Beyond the Beads: Unveiling the Spirit of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, with its vibrant colors, soulful music, and rich foods, is more than just a party that disrupts the everyday life—it’s a celebration that surpasses the ordinary, captivating the world with its infectious joy. The soulful tunes of jazz, blues, and traditional brass bands infuse the air with a distinctive musical flavor, while the rich, flavorful foods, from gumbo to king cake, create a culinary carnival in every bite.
Yet, beyond the lively parades, Mardi Gras is the heartbeat of New Orleans, deeply entwined with the spirit of community. It’s a time for locals to come together, strengthening social bonds, and fostering unity. The parades, featuring diverse community groups, schools, and organizations, exemplify the inclusivity that defines this celebration. Mardi Gras provides a space for people to revel in their individuality, to show up authentically as they truly are created to be and share in the collective joy.
As the last float passes and the city cleans up the confetti, the spirit of Mardi Gras lingers—the unity of the community, the echoes of brass bands, and the stories shared over hearty meals. It’s more than a party; it’s a reflection of rich history, cultural diversity, and communal spirit. Mardi Gras is a testament to New Orleans’ resilience, diversity, and unyielding spirit. As the city looks ahead to the upcoming year’s festivities, one can’t help but wonder—what stories will Mardi Gras unfold next? The potential is as limitless and dynamic as the celebration it embodies.
Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
Volunteering in the Bayou— volunteer applications extended
The deadline for Gathering Volunteer Corps (GVC) applications has been extended to November 1.
The Gathering Volunteer Corps serves in multiple capacities throughout the Gathering. Duties might include ushering and assisting during Mass Gathering, helping with Interactive Learning activities, directing foot traffic in the convention center, staffing the info booth or moving equipment in a Gathering venue. GVCs serve wherever Gathering planning teams have identified the need for additional help.
GVCs must be at least one year past high school at the time of the Gathering and commit to being in New Orleans for one week, likely arriving Sunday, July 14, and departing Saturday, July 20, 2024.
The Gathering will provide GVC volunteers with per diem or catered meals while on-site in New Orleans and shared lodging accommodations.
See what Kurt has to say about serving as a GVC and why he’s excited to be back in the bayou next summer.
Don’t forget to get your applications in ASAP – you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Applications are live on the Gathering’s website!
Hello, I am Kurt Saenger-Heyl! While I never attended the Gathering as a youth, it was on my radar as something that I wanted to do after I graduated from high school. So, I made sure that I didn’t miss the volunteer application deadline in 2012, and thankfully I was selected to volunteer as a Gathering Volunteer Corps (GVC) member. I served again as a GVC in Detroit in 2015 and as part of the Safety and Security Team in Houston. I’m excited to be part of the Volunteers planning team this cycle, as well!
What are you looking forward to this cycle?
I really enjoy meeting so many Lutherans from all over the world! I have fun asking people where they are from, collecting the clothes pins or other tokens, and making fun connections with those whom I have met across the ELCA over the years. I also look forward to the Mass Gatherings each cycle—being with thousands of other folks singing, praying, worshiping, and dancing all together is truly something special! This cycle I am looking forward to being back in New Orleans where it all began for me! I’m also excited to reconnect with folks from previous Gatherings; those connections are so fun to rekindle every 3 years!
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to in New Orleans?
Beignets from Café du Monde and worshiping with thousands of other Lutherans!
Fill in the Blank: “I am Created to Be Me”
Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
Faith Lived Out Loud at The Gathering
One of the many ways we live out our faith in action is through volunteering. There are many different ways that this can be done through the Gathering and what better place to do it than in New Orleans with thousands of your best friends! Check out the Gathering’s website for more information on how to get involved as a volunteer.
Learn how Anna went from being participant to volunteer and what that experience has meant to her—
Hello! My name is Anna Thompson and I attended the 2009 Gathering in New Orleans as a youth participant. That was the first time I understood just how big the ELCA is. It was wonderful to be surrounded by other young people living their faith out loud just like I was.
I volunteered in 2012, again in New Orleans, while I was in college. I was so excited to be able to help facilitate the experiences I’d had just three years before.
In 2018, I was able to volunteer again. I’d moved to Texas and Houston was only a 5 hour drive away. I was in a different place in my life, as a full-fledged adult this time, but I still had an amazing experience. Plus, I got to connect with friends from previous Gatherings, my home congregation, synod, and college!
Why do you like to volunteer?
