While driving back to Chicago from Detroit a few months ago, I listened to a segment on public radio in which a business professor was talking about the national trend of lower enrollment in MBA programs. There are as many reasons for this trend as there are schools creatively addressing it, but I primarily heard affirmation for the ELCA Youth Gathering. I know that wasn’t the producer’s intention, but let me explain how I got there:
The prevailing wisdom and research indicate a growing emphasis on and necessity for career-ready degrees such as computer science, engineering and finance – often included as part of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Yet, employers are saying they are looking for new hires with creative, communicative and problem-solving skills. These are skills traditionally associated with a liberal arts education, which is at the core of Lutheran higher education. All of the ELCA colleges and universities are unanimous in their desire to use education, civic engagement and community service as pathways to develop informed citizens who engage with their neighbors. The ELCA Youth Gathering is built around the same commitment to help young people identify, embrace and nurture their vocation, a calling to live a life that serves the well-being of their community and the world.
This commitment to learning is reflected in many aspects of the ELCA Youth Gathering. Followers of this blog have already learned about the Proclaim Story program element that will help young people identify their story and other’s stories within God’s story. Especially during these times when fear and suspicion toward those who are different is becoming the prevailing narrative, it is important to hear again and again God’s promise of good news for the whole world. In addition to hearing it, teenagers will learn how to proclaim it by how they live in the world.
Another powerful aspect of the ELCA Youth Gathering is the “Getting Ready” materials. Evaluation data from previous Gatherings show a clear correlation between the impact of the Gathering experience on a young person’s faith formation and their group’s use of the “Getting Ready” materials. The groups that engage the materials in the months leading up to the Gathering are far more likely to have transformational experiences at the Gathering. I like to say that the Holy Spirit uses the materials to till the soil of young people’s hearts, preparing them for what will be planted during the five intense days of the Gathering. It is then up to the congregation to nurture those new seeds of faith discovery when young people return home. In 2015, the Gathering will offer suggestions for congregational leaders to build on the newly forming faith discoveries through a specially designed app. Later this month, you’ll find the Gathering’s “Getting Ready” materials on our resource page.