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ELCA Youth Gathering Blog

Created to be… Authentic

We are each uniquely created in the image of God. Take a moment and hold up a mirror, or turn your cellphone on selfie mode and look at yourself.

You, in all your glorious beauty, are made in our Creator’s image, perfectly imperfect and uniquely you. We are each created to bring our whole authentic selves to the table. But what does that look like? 

We had the chance to ask a few young people what it means to know that as beloved children of God they are Created To Be Authentic. We also wanted to know when they feel empowered to be their most authentic selves and if they have a community or church that not only supports them in this but also encourages them to live out their God-created identities?

Here are some of their responses—

David from Washington shares:
To me, the word authentic means being myself no matter what others say or think, authenticity is being as real and true to yourself as you can. Being created to be my authentic self means that I am perfectly imperfect and created in the image of God to be exactly who I am, not bending or changing my core values or morals to match others I don’t agree with. It also means that I can choose when to listen to what others have to say about me. At the end of the day, I’m the one making those decisions on what I believe would be most authentic and true to myself and my beliefs. I believe that a community that supports my authenticity is one that doesn’t have harsh rules, standards, or codes and understands everyone is unique in their own way and brings their own personal experiences and knowledge to the table at every conversation and in every action they make. I feel most empowered to be my most authentic self whenever I’m around my friends hanging out, being around the people who make me laugh and smile every day really lets me be my true self and shed away any fake personality I put on around others and be my real most comfortable self.

This is a photo where I felt most myself. I was hanging out with a friend and I had make-up on, and I really liked the outfit I had on. I felt like I was expressing my true self in that moment.

Ryan from Nevada shares:

What does the word “authentic” mean to you?
To be original. Represents faithfully.

What does it mean for you to be created to be your authentic self?
I don’t really know. Maybe just be myself. 

What does it look like for you to have a community or church that supports you in your authenticity?
Sr High group, I feel comfortable with them. 

When and where do you feel empowered or comfortable being your most authentic self?
Cooler classrooms and at church and being on stage leading worship.

Photo Explanation: I felt happy of graduating from high school. I was a senior in 12th grade through the school year of 2022-23, and I graduated at Thomas & Mack Center at U.N.L.V.


Jordyn from Nevada shares:

 I, myself—Jordyn, feel most empowered at anytime, anyplace, and anywhere. I won’t and will not let anything stop me from showing myself to the world. The empowerment that I feel is in making my own decisions. Feeling that I can do anything and not have much doubt in myself is a true gift. Being an African American woman, it is a blessing and honor to see how far I will go to achieve my goals in life. To me, having a community that empowers me to be my true authentic self, means always having back support and moral support. Having people to cheer you on along the sidelines through the thick and thin. Always giving compliments, or even starting a conversation and just giving input without feeling hated. I’ve experienced this kind of support in my school and church.

Oliver from Missouri shares:

The word authentic has taken many different forms throughout my life—from a basic textbook definition to what it is today, my view on the word “authentic” is constantly changing. For me now it means being genuine, even when it hurts. Being authentic starts with being brutally honest with yourself and coming to terms that not everything in your life is going to be fair. Accepting there will be struggles and pain is all a part of being human. God created me to be changed in many ways. God always has a plan and even if we as humans can’t understand it, living out your story and sharing it is all a part of the mission God has sent us all on. Having a community that supports me in my authenticity is something I’m still trying to find. While I’ve grown up in the same church since I was born, all the actions people try to pass as okay due to religion has made it hard to trust. As a transgender individual, I have had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone will love and accept me for who God made me to be. I have realized that church camps are where I have found “family.” Even though we don’t live near each other and can only worship together a few weeks a year, the family we have built with God beside us is what truly matters. I feel my most authentic self at these camps like Leadership Lab. Being able to connect with other youth holding on to their faith through torment and pain makes me not feel alone. These are the places I hope to spread all over the world and create the environment all the time. To me, being authentic is about being truthful to yourself first and a lot of us need others to support us while making all these large realizations. 

