I’ve been around the ministry of the Gathering in some capacity since the years leading up to the 1997 River of Hope event in New Orleans. I had brought a small group with me from Florida. I can still remember vivid details about ’97, including the stunned faces of our group when we first entered the dome for worship. Our young people (and me too!) were blown away in seeing thousands of other people just like us gathered together, as Lutherans, to worship, sing, conga, and pray. From that moment I was hooked on the ministry of the Gathering as a “game changer” for my ministry. The conversations and kinship of that group extended for years with this common experience as catalyst.
Since then, I’ve attended each Gathering. In San Antonio, I worked with the seminaries of the ELCA to talk with youth about their own call to ministry. I recently met one of those “youth” who is now a pastor and recalled our visit – powerful!
The past three cycles, I have served with planning teams. Most recently, in Detroit, I served with teams, in my role as Program Director for Youth Ministry in the ELCA. I continue to marvel at the impact the Gathering has both in terms of lives impacted through our presence and service in communities, together with its impact on church groups who now share the same bond as me and my small group from ’97.
Recently, I was with a group of youth workers who, without prompting from me, began discussing the Gathering. One said of his group’s comments upon entering worship, “I go to First Lutheran, but THIS is my church!” – [Ed Wosinski of Muskegon, MI] Another leader shared how her youth group’s enthusiasm for pulling weeds in a neighborhood of Detroit led to a community of neighbors embracing them, thanking them them for giving the neighbors hope that they could recover and reclaim their neighborhood.
I thank God for the ministry of the Gathering in my own life and in the lives of the countless others we reach in the process.
Pastor Paul Amlin serves as the Program Director for Youth Ministry for ELCA Churchwide Ministries.