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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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Global Farm Challenge Podcast

Welcome to “More than Food,” the podcast of ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge!

Find out more information below about the Global Farm Challenge and how you and your group can become involved. Links to the podcast episodes are also below.

What is the Global Farm Challenge?

The Global Farm Challenge is a youth-centered, whole-church effort to raise awareness and gifts to support the work of ELCA World Hunger with farming communities around the world. ELCA World Hunger works through congregations, companion churches and partners to accompany smallholder farmers around the world. This work includes adapting to climate change and sustainable farming practices. But it also includes helping farmers learn new techniques for increasing yields and decreasing costs, build collectives for shared power and gain access to land, seeds and tools. By joining the Global Farm Challenge, you can be an important part of supporting this work!

Why the Global Farm Challenge?

We know that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone person. But hunger is on the rise, and the very people who produce the world’s food – farmers and farmworkers – face higher levels of hunger and poverty. They are vulnerable to climate change-related disasters, health risks and laws and policies that lock them out of access to land or financing they need to expand their farms.

With the war in Ukraine causing global food shortages and rising prices making it harder for vulnerable families to feed themselves, meeting immediate needs now and building resilience for the future are critical steps. The Global Farm Challenge, by empowering ELCA World Hunger to accompany farmers around the world, is a key way we can all be part of God’s work toward a just world where all are fed.

What is “More than Food”?

“More than Food” is a podcast designed to go along with the “Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game,” a game your group can play anywhere – even on the road! In the game, players follow stories of smallholder farmers and farmworkers and learn about the challenges and opportunities farmers face. Each of the stories in the game is based on real stories of neighbors involved in the projects supported by ELCA World Hunger and the Global Farm Challenge. In the podcast, we will dive into these stories and learn more about the projects and the communities involved.

You can share this podcast on your congregation’s website or social media, listen to episodes as part of a group study or play episodes in the car while you travel to a service site this summer.

Play the game, talk about your experiences and hear about our neighbors’ experiences as you consider supporting ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge!

Join us in learning more about the many ways God is at work through us and our neighbors!

 

Episode 1 – In this episode, learn more about the Global Farm Challenge and how to get involved.

Transcript: Ep 1 Introducing More than Food Transcript

Episode 2 – In this episode, Brooke and Ryan talk about why justice is at the very foundation of faith and why it is so important to think about ending hunger as “more than food.”
Episode 3 – In this episode, Ryan talks with Franklin Ishida, the director for the Asia and Pacific regions for the ELCA, about growing pumpkins – and a whole lot more – through a project in Cambodia. This project is one of the stories featured in the Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game.

Transcript: Episode 3 – Pumpkins and Cambodia Transcript

Episode 4 – In this episode, we hear from Giovana Oaxaca, the ELCA’s program director for migration policy, who shares some of the ways ELCA World Hunger supports farm workers in the US. This work part of the story of citrus fruit in the Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game.

Transcript: More than Food Episode 4 – US Farmworkers Transcript

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Juneteenth: We Will Breathe

by Joe Davis

Juneteenth commemorates a day when my ancestors could breath a little more freely. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, enslaved Africans were read federal orders that they were freed, even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed over two years prior. They didn’t know they were free because, in spite of the law, they were still brutalized by those who weaponized power. This was this liberatory announcement that initiated the joyful reunion of long-separated loved ones and the work of reconstructing after centuries of being held down by the harsh American slave system. 

Today, families of African descent throughout the United States celebrate this Freedom Day, which gave us a brief moment to inhale deeper than before. However, as a Black artist and educator living in Minneapolis, MN during an uprising that has sparked freedom demonstrations around the world, I know that oppressive powers have only shifted their weight on the necks of vulnerable Black bodies as we cried out to breathe. 