This picture was taken in a dorm at Confirmation Camp. I was there as what is called a Mentor Camper; it’s a small group of high schoolers who work with the adults at camp to run small groups and engage the kids. I instantly felt at home. I was loud and energetic and non-apologetic. Normally I am reserved and scared but during this and almost every other week that I have spent at youth camps, I have felt free to be me!

Thank you for sharing! How are you created to be authentic? Where have you found spaces that allow you to be your full authentic self? 

 

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Beyond the Beads: Unveiling the Spirit of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, with its vibrant colors, soulful music, and rich foods, is more than just a party that disrupts the everyday life—it’s a celebration that surpasses the ordinary, captivating the world with its infectious joy. The soulful tunes of jazz, blues, and traditional brass bands infuse the air with a distinctive musical flavor, while the rich, flavorful foods, from gumbo to king cake, create a culinary carnival in every bite.

Yet, beyond the lively parades, Mardi Gras is the heartbeat of New Orleans, deeply entwined with the spirit of community. It’s a time for locals to come together, strengthening social bonds, and fostering unity. The parades, featuring diverse community groups, schools, and organizations, exemplify the inclusivity that defines this celebration. Mardi Gras provides a space for people to revel in their individuality, to show up authentically as they truly are created to be and share in the collective joy.

As the last float passes and the city cleans up the confetti, the spirit of Mardi Gras lingers—the unity of the community, the echoes of brass bands, and the stories shared over hearty meals. It’s more than a party; it’s a reflection of rich history, cultural diversity, and communal spirit. Mardi Gras is a testament to New Orleans’ resilience, diversity, and unyielding spirit. As the city looks ahead to the upcoming year’s festivities, one can’t help but wonder—what stories will Mardi Gras unfold next? The potential is as limitless and dynamic as the celebration it embodies.

 

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Dear Youth Leader:

Dear youth leader:

Being a youth leader can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s a role that requires a great deal of energy, compassion, and patience. If you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed during this Advent Season, you’re not alone. The demands of guiding and supporting young people, coupled with all the responsibilities of the season, in addition to balancing the visioning prep for upcoming trips and all that goes into them, can take a toll.

Firstly, we want to acknowledge the importance of your work. You play a crucial role in shaping the lives of young individuals and fostering their spiritual growth. Your dedication is commendable. We see you. We see how tirelessly you work to prepare youth events, Christmas parties, Christmas programs, and so much more, while also you are continuing to fundraise and prepare your congregation for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering.  Your work for the sake of young people to know that they are loved by God is admirable. 

Here are a few words of encouragement:

  1. You’re Making a Difference: Even on the days when it feels like you’re not making an impact, remember that your presence and guidance are meaningful. You may not always see immediate results, but God is working through you in mighty ways to influence and shape the future of our young people.
  2. Take Care of Yourself: It’s crucial to prioritize self-care. Just as you support others, make sure to carve out time for rest, relaxation, and activities that bring you joy. Taking care of your well-being will ultimately enhance your ability to support others. Let the Holy Spirit fill you with peace as you find moments of rest.
  3. Lean on Your Support System: Don’t hesitate to reach out to fellow youth leaders, church leaders, mentors, or friends for support. Sharing your challenges and successes with others who understand your role can provide valuable perspective and encouragement—and remember, God is with you through it all. 
  4. Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that you can’t do everything, and it’s okay to ask for help. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your ministry. Take one day, one step at a time. You are more than your to-do list. You are enough. Your worth is not found in how much you accomplish today. 
  5. Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate the small victories, whether it’s a breakthrough with a particular individual, successfully formatting a spreadsheet, having exactly enough supplies for that late-night youth party, or finding enough Angels for the Advent Festival.  
  6. Reflect on Your Calling: Take a moment to reflect on why God called you to be a youth leader. Why does this work matter?  Reconnecting with your sense of calling can reignite your passion for the work that God is doing in and through you.

