith played an important role in that.

Being a part of the tAble planning team was an amazing experience. Not only was I able to be a part of something bigger than myself but I was able to empower, motivate and love on others that may have experienced some of the same things I went through as a youth. When I was invited for the tAble I was not prepared for the life changing experiences and many friendships I would soon develop. I was excited to help others shine despite their differences. 

The tAble brought about a spiritual awakening that I did not even know I had. My only mission since then has been to do God’s work the best I know how and to love everyone the same. No matter what we are facing, God always finds several ways to show you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in that moment. The tAble was an experience of a lifetime and I am glad to have been a part of it. Just like we encouraged these young people to be their true authentic selves, I want each of you to understand that God loves you just the way you are. 

Brittany Horton is a Detroit native and have been doing youth empowerment and advocacy work for the last seven years. She has a strong background in mentoring and community involvement. Brittany enjoys reading, swimming, listening to music, spending time with her family and friends as well as sharing her gifts through various ministries in her church.


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.


Who Belongs With You? Day Four at the tAble

“Who Belongs With You?” was the transition from the closing day of the tAble to prepare for the Gathering. That transition took place in closing worship focused on the faithful community that gathered and formed over four days focused on the theme “You Belong.” Reminders of the days together were interspersed in the worship space: grace bags that were part of Service Learning, the prayers of the people written on pieces of cloth and woven together, and the paper chain of gifts draped on the wall behind the altar.

The worship service opened with music from James Kocian and Judi Tyler, the writers of the Gathering theme song. James wrote a song specifically for the tAble titled “You Belong” that he shared with the participants. Rev. Leslie Welton, chaplain for the pre-event (lovingly known as “Chappie” by participants) reminded everyone in worship to be present in the space as the heart leads. Many of the tAble participants had leading roles in worship, which communicated a full embodiment of the priesthood of all believers.

Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Michael Rinehart preached on the fourth chapter of Exodus, reminding those gathered at worship that even when answering God’s call is difficult, we are never alone. In preaching on the challenges and questions that Moses addressed to God, Bishop Rinehart said, “Show me a place in the Bible where God called someone to do something easy.” Steven, 17, from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Habsburg Heights, NJ, responded, “God saw Moses’ résumé and thought it was perfect.”

“Who belongs with you?” the tAble closing worship showed that as baptized children of God, we all belong to one another. Knowing that we are part of the same family joined together in Christ, the time transitioned to knowing that belonging can change everything.

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.


Your gifts belong at the table. How do you belong? Day Three at the tAble

The third day’s theme for the tAble was “Your gifts belong at the tAble. How do you belong?” The day began centering in a Bible study. Participants then headed to the NRG Center and NRG Stadium for a private tour. The tour of the NRG facilities helped participants get acquainted with the entrances and spaces because Mass Gathering can sometimes be over-stimulating. Lunch was at the Stadium, with visits with emcees, a Mass Gathering speaker, and a Mass Gathering musician.

tAble participants got a sneak peak of the Interactive Learning space, getting to try out the ropes course. The course provided an opportunity for some nervous excitement; the operators have everyone’s safety in mind and they were both patient and encouraging. The spirit of belonging was evident with cheering and overt support from people watching from the ground. Participants also hid kindness rocks throughout the Interactive Center space. The rocks were created on the second day of the tAble, and are to be found as pieces of love for the finders to keep.


After sharing a meal, the community gathered for a concert held by Ginny Owens. Ginny will also be sharing her music on the Mass Gathering stage, connecting the tAble to the Gathering. Her music and conversation encompassed a variety of emotions including grace, beauty, and humor. Keeping with the day’s theme, Ginny reminded everyone at the concert of the book of Exodus, that we are like Moses, called to go out into the world with our gifts.

The evening then transitioned to evening prayer. Bishop Eaton shared the message based on the 14th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, sharing stories of invitations at gatherings. Bishop Eaton reminded everyone there that in this world, “This is God’s table, and you are the party.”


In the spirit of parties and celebrating gifts, the evening concluded with sharing gifts with one another at “the tAble’s Got Talent.” Participants shared their talents, including singing, dancing, reading a poem, sharing games, and a self-defense demonstration, with the community.

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.


Why Do You Belong? Day Two at the tAble

– Megan Brandsrud

“You belong!” shouted Sarah Mayer-Flatt, team leader of the tAble. “I belong!” responded the tAble participants, shouting as loud as they could. Today the tAble further explored its theme, “You Belong,” as it focused on today’s theme question, “Why do you belong?”

