I promise that youth and adults who attend the ELCA Youth Gathering will return knowing the opening line of Mark’s Gospel by heart: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). They will also know that they are the ones who carry the good news of Jesus into the world.
Mark’s opening line was theologically radical at the time. When the Romans met Jesus, they learned that the new era of peace, good news and justice did not begin with Augustus Caesar as they had been enculturated to believe. Rather, claims Mark, it begins with Jesus. Mark tells the story of the Lord (also a name used for Augustus Caesar) who rules through self-sacrificial service in contrast to the bullying, conquering power of the Roman Caesar.
Mark calls us to believe the good news of the “kindom” of God rather than the proclamations of the empire, whether Roman or otherwise (Mark 1:15). (I prefer to use “kindom” rather than kingdom as I believe God’s real purpose is to build kinship—globally; between different religions; between friends and enemies; between ourselves and the neighbors we don’t know.) The story of Jesus is the story of a different kind of “kindom.” The Roman Caesar dealt with his enemies by conquering them; Jesus deals with enemies by loving them. Through the ministry of the Gathering, young people and adults will ponder the characteristics of this new “kindom,” and proclaim it for themselves, Detroiters and the world.
The Gathering’s program is built around three opportunities to proclaim the in-breaking of Christ’s “kindom” into our current day empires: Proclaim Story, Proclaim Justice and Proclaim Community.
On their Proclaim Story day, young people will learn that God’s story is a love story, and that all of God’s people have an important role in this story. Everything we do is “The beginning of the good news…” and, as followers of Jesus, we are sent to live out the rest of this story through discipleship. Through storytelling, music, Bible study, interactive learning and worship, participants will dwell in God’s story, begin to articulate their own story, engage each other’s story and be sent out to proclaim that Jesus = good news.
On their Proclaim Justice day, young people will work alongside Detroiters helping them to recreate an American city. Many people have written off Detroit, but we have the unique opportunity to see first-hand the resiliency of the people of Detroit. Although they are only giving a day of service, young people will learn lessons from the people they serve alongside that they will remember long after the Gathering.
On their Proclaim Community day, young people will visit the interactive learning center and in doing so follow Jesus on the way to the cross. Through a variety of mediums, such as art, music, technology, sports, community, fun, and reflection, students will be challenged to: recognize the good news in all relationships while working toward reconciliation in Christ, listen before speaking and ultimately proclaim the good news in their own communities.