Our little staff of three is doing our best to serve the almost 3,000 congregations registered for the Gathering. I worry that I set us up for the kind of pressure we live with. I am committed to a standard of service that makes everyone feel heard and valued. That is why we attempt to respond to every email or phone inquiry. We don’t have a perfect record, but we try.

 Our commitment to this level of service, which is becoming more and more rare – as I discovered when I got caught in the spiral of automated phone systems trying to deal with a batch of new checks that were stolen – is why I was so proud of the Youth Gathering volunteers this week. I am in awe of our volunteers. They are modeling, in the way they are preparing for the Gathering, what we hope young people will practice in their relationships with others: a spirit of humble service. I’d like to share three stories with you about our marvelous volunteers.

 A retired couple negotiate all of the contracts with bus companies with which we sub-contract. They have 187 of the 190 completed! Read what they sent to me this week (names are changed for privacy):

 Below is just one of the many, many reasons why Bob and I love what we do [as part of the team preparing for the Gathering] and how God continues to work. 
In 2009 XZY Bus Company was Bob’s first negotiated contract. It was for $850/bus/day which we later realized was way too high. We just got word from a synod coordinator on Thursday that XZY Bus Company would like to subcontract again. Bob called on Friday; John wanted $825 again. Bob explained:
1. We were very close to having all the buses needed.
2. The 2012 average to date was $479/bus/day. 
3. We really enjoyed working with them in 2009 and would love to work with them again.
4. While we understood that they kick back a fair portion of the $825/bus to the synod and that many of the other companies do –
5. We had to be cognizant of the Gathering budget.
6. We could not possibly contract for more than $650/bus/day and at that price he would be our highest rate.
John came back later in the day with a rate of $600/bus/day.  Be sure to scroll down and read John’s email from this morning.  It is all about building one-on-one relationships, one at a time; one child of God to another.  “God’s work. Our hands.”   

Email from XYZ Bus Company:

“OK, thanks and our drivers (both dedicated Lutherans) are so excited about doing this again. They did it the last time.  One of our scheduled drivers has been toNew Orleansnearly a dozen times already forTrinityLutheranChurchdoing service work, so he will be a great asset too.”

And here are the two other stories I want to share with you:

When comparing the 2012 contract with the 2009 and 2006 contracts from one of our vendors, I realized he didn’t increase his price. When I questioned him, I learned that he provides service to the Gathering at a loss because he is so grateful to contribute his expertise to make it the best possible experience for young people. He said he has never had a customer call to question when the price didn’t increase. I just wanted to make sure he was paying his crew a fair wage. Asking that question is one way I hope we offer a witness to the God of justice whom we serve.

Yet another vendor, a new vendor, told us that “due to the nature of the event our owner would like to donate some extra equipment which would present nearly the full option we discussed.” So the team that was reworking their plans because they couldn’t afford what they had dreamed of, was happily going back to their original plan.

Both of these examples were made possible not just because of the nature of the Gathering, and the vendors’ desire to serve young people, but this generosity reflects the power of relationships that have been nurtured over the years.

It seems to me that this is the kind of human-to-human, compassionate interaction that Jesus invites us to enjoy in his name, when there are no walls separating us, and when we practice being “citizens with the saints.” As our bus contract negotiator wrote: “It is all about building one-on-one relationships, one at a time; one child of God to another.  “God’s work. Our hands.”