I can only imagine how profoundly the Giver of all life and breath (1) must become enraged and grief-stricken every time the breath in our bodies is snuffed out by violent power. But I needn’t imagine this response, as Jesus incarnated this reality when he protested abusive authority decrying those holding power through violence as hypocrites and snakes (2) and damaged temple property when it was being valued more than the humanity of his people (3). Although divisive and controversial to corrupt religious leaders and exploitative lawmakers, Jesus embodied a form of justice not rooted in revenge or retribution, but instead in restoration and healing. Even though he could have commanded an army of angels to battle on his behalf (4) his love for the most vulnerable was held so deeply in his body that he lived and died among them in a communion of shared vulnerability. Jesus gave his all, his last breath, to empower them, and to empower us, to rise again. His desire was that we would all be freed from the grips of power-hoarding, death-dealing systems and breathe in the abundance of life-affirming community. 

Jesus intensely understood the soul wound and how violence, at its core, is a spilling over of trauma and suffering from one body to another. Resmaa Manekem, body-centered therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hand: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, describes the soul wound as trauma routinely passed on from person to person and from generation to generation. The only way to stop the cyclical pattern is not punitive force but reparative action and a commitment to the practice and process of healing. This calls for the healing of the oppressor and the oppressed, as stated by Dr. Joi Lewis, Twin Cities healer, author, and founder of the Healing Justice Foundation. Dr Lewis states, “Oppression is not an inevitable state of affairs and no human being would agree to oppress another person or agree to be oppressed if they weren’t already hurt.” 

The wounds of violence reach the innermost essence of our beings, it viscerally impacts our flesh and becomes ritualized in every part of society and culture from policing to politics. When we heal the systems that live inside of us, then we can also heal the systems that live outside of us. And that is the path to collective liberation that Jesus calls us all to embody (5). 

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, speaks to this call, an ancestral echo of the struggle for freedom heard in the litany of voices throughout history. If we listen, we can hear it resonating in the song of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—among countless other scriptural leaders —organizing themselves and their people to escape the slave system of pharaohs and kings who denied their demands for human dignity until death was too close to home (6). Once their lungs were no longer constricted by the tyrannical rule of empire, they had enough space to breathe new life into prophetic visions of Jubilee, where prisoners could be liberated, debts forgiven, and the land renewed (7). 

I long to live in a world not of crippling dependence on guns and cages as lethal enforcers of systemic injustice, but a world where our bodies and our institutions rise with the deep, slow rhythms of healing. We don’t live in that world yet, but it’s worth working for with every breath we have.


Joe Davis is a nationally-touring artist, educator, and speaker based in Minneapolis, MN, whose work employs poetry, music, theater, and dance to shape culture. He is the Founder and Director of multimedia production company, The New Renaissance, the frontman of emerging soul funk band, The Poetic Diaspora, and qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory. He has keynoted, facilitated conversation, and served as teaching artist at hundreds of high schools and universities including New York, Boston, and most recently as the Artist-in-Residence at Luther Seminary where he received a Masters in Theology of the Arts.


1: Genesis 2:7 (CEB) the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 

2: Matthew 23 (CEB) Jesus Calls Out the Legal Experts and Religious Leaders; Matthew 12:34 (CEB) Children of snakes! How can you speak good things while you are evil? What fills the heart comes out of the mouth. 

3: Matthew 21: 12 (CEB) Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all of those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. 

4: Psalms 91:12 and Matthew 4:6 

5: Luke 17:20-21Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ Or ‘There is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you. 

6: Exodus 12:29-50 

7: Leviticus 25: 8-18

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Reflections on Volunteering in Minneapolis

 

It has been 3 weeks since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the city in which I call home. Unfortunately, the senseless killings perpetuated from racism are not uncommon. The outcry for justice, though, has been very common across the United States and countries throughout the world.

The George Floyd memorial on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis is holy ground where people gather. Gather to pay their respects, gather to lay down flowers, gather with advocacy organizations and gather around food and water. The words and artwork are a balm for the wounds that I, a white woman, cannot even begin to imagine.

The past couple weeks, I have spent time volunteering at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church just blocks from the epicenter. Since George Floyd’s murder, Holy Trinity has become a sanctuary for demonstrators, a medic station for the wounded, a place of support for local small businesses and a pop-up food and necessity distribution site. Streets have been lined with cars with donations and greeters. Pregnant women and people with disabilities were accompanied, to ensure their needs were met. I heard so many touching stories over the week. One of them that stood out, especially as a youth minister, is the confirmation students who purchased detergent and collected all the quarters they could find, so people could still do their laundry.