I love volunteering at the Gathering because I love getting to help pull it off. The Gathering was a key moment in my high school life and I love knowing that I’m a small piece in that puzzle for the new generation. This cycle, I’ll attend as an adult leader for my congregation in Fort Worth, TX. I’m excited to experience the Gathering from a 3rd perspective and help the youth from my congregation experience their first Gathering!
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to in New Orleans?
I’m looking forward to walking down Canal Street after Mass Gathering, especially closing worship. The rainbow of shirts on display as we are physically, and theologically, sent out into the world is a memory I treasure of my previous two Gatherings in New Orleans!
Fill in the Blank: “I am Created to Be Joyful!”
Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
A Story of God’s Resurrection Hope | Bethlehem Lutheran Church, New Orleans
We are Easter people who believe in the resurrection hope of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we have hope beyond the grave. We know that death is not the end. In Christ’s death, there is life, and we have hope in that new life. In this world there are places we see glimpses of this resurrection hope of Jesus.
In New Orleans, there is a Lutheran congregation shining this resurrection hope of Jesus in their community. Founded in 1888, Bethlehem is a remarkable church with a rich history of service that goes deep into the community. Bethlehem is a beacon of light on a hill in a weary world.
In Talks at the Desk: Our Black Church, Ep. 3that premiered in February 2022, Pr. Ben Groth describes Bethlehem by saying, “We’re not one of the big fancy churches on a big fancy avenue. You know, we’re a small, scrappy church trying to do a lot with, with not very much in resources.” That being said, Bethlehem is absolutely a transformational church to its community. Bethlehem is a church that doesn’t just talk-the-talk, they live their faith out loud and have showed up for their community in some pretty amazing ways. This faith community models what it looks like to trust in the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus, and be in partnership with God.
It’s incredible how the simple question of “what if?” can turn a church fish-fry into a story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This small “scrappy church” has begun a community meal that is currently serving about 600 free, no-questions-asked, hot meals four times each week. In the video, Bethlehem’s Council vice president, Brandon Blake, says,
“We just don’t want to be the brick church on the corner of Dryades and Washington. We want to be, a lighthouse, a beacon, you know, somewhere where you can go for assistance somewhere where someone can help you in some way.”
In this episode, you can see how the Spirit is pouring out through Bethlehem as they not only feed the community but have also taken a leap of faith and are now building affordable homes. What’s miraculous about this story is that they purchased the land and waited patiently and with hope in the Spirit, discerning how God intended for it to be used.
Nicolette Peñaranda, Program Director for ELCA African Descent Ministries and Interactive Learning Creative Expressions Manager for the 2024 Gathering, shares that “Bethlehem is a special place that is doing something that none else has done in our tradition.” This is a church that is committed to loving one’s neighbor. Take note, this small congregation that is understaffed and under-paid is finding inspiring ways of pouring their heart, soul, and funds into the community in ways that do not directly benefit them. This is a church that is not focused inward, but rather on the ways God is calling them to abundantly love their surrounding community.
In the video, Blake sums it up like this:
“What is better than to serve others? What, shows your true heart more than you being there for someone else? Not just yourself, not just, you know, the person next to you or your neighbor, but being there for as many people as you can. And in many ways is, you know, it always doesn’t translate to giving out meals. It might be giving someone a ride or just go and drop off a meal to someone, or, you know, just trying to be involved because, you know, we’re not islands, we’re not alone in this life. You know, we may come in and go out by ourselves, but there’s a lot of contact and, you know, involvement in the middle. So you know, you gotta be open to that.”
Thank you, Bethlehem, for being a beacon of light and hope in the city of New Orleans.
Originally premiered by the ELCA in a four-part series of “Talks at the Desk” during Black History Month on February 17, 2022.
Learn more about Bethlehem Lutheran Church and the goodness they are up to on theirwebsite and follow Bethlehem onFacebook.
Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)
New Orleans & the ELCA Youth Gathering
Since the start of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) in 1988, New Orleans has hosted the ELCA Youth Gathering and pre-events three different times. The city has a unique blend of history, culture and beautiful venues that are within walking distance of one another— making it a prime location for the 2024 Gathering.
Emphasizing the Mississippi River and connecting it to our Baptism, River of Life was the theme of the 1997 Gathering. It was a time when less than 40% of the population had a cell phone and none of them were smartphones. Pictures were taken on a camera that then was taken to the store to develop and then later to relive the memories of a time together.
Most notably, under the theme of Jesus, Justice, Jazz in 2009, the Gathering attempted something no other group has ever attempted nor to our knowledge still has— have every attendee participate in a Service Learning experience. It may seem normal now, but at the time it was something that had never been attempted. Heidi Hagstrom, the former Gathering Director said “I think the best words for the Gathering are ‘bearing witness.’ We would love it for young people to come to (New Orleans) and hear stories, learn the history, and discern how God has been present in the disaster that has happened there.” Prior to the 2009 Gathering, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city of New Orleans causing catastrophic damage and at the time was the worse natural disaster to hit the United States.
