Skip to content

ELCA Blogs

Faith Lived Out Loud at The Gathering

One of the many ways we live out our faith in action is through volunteering. There are many different ways that this can be done through the Gathering and what better place to do it than in New Orleans with thousands of your best friends! Check out the Gathering’s website for more information on how to get involved as a volunteer. 

Learn how Anna went from being participant to volunteer and what that experience has meant to her—

Hello! My name is Anna Thompson and I attended the 2009 Gathering in New Orleans as a youth participant. That was the first time I understood just how big the ELCA is. It was wonderful to be surrounded by other young people living their faith out loud just like I was. 

I volunteered in 2012, again in New Orleans, while I was in college. I was so excited to be able to help facilitate the experiences I’d had just three years before.

In 2018, I was able to volunteer again. I’d moved to Texas and Houston was only a 5 hour drive away. I was in a different place in my life, as a full-fledged adult this time, but I still had an amazing experience. Plus, I got to connect with friends from previous Gatherings, my home congregation, synod, and college! 

Why do you like to volunteer? 

I love volunteering at the Gathering because I love getting to help pull it off. The Gathering was a key moment in my high school life and I love knowing that I’m a small piece in that puzzle for the new generation. This cycle, I’ll attend as an adult leader for my congregation in Fort Worth, TX. I’m excited to experience the Gathering from a 3rd perspective and help the youth from my congregation experience their first Gathering!

What’s one thing you’re looking forward to in New Orleans? 

I’m looking forward to walking down Canal Street after Mass Gathering, especially closing worship. The rainbow of shirts on display as we are physically, and theologically, sent out into the world is a memory I treasure of my previous two Gatherings in New Orleans!

Fill in the Blank: “I am Created to Be Joyful! ” 

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone


The first thing that comes to mind when I think about volunteering with the Gathering is stepping outside of my comfort zone. It was an unexpected invitation that pulled me out of my day-to-day cycle and reminded me of the variety of talents and gifts God creates in me to love, support and connect to my neighbors.

When times came that challenged my energy level or my ability level, walking through the week with hundreds of other people who had offered up their own vacation time, jobs, families to create an event for the young people of our church, made me pause and remember how great God is.

Volunteering provided me the opportunity to serve with folks from all walks of life like college students between semesters, parents giving back to the Gathering they attended as youth, pastors on vacation, and others that felt the call to give of their talents as a chance to help others grow. Serving alongside those people, I still recall the goosebumps I got from being on the floor of NRG Stadium as tens of thousands of youth and adults lit up water bottles with glow-sticks, flashlights, and cell phones and swayed to the music in a kaleidoscope of colors and movement.

It’s these types memories and interactions that I stock up on to remind myself that volunteering and giving of myself is so crucial to my spiritual life and my connection to others and God. A comfort zone has its place, but so does setting it aside to help others be in theirs.

To learn more about our volunteer opportunities, please visit our website

Joshua Lotz is a 30-something partner and father of 2 young children. He has worked in youth ministry for 11 years and accompanied youth to the 2012 and the 2015 Gathering. Joshua has served as a volunteer in Houston and is a member of the Volunteers team for the 2022 Gathering in Minneapolis. 


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.



Welcome to Minneapolis!

by: Bishop Ann Svennungsen

I’m so excited that the Minneapolis Area Synod will host the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering. Minnesota, home of 10,000 lakes and more shoreline than California is filled with Lutherans – nearly 700,000 to be exact. We have 300 congregations within an hour drive of the Convention Center – each one eager to welcome you with a ready smile.

The Dakota people were the first to live here along the banks of the mighty Mississippi, with sacred sites dotting our landscape. Now we have 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota and one of the largest urban Native populations in the country. Minneapolis is also the largest Somali city outside East Africa. Liberians fill several of our ELCA congregations and we have churches worshipping weekly in Lao, Hmong, Swahili, Spanish, Oromo, Amharic, Norwegian and American Sign Language.

Minneapolis is the proud hometown for Prince, Lizzo and Bob Dylan. We don’t just love this city for the music. We love it for the food too – not just hotdish and Jello, but also Juicy Lucys and cheese curds, freshly-caught walleye and wild rice, pho and injera bread. 

Even more than the Mall of America, our 22 metro lakes with their sailboats and paddleboards; our 100 miles of bike paths and abundance of rental bicycles; our countless outdoor cafes, including many global markets, and beautiful 80-degree temperatures will welcome you here. We’re really proud of our city and understand why it’s one of the most popular for young adults. 

We’re ranked first in the number of volunteers per capita, which excites us to partner with you as we follow Jesus together in meaningful service in our neighborhoods.

We can’t wait to see you in Minneapolis. Even more, we look forward to gathering with you in 2021 to hear anew the good news of Jesus’ love for all creation, including you and me. See you then!

Re-elected to a second six-year term on May 5, 2018, Bishop Ann Svennungsen was the first woman to serve as bishop in any of the ELCA’s six Minnesota synods. Today, she lives in Minneapolis with her husband Rev. Dr. William Russell.

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 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.


Gathering and Blessing Volunteers

– Misael Fajardo-Perez

I am privileged to be part of the commissioning service for the ELCA Youth Gathering volunteers for the second time in a row. Nearly 800 volunteers are gathering in Houston a few days before they engage with over 30,000 youth and their leaders coming from various corners of our country and from our global church partners.

I will serve as one of the chaplains for the nearly 800 volunteers during the Gathering. Chaplains will share worship responsibilities for the commissioning service for volunteers and will be accompanied by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Easton and Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Gulf Coast Synod. Musician Rachel Kurtz will lead us in music, and at the end of the service, volunteers will be sent to the Gathering with words of blessings and affirmation.