Something else that stuck out to me is seeing a mother taking pictures of her daughter in her cap and gown. I went over and started talking to her and she said, “this is her history.” I pray for this young woman and her family. I also pray for our community, our country. I pray that this moment and these pictures are the time that she can tell her children and grandchildren that this was the turning point in our history. “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

 

Kris Bjorke serves as the Service Learning Project Manager for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering. She lives in the Minneapolis area and enjoys drinking coffee with friends, being with family and pets, the outdoors, football and hockey games, travel (with a special affinity for National Parks) and quilting.

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Meet Matthew

by: Matthew Felbein

Hello! My name is Matthew Felbein and I am thrilled to be able to serve as one of the Gathering Hosts for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering in Minneapolis. This will be my second Gathering, and even though it is still about 450 days away (I might be counting already…) I couldn’t be more excited!

Currently, I am a junior in high school and I try to be involved in everything that I can. Music is a huge part of my life as well as my faith. I love sharing music at my church whether it’s in a brass group, the high school choir, or playing the organ and piano. I’m also involved with a lot of theater and music activities and my school.

I was absolutely blown away by the 2018 Gathering in Houston. From the first night, I felt named and claimed as a child of God more than ever. Seeing thousands of people of all different backgrounds from all over the country come together for worship, service, and lots of fun was an incredible experience. Without a doubt, it was one of the best weeks of my life and it really did change everything. When I left, I knew I wanted to be able to inspire people like I had been inspired by the emcees, speakers, musicians, and volunteers at the Gathering, and I am so blessed to have this new opportunity!

I can’t wait to see how God’s boundless love fills us in Minneapolis in 2021. See you then!

 

 

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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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Made Free

by: Kelly Sherman-Conroy, MYLE Team Leader

In October of 2019, the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event leadership team, including youth, young adults and adults, gathered at Luther Seminary to discern a theme for MYLE 2021. Before we began our conversations as a group, we took the time to learn about and understand the history of the land where MYLE will be hosted in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This was led by an effort from Healing Minnesota Stories, to bring healing between people of faith and the Native American people who call Minnesota home. Native people have suffered deep trauma over many years, losing their land, language and culture. While many people and institutions contributed to that trauma, it happened with the full participation of Christian churches. As Pastor Jim Bear Jacobs mentioned to our group, “We all still need healing, healing is doable, and churches have a role to play in healing.”

As leaders of MYLE we believe in the power of healing stories. Stories heal because they make invisible pain visible. The listener and storyteller are both healed by their acts. This was a needed experience for our team and our theme discernment. We learned that churches and all faith communities can play a key role in promoting and experiencing healing by opening ourselves to our own history and listening to the stories of Native people. Through the sharing and retelling of traumatic stories, we can create new positive ones.

And this is how our theme for MYLE 2021 was created. Made Free. Our stories, our experiences matter. And together as leaders, we want to be able to nurture community and inspire healing with all our MYLE participants, leaders and volunteers.  We realize that our ethnic cultures are rich in community and family bonds. Made Free to me is an understanding that our MYLE community can be a pathway for healing and brings a time for celebrating the diverse expressions and many facets of our community which are woven through the Holy Spirit.

The scripture chosen for this theme says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  What this says to me is that the Spirit empowers us and when we feel empowered, things begin to happen. The soul is very much a part of the body, and the Spirit awakens our soul and gives us life. As a body of Christ, our soul is not fully complete unless the rest of the body is also in harmony. Together at MYLE, we emerge as a community to listen courageously and create Spirit-Filled relationships of healing.

MYLE 2021 is going to be a space that will inspire and create liberating relationships with all in attendance and beyond. We want to characterize these relationships by equity, difference, mutuality, communion and oneness. MYLE aims to be an exciting Spirit-Inspired community, inclusive and accountable to all. Celebrating our cultures together we will literally be breathing Spirit into our own healing.

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God’s boundless promise

by: Claire Embil

This week, I had the opportunity to preach about the Baptism of our Lord in Matthew chapter 3. This is a story that perfectly exemplifies God’s boundlessness. Jesus is claimed by God as the beloved son before he has accomplished anything, no healing, no miracles.