Dearest youth worker, we see how weary you are, but beloved one, beautiful child of God, hear this: 

You are enough.

Just as you are. You do not need to do anything more, or be anything more. You are, just as you are created to be, exactly enough. Your commitment to loving, guiding, and supporting the youth is making a positive impact, and your efforts do not go unnoticed.

Take care, and may you find renewed energy and inspiration this Advent season as we wait for the coming Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

 

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Volunteering in the Bayou— volunteer applications extended

The deadline for Gathering Volunteer Corps (GVC) applications has been extended to November 1. 

The Gathering Volunteer Corps serves in multiple capacities throughout the Gathering. Duties might include ushering and assisting during Mass Gathering, helping with Interactive Learning activities, directing foot traffic in the convention center, staffing the info booth or moving equipment in a Gathering venue. GVCs serve wherever Gathering planning teams have identified the need for additional help.

GVCs must be at least one year past high school at the time of the Gathering and commit to being in New Orleans for one week, likely arriving Sunday, July 14, and departing Saturday, July 20, 2024.

  • The Gathering will provide GVC volunteers with per diem or catered meals while on-site in New Orleans and shared lodging accommodations.

See what Kurt has to say about serving as a GVC and why he’s excited to be back in the bayou next summer. 

Don’t forget to get your applications in ASAP – you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Applications are live on the Gathering’s website!

Hello, I am Kurt Saenger-Heyl!  While I never attended the Gathering as a youth, it was on my radar as something that I wanted to do after I graduated from high school. So, I made sure that I didn’t miss the volunteer application deadline in 2012, and thankfully I was selected to volunteer as a Gathering Volunteer Corps (GVC) member. I served again as a GVC in Detroit in 2015 and as part of the Safety and Security Team in Houston. I’m excited to be part of the Volunteers planning team this cycle, as well!

What are you looking forward to this cycle?

I really enjoy meeting so many Lutherans from all over the world! I have fun asking people where they are from, collecting the clothes pins or other tokens, and making fun connections with those whom I have met across the ELCA over the years. I also look forward to the Mass Gatherings each cycle—being with thousands of other folks singing, praying, worshiping, and dancing all together is truly something special! This cycle I am looking forward to being back in New Orleans where it all began for me! I’m also excited to reconnect with folks from previous Gatherings; those connections are so fun to rekindle every 3 years!

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

Beignets from Café du Monde and worshiping with thousands of other Lutherans!

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

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

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)

Why Daniel loves volunteering

Have you thought about what it would look like to serve as a volunteer at the Gathering next summer? Applications to serve as a volunteer at the Gathering are now open! 

There are five different volunteer opportunities: the Gathering Volunteer Corps (GVC), Servant Companions, local volunteers, MYLE and the tAble volunteers, and Young Adult Gathering volunteers. Responsibilities and commitments vary by category, so check out our website for more information.  

Daniel has volunteered at both the 2015 Gathering and 2018 Gathering and has some insight they’d like to share —

Hi, My name is Daniel Mambu and this will be my fourth Gathering. My first Gathering experience was in 2012 as a youth participant. After that, I was able to serve as an adult leader in Detroit for the 2015 Gathering. In 2018, I had the opportunity to serve on the Community Life team. 

Why do you like to volunteer? 

I remember going to the Gathering as a youth and just being blown away by the size of the event, the culture, the groups, the speakers and their stories, and the musicians. I left feeling like I could make a difference no matter how small. I like to volunteer not just for the experience, but because I get to play a part in something that could be life-changing to someone else.

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

I am looking forward to being back in the city of my first Gathering and seeing the joy on the faces of those experiencing it for the first time. I am also looking forward to the food!

Fill in the Blank: “I am Created to Be kind and patient!

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)