Joey Baar, a participant of the tAble and member of Living Lord Lutheran Church in Bradenton, Fla., responded to today’s theme question by writing, “I belong because Jesus loves me,” on a strip of paper, which he then added to a paper chain. The paper chain, which is quickly growing, lists participants’ responses to the questions of why they belong and how they belong.

During their service learning time today, the tAble participants put together “Grace Bags.” The bags, which contained items such as water bottles, tissues, socks and non-perishable food, will be distributed to people who are experiencing homelessness. As participants worked on compiling 200 Grace Bags, they were reminded that everyone is called to serve, and everyone has gifts and talents to contribute.

the tAble participants practiced their artistic talents by painting “Kindness Rocks”—rocks that they decorated with fun pictures and inspirational messages. the tAble participants will hide the rocks during their tour of the NRG Complex tomorrow for ELCA Youth Gathering participants to find throughout the week.

Anna Lynch, a participant of the tAble from St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Ill., painted a rock with a smiley face and a heart because she thought they were happy messages for people to find. She also filled a Grace Bag, saying she’d done something similar before with her home church.

Sarah Mayer-Flatt said these two service learning activities helped connect the tAble participants to the Houston community, to the Gathering and further.

Some Gathering participants might have never heard about the tAble but may find one of the Kindness Rocks and will now be able to spread the message of the tAble back to their home church, she said.

Throughout the day, the nearly 80 tAble participants were reminded that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” drawing from Psalm 139. They also talked about how God can be revealed through their talents, strengths and gifts.

And the gifts that the tAble participants used today in their filling of Grace Bags and their painting of Kindness Rocks demonstrated just some of the many answers to “Why do you belong?”

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.


Day One of MYLE and the tAble

The overall theme of “ONE” resonated strongly on the first day of MYLE. The theme for the first day, “One body, many parts” was truly embodied as people traveled from across the country to gather as one community at the University of Houston for the Gathering pre-event. On the first day, there was time to begin forming relationships at community life and breaking bread with one another over dinner. Worship began with greetings from Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Michael Rinehart. The Assistant to the Bishop for the Metropolitan D.C. Synod, Rev. Leila Ortíz, preached at opening worship, reminding everyone attending MYLE that as being one in the body of Christ, we matter, we are necessary, and we make the body of faith whole.

“You Belong” was the theme for the tAble, held at the Crowne Plaza. Participants traveled from around the country to come together for this pre-event to the Gathering. The theme for the first day, “Who do you belong to?” was asked throughout the day. During registration and afternoon activities, Bishop Eaton stopped by to spend time with participants. The time together began in worship, centering in the space by reflecting on the day’s theme. Rev. Leslie Welton the assistant to the bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod and pre-event chaplain, presided over worship. She reminded participants to center themselves in their bodies to experience worship however it would be meaningful and comfortable. The first day at the tAble was also a time to establish and build trust with one another in the space, living into a full and embodied experience. At the end of a busy day concluding in evening prayer, participants gathered together.

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.


the tAble and MYLE Begin!

What does it mean to truly belong? What does it mean to be a part of the one body of Christ in the midst of the diversity of God’s creation? These questions are a part of the foundations for the tAble and MYLE, the pre-events to the ELCA Youth Gathering. The pre-events embody the full expression of inclusivity within the church.

The theme for the tAble is “You Belong.” With this theme, there are a series of questions for young people who live with a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities within our church to ask, “where do I fit in?”, “why am I different than others?”, and “what gifts could I possibly bring?”.

the tAble reminds us that we are all welcome at Christ’s Table and that we all belong in the fullness of who God created us to be. The daily themes, questions will be the areas of wonder to be explored during the pre-event are:

  • Who do you belong to?,
  • Why do you belong?,
  • Your gifts belong at the table. How do you belong?, and
  • Who belongs with you?.

MYLE’s theme is “ONE,” with the foundation in Ephesians 2:14-19. What does it mean to be a part of the one body of Christ when God expresses the fullness of God’s diversity in cultures and languages? How is unity in God expressed within the many people around the world who follow Christ in a number of beautiful and meaningful ways?

Each day, MYLE will focus on “ONE” in a number of ways:

  • One body, many parts (1 Corinthians 12:14-26);
  • One mission, many gifts (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11);
  • One household, many rooms (John 14:2); and
  • ONE in CHRIST (Ephesians 2:14-19).

MYLE and the tAble express and embody that You Belong at Christ’s Table, and that we are unified as ONE in the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. These are vital pre-events to express the fullness of expression of God’s church, and there is reason to rejoice as these pre-events begin today.

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.