In today’s society, it’s so easy to only present the image of ourselves that we want the world to see, and our worth becomes tied to clicks, likes and views. You could be smart, talented, beautiful, but the world says, “Ok, prove it.” I think a lot about how radical and spectacular it is to be claimed as beloved without having to prove yourself. We don’t have to prove ourselves for baptism. God’s grace knows no qualifications.

There is nothing we have to do, that could make us worthy of the love and grace that God extends to us through baptism. It is important to strive to be our best selves, but God already thinks we are worthy and beloved. God promises us this undeserved, unconditional, unending grace that we never had to earn because baptism is not about our commitment to God. Baptism is about God’s commitment to us.

That main theme of this text is particularly important to me because it took me a long time to learn. Back when I was getting confirmed, I think I did so begrudgingly, and not because I didn’t want to be confirmed. I very much did, but because I knew that confirmation is the affirmation of baptism.

I was baptized in the Catholic church and my family didn’t come to a Lutheran church until I was 2. The closer we got to Confirmation Day, the more I felt a nagging sense that I didn’t belong. As we talked more about our baptismal promises, I began to talk to my pastors and my youth leaders about getting re-baptized. I very quickly found out that’s not an option. Jesus wasn’t baptized Lutheran so why did I have to be? I knew that we “acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” but I still wanted to be re-baptized. I felt like I had to do something to fit into this family. It took me a little bit to learn that anything I thought I could’ve done was already done for me through the waters of baptism, the first time. No repeat needed.

Claire Embil is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying English creative writing, religious studies and photography. She is actively involved with the ELCA Young Adult Leadership team, the ELCA Youth Gathering, Wisconsin Campus Ministry, Lutheran Student Movement, and competitive gymnastics.

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Fundraising 101

by: Amy Wagner

The ELCA Youth Gathering offers a great way for congregations to be a part of the larger church. The Gathering can be quite a financial and faith commitment on the part of the congregation as well as the family, but I strongly believe this event belongs on the timeline of each person’s faith journey. With a solid plan in place, collecting the funding for this experience can be both faith-filled and joyful. 

Set a budget and have a plan

Start with a budget. What can the church budget cover? What will you ask families to pay? Know your goals, jot down ideas on how fundraising will play a part in the preparation of this experience and enjoy the process. I appreciate fundraising opportunities where the young people were able to share about why mountaintop weeks like these are important points in their faith journey.

Have a goal, now what?

Great, you know how much you hope to raise from now until the Gathering. How do you raise money? In one word, ask. Mike Ward has a fabulous resource called the $10,000 Car Wash on MartinsList.org that changed the way I look at fundraising. Martin’s List is a database of original member-created resources for adults who work with young people and is included in your ELCA Network membership. He believes that through fundraisers, you are providing an opportunity for your entire congregation to be part of passing faith on to young people.

Fundraisers can also bond the group together through working for the common goal of sharing the story of why this event is an important part of the ministry and how it impacts the lives of the participants.

Butter Braids, Car Washes, Dinners, Flamingos, Oh My…

Be sure to check your congregation’s policy for fundraising; but there are many great and fun ways to raise money with endless lists on the Internet; like this one, or this one. You can do everything from butter braids to dinners to Dodgeball Tournaments to flamingoes. 

Another way to raise money is by creating opportunities for ongoing relationships when asking for support. This can be through a “Stock Sale” or similarly a bulletin board of envelopes marked with set dollar amounts stuffed with information about trip participants. In a sense you are creating built-in relational prayer partners. Donors not only get to give financially but they also get to know and pray for the participants by name leading up to, during and following the trip. You can get the details of the basic setup of these with a simple Google search

Thank Donors

Be sure to thank all of the people that helped get your group to the Gathering. This can be done with handwritten Thank You notes before you leave, postcards on the trip, specialized text messages with a photo during the week and/or a special dinner after your group as returned and so much more. There are many great ways to tell the impact of the experience to let them know how they made this life-changing week possible.

 

Since the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering, Amy has served as Gathering Synod Coordinator for the Nebraska Synod. She was the Director of Youth Ministries for more than five years prior to serving the same congregation in her current role as Communications Coordinator.
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