One of the most powerful moments in this service is will begin at the baptismal font. It is at the font where we remember our common identity, which holds us together as a community of faith. The most meaningful moment to which I am looking forward is when various items from each corner of the space will be brought forth to the center of the room to be connected together to create a base for the baptismal bowl. This imagery is so meaningful for me because it acknowledges the various journeys that come together as they have for generations to receive the one Spirit poured out at Pentecost, upon the Gentiles, and now upon us.

It is the one Spirit that connects us to each other, becoming equal recipients, crafted by this same God of Love.

Thanks be to God for the continued work of transformation by the Spirit, who continues to call all people from all corners of our world to the divine purpose of sharing love. God be with all of our volunteers.


Rev. Misael Fajardo-Perez is a Mission Developer with the Wenatchee Valley Lutheran Latino Ministry.


A Home Can Change Everything

– Chris Heavner 

I love coming to the Gatherings and staying in a hotel!  My family didn’t stay in hotels that much (even now, I snatch all the tiny shampoo bottles for my kids).  This luxury would probably not be so thrilling if my stay only reminded me that I lack a permanent place to sleep.  For too many families, “home” is a couch in the home of a friend or relative.  For too many of God’s children, it is a dream to have a thermostat which controls the temperature and a bathroom with running water. 

“This Changes Everything” about the way we understand our stay in the hotels in Houston. Those of us staying in the hotels will “change everything” about the lives of three Houston families. 

Three Habitat for Humanity Houses will be constructed in the Interaction Center. Youth will swing the hammers that will frame the walls for bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms.  I love coming to the Gathering knowing that a part of me and my heart will stay in the hosting city when I am gone.  

This is the fourth Gathering at which such a project has been one of the Interaction Center offerings.  The leadership is provided by Lutheran Campus Ministry and Lutheran Disaster Response. Twelve college students for whom Lutheran Campus Ministry has become an avenue for civic and community engagement will be serving as crew leaders. In addition to the work completed in Houston, we will tell you how you can organize similar projects in the places you call home. 

I love coming to the Youth Gatherings and meeting folks from across our country and our Church.  And I love working with you to change so many things in the city which serves as our host. 


Chris Heavner is campus pastor at Clemson University in South Carolina. This will be his eighth Gathering. He also serves as the faculty advisor for Clemson’s Habitat for Humanity, with whom he as built thirty-three homes.


Unexpected Learning at the Gathering

– Debra Porowski 

One of the greatest lessons I learned at a Gathering happened in Detroit, in a small quiet hallway in the Cobo Center. On Friday night while we were walking back from Ford Field back to our buses, I fell and twisted my ankle. By the time I got to the hotel,  my ankle was swollen and bruising. We had our Practice Justice Day the following day.  I knew there was no way I could walk onto a site with them that would require me to be on my feet and working. Maybe we would be assigned something easy that I could do sitting down? Then it hit me. If we got to do something in where I could physically take part, it wasn’t what I knew my kids were looking forward to doing.   

We got our assignment the next morning and sure enough, the kids were going out to the streets of Detroit to fix up and paint houses. There would be power tools, loose boards, and lots of manual labor; nothing I could do on one foot. I hugged each kid goodbye and sent them with my adult leaders out to participate in an experience that would stay with them forever. After a visit to the first aid station and all fixed up with an ace bandage and lots of ice, I found a bench in a quiet hallway in the Cobo Center. As I was sitting there, another adult leader from another church (probably from another state) came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I explained that my youth were off having this amazing day and I was sitting there. The adult leader asked if she could pray with me. It was the most beautiful thing anyone could have done for me in that moment.

I sat and cried while she prayed for my youth—for their safety and for blessings on the work they were doing. She also prayed for me, for healing, for strength for my ankle, and for my broken heart.  

I learned a huge lesson that day. As adults we accompany the youth to the Gathering and we are ultimately there to support them in their faith journey.  My youth experienced God in the houses they fixed and painted, and I experienced God in the hallway.  

In 2018, I am happy to be serving as a Synod Gathering Coordinator to help other adults to find the balance between the responsibilities and the rewards of the Gathering.

If you approach your role with faith and a little flexibility, you too will find the Gathering as a highlight on your own faith journey—in very unexpected places.


Meeting Hope at the Gathering

Ally McDonough

The Youth Gathering was a wonderful, faith-filled experience that left me with more memories and friends than I will ever get in a lifetime. In the summer of 2015, I went to the Gathering in Detroit. Before the trip, I heard many rumors of churches not going to Detroit because of the stigma surrounding the city. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive as well. As soon as my group got to Detroit, however, all of my preconceived notions were gone. Detroit was beautiful inside and out. Through many hardships, the city is still living and thriving one day at a time.

My favorite part of the Gathering and reason I am writing this article is because of one little girl who impacted me more than any speaker did at the Gathering. Her name is Hope. Pictured with me (I am in the pink bandana), Hope was the shining light on an otherwise wet and dreary day.

She was a local kid who lived in the neighborhood where we were working. Every day for three days, Hope came out and helped create the beautiful mosaics on the back of the dug outs. Hope came over to my group’s dugout and asked if she could help. A system was soon put in place where I would put the mortar on the back of the tile and Hope would choose the final resting place of the tile on the dugout. For over four hours, it was a beautiful symphony of working together to beautify a city so surrounded by negativity and media-bashing. Hope was living out the true meaning of her name in creating beauty in her city and community.

My day with Hope taught me that even with all the negativity, a helping hand and a serving spirit will unite us all.