“Bearing witness means that you need to step into the story of another person, to understand the call to justice and be a part of the need in the city for a long time and witness to that,” Hagstrom said.
When returning home after the Gathering, participants will be asked to share the story of how God is present in New Orleans and look for ways to live like Jesus. The Superdome that hosted Mass Gathering each night had once been a place where people had sought shelter, and some had unfortunately lost their lives just a few years earlier. During worship one evening, Bishop Mike Rinehart of the Texas – Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod declared the Superdome as a sacred space and a place for healing. It was a bold task to provide service projects for that many people, but there was a ton of work that we were called to do to help our neighbors in that moment.
In 2012, we returned under the theme of Citizens with the Saints. After listening to community leaders in the city of New Orleans, participants responded by showing up to learn justice, to walk justice, and then practice justice by being in the community in various ways.
Instead of being called “Service Learning”, this cycle young people went out to “Practice Justice” through literacy camps, neighborhood cleanups, absorbing information about injustices in the city, experiencing unique cultures, painting murals, backyard gardening and more. There was even work that wasn’t finished from 2009, that we were able to finish in 2012. All connected to God‘s restorative work that was ever living and connected with the people of New Orleans. Other daily themes focused around “Practice Discipleship” and “Practice Peacemaking.”
In the evening, participants came together in the Superdome to hear inspirational speakers such as the Rev. Yehiel Curry (now Bishop of Metropolitan Chicago Synod), the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, activist Shane Claiborne, and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee. We also sang and danced to performances from Rachel Kurtz, AGAPE*, as well as many local jazz bands and artists.
The stage is set. We’re headed back in 2024 to listen and learn from our neighbors in New Orleans, to grow in our faith and be inspired to live like Jesus.
Until then, be safe, love your neighbor and live like Jesus.
10 things to know as you prepare
Many congregations are just now getting things ready to attend the 2022 Gathering, so if you haven’t started yet– you aren’t behind! Here are 10 things to know as you prepare to bring a congregational group to the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering.
Utilize the Gathering’s promotional materials to get your community excited about this faith formation experience. We have PowerPoint templates, flyer templates, posters, promotional videos and logos for you to download and use. Consider inviting past participants to share a testimony as well!
Thinking about raising funds to attend the Gathering can be daunting. However, we know from the testimonies of young people and adult leaders that it’s totally worth it. Depending on your community’s guidelines for COVID-19, you might need to adapt and think creatively on how to raise funds. Early in the pandemic, the Gathering curated a resource of virtual and socially distanced fundraisers.
Connect with your Gathering Synod Coordinator (GSC)! These individuals are trained on all things Gathering and are your go-to contact for your synod. You can contact your GSC by sending them an email on the Gathering’s website.
Sign up and attend the pre-Gathering webinars. Gathering leadership will share what they are planning for next summer during these monthly webinars. Visit the Gathering’s website to see recordings of past webinars or sign up for future ones.
Download the Getting Ready Materials. This curriculum was designed to help introduce your congregational group to the daily themes of the Gathering and start bonding.
There is still financial assistance available for young people attending the Gathering. Up to $300 per youth participant may be provided with a max of 10 youth per congregation. The primary adult leader should apply on behalf of the young person via the application.
Our team is hard at work making plans to ensure that the 2022 Gathering is a safe for our participants. All youth and adult participants, team members, volunteers, staff, and Interactive Learning partners will be required to submit proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test (likely 72 hours before arriving). More information around how this information will be submitted will come spring 2022.
Gathering leadership is continuously monitoring the pandemic and guidance for events of our size, but confident that we will have a safe Gathering next summer in Minneapolis. If we get to a point where we are unable to have a safe event and the Gathering is cancelled, deposits will be refunded, with the option for congregations to donate some or all those funds towards the ministry of the Gathering or to forward their deposit to the 2024 Gathering. Visit our COVID-19 page for FAQs and more info.
Don’t do it alone. Invite another trusted adult in your congregation to join you in the planning and logistics!
Know that Gathering leadership is praying for you and your community as you consider attending the 2022 ELCA Youth Gathering. We know that this ministry changes lives and enriches congregational youth ministry, and we hope your congregation will join us.
For more information on the 2022 Gathering, MYLE and the tAble, visit: elca.org/Gathering.