Worship focused on the final daily theme, “Jesus Changes Everything” concluded the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. Volunteers gathered in the early hours of the morning at NRG Stadium ready to receive instructions on communing the over 30,000 attending the one final worship service, closing the days of Service Learning, Interactive Learning, Community Life, Synod Day, and Mass Gathering.
Raeann, a member of West Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Osceola, WI, was one of the many volunteers receiving instructions on serving communion. She said she was immersed in the “happiness of everything we took in here. It’s hard to explain. I am grateful to be with my siblings in Christ.” Youth participants from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Gastonia, NC reflected on the mementos, friends, and connections they made in the days of the Gathering. They were also excited to serve communion to fellow participants, something they never imagined they would get to do at the Gathering.
Scripture of the previous days was present in the worship service: God’s call to Moses, Jesus meeting the woman at the well, Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the resurrected Christ joining his disciples on the road to Emmaus. These were reminders of the daily themes: God’s call, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s hope changes everything.
The Gospel lesson for the last gathering of over 30,000 was the fifth chapter of Mark; this lesson was also used in churches around the world that follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Bishop Eaton focused on the hemorrhaging woman and Jarius’ dying daughter, those desperately needing the healing that Jesus could bring. She stated that the powers of this world are good at separating people, the clean from the unclean. Bishop Eaton closed her sermon with that even the midst of the cynical laughter of the world, “Here is the wonderful news: where it looks impossible, remember most of all that Jesus has changed everything.”
Savanna Sullivan, Program Director for Young Adult Ministries, gave a contemporary witness in the worship service. She shared her experience of preparing to leave for Rwanda as a Young Adult in Global Mission, but before her departure, her doctor said her immune system was compromised and recommended she not leave the United States. After a conversation with her father, Sullivan stated, “I’m ready to live for this.”
Sullivan’s words resonated with Carsyn, a member of St. John Lutheran Church in Salsbury, NC. On hearing the contemporary witness and other Gathering speakers, Carsyn said, “The energy in the stadium has been amazing. I am ready to live for God and for everyone.” Sullivan wanted those attending worship to take these words home with them, “If our joy is just for this place and for us, it isn’t God’s joy. God’s joy is for everyone. Everywhere.”
Two questions that came up during closing worship were, “How do you commune over 30,000 people? How long will it take?” It took a dedicated team of volunteers 22 minutes and 43 seconds to commune everyone in NRG Stadium.
Worship closed with the reveal of the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering: there was a lot of purple, a sneak peak of “Spoonbridge and Cherry” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and pyrotechnics to reveal Minneapolis, MN as the next location.
Even though the Gathering has concluded in Houston, sharing the experiences are far from over. Make sure to check the Gathering Blog for more stories of what happens when the Gathering is lived across the ELCA.