-Deaconess Kristen Baltrum

There is nothing quite like watching the face of a teenager light up in wonder, especially when that face is lighting up because they have just walked into a stadium full of people, who like them have gathered together for five days of service, learning, and worship – the ELCA Youth Gathering.

That look is why I ride the bus for three days to get there. That look gives me the opportunity to say, “See? I told you; you aren’t alone.” And then together we spend five days unpacking that look – what it means, why it matters, and are assured of our place in this church, both the young person and myself.

It is the power of Christ present in the larger church that lights up the faces of the teens who experience the Gathering. While I absolutely believe that Christ is present where only two or three are gathered, or even if we are alone, there is something exhilarating for me to witness this power of the present Christ when it is seeping into the pores of youth in mass quantity.

But I am not a bystander at the Gathering, simply gleaning off the young people’s energy, only watching the Spirit work. I too am infused with the power of the present Christ. My call to walk alongside young people and “figure it out” is affirmed at each Gathering. It is an exhausting week that leaves me utterly spent and utterly filled at the same time.

And there is no better feeling than that: the feeling of simultaneously being spent and filled, giving and receiving so much. The Gathering is indeed holy ground where relationships are deepened through Christ, and the church, the Body of Christ, is pulsing with renewed energy. This is why I love the Gathering.


Deaconess Kristen Baltrum serves as Director of Faith Formation at Bethlehem Lutheran in Longmont, CO