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Scenes from a Street Car: Created to be Brave

Tuesday, July 16 – Created to Be Brave

Today, the streets of New Orleans were alive with color and energy as over 16,000 youth and their adult leaders filled the city. Excitement buzzed in the air as old friends reunited with joyous screams and new connections began to form among youth and adults arriving at the airport and engaging in Holy Play in Community Life.

Community Life was vibrant and full of energy. All five gaga ball pits were filled with not only youth but their leaders as well. Students played inflatable wack-a-mole, hungry-hungry hippo, and ran through giant inflatables. We witnessed bravery in action as kids gathered the courage to ask others to play with them, embracing the playfulness that God intends for them.

Cassie Overcash, Community Life planning team member,  shared her hopes that this week, youth would get the opportunity to try something new, play games, and build relationships in a safe and accessible environment. The intentionality behind the activities was evident, with accessible gaga-ball pits, courts with lower nets, and inclusive inflatables like the Wrecking Ball and Soccer.

Community Life is an opportunity after Mass Gathering that features dances, quiet spaces with board games, craft supplies, devotional materials, and Q&A sessions with speakers in four different hotels. Cassie hinted at a youth band concert on Thursday night, adding to the excitement.

As the Mass Gathering kicked off for the first time this week, the Smoothie King Center buzzed with energy and excitement as students and their leaders arrived from across the United States, , the Caribbean, and even a congregation from Canada. Participants from the tAble, MYLE, and the first-ever Young Adult Gathering attended the show. The atmosphere was electric with energy and excitement. The wave rippled through the arena, and participants danced to the theme song “Walk This Out.”
The Holy Spirit’s presence was palpable as the arena filled with cheers and joy.

Bishop Michael Rinehart, of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, welcomed everyone and acknowledged the native Chitimacha Tribe, urging us to remember the history of the land and challenge systems of oppression. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said that she often hears people ask, “Where are the Youth and Young adults?” “Well, here you are. And you are not the church of tomorrow. You are the church of right now. YOU make a difference. You can make a change. You can be disruptive!”

Tonight’s lineup of speakers delivered a powerful and inspiring message, sharing their stories and encouraging us to be brave, reminding us that we are never alone.

Speaker Joe Liles powerfully emphasized to everyone that you can’t keep the Spirit of God inside you. He said,

“We all need to walk. This. Out. In our own way:
Walk this out with the Spirit of Courage to serve in a new city.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Conversation to talk with people you have never met.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Challenge to embrace uncomfortable faith.
Walk this out with the Spirit of Curiosity to ask God who you are becoming this week.

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, we come together with a group of close friends for worship. This year, it’s happening in New Orleans. The Holy Spirit was vibrant and alive, filling the arena tonight as we worshiped with over 16,000 of our siblings in Christ. This is just the beginning, and as Joe Liles said, by the end of the week, we will be changed!

As we go out this week, let’s remember the powerful words of Dr. Michael Chan: “You were precious long before you could prove it. You are precious, just as you are created to be.” Let’s walk this out into the City of New Orleans, praising God, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Go in peace and BE Brave!

 

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Scenes from a Street Car: Day 4 from MYLE and the tAble

Tuesday, July 16 – Day 4 MYLE and the tAble in Closing

Today, MYLE and the tAble came to a close. Students were in disbelief that their time together was over, but excited to join their youth groups for the Gathering. Over these past four days, the power of community was undeniable. When asked to describe their perfect sense of community, one student from the tAble simply said, “This place here. Right here, with these people.”

At closing worship, Bishop Felix Malpica spoke about God’s history of miraculous disruptions. He reminded us that Jesus consistently reached out to the marginalized, declaring, “I see you. You matter in this kin-dom of God.”

The tAble celebrated the richness of diversity, providing a space where students felt wHoly accepted just as they are. Today, as students built Lego figures representing themselves, they learned that everyone has a place in the body of Christ. It was particularly moving when a young man asked for help putting his Lego figures into wheelchairs, a powerful reminder that everyone is created in the love of God. This heartfelt moment underscored the profound importance of inclusivity, showing how deeply it matters for each person to be seen, valued, and embraced in all their uniqueness.

When asked about God moments at the 2024 tAble for the week, Director Jonathan Vehar shared that while there were so many, it’s the in-between time, that stood out to him. “Nothing that we planned, but in the freedom came their interests and passions that allowed them to better know one another.”

Vehar also shared, “A highlight of the week is for something that hasn’t happened yet, the road trips now being planned to meet up with best friends, even if they’ve only known each other a few days. It’s such an incredible thing to see how quickly friendships are formed when you find people who understand part of your story without saying a word. The tAble will continue to make an impact on those who came.”

MYLE Director, Dr. Kelly Sherman-Conroy, shares her hopes for the students this week saying, “I hope the youth left feeling more connected and stronger in their faith. I hope that the spaces created at MYLE helped them create a strong sense of community. Most importantly, I hope they remember that they continue to celebrate that they are “Created to Be” the amazingly wonderful and authentic selves they are. Go out and positive difference in the world.”

This week, the tAble and MYLE showcased the unending love and grace of Christ through youth who love and accept like Jesus. The connections built and friendships made among people who had just met for the first time were incredibly powerful. The Spirit is indeed up to something good and continues as we move into the Gathering. Enjoy the in-between times and be brave!

 

MYLE 2024 Recap Video
the tAble 2024 Recap Video

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Scenes from the Street Car: Day 2 from MYLE and the tAble

Sunday, July 14 – Day 2 from MYLE and the tAble

Good Morning from New Orleans! 

Yesterday was an epic day full of story, rhythm, creativity, laughter, connection, and growth. Today, we got to witness the power of being in community in mighty ways, where we fully lived into being created wHoly and beautifully ourselves, both individually and in community.

At MYLE, students engaged in worship, sang songs, and listened to inspiring speakers. They also co-created an artwork installation, adding mini Lego figures of themselves or as the superheroes, ninjas, wizards, or Jedi they imagine themselves to be. Meanwhile, after morning worship with Bishop Eaton, students at the tAble learned about natural disasters, particularly those in Louisiana. They created disaster relief kits filled with items to help New Orleanians in the days immediately following a natural disaster.

During free time, students from the tAble enjoyed knock-out basketball, volleyball with a giant blow-up ball, and silly relays featuring fantastic dance moves. Before dinner, they went to Fulton Bowling Alley, where they cheered each other on, strengthening bonds and celebrating each other’s successes.

In the afternoon, MYLE participants explored various workshops designed to inspire and empower them. They delved into topics like storytelling, identity, and social justice. One workshop, “Dancing for the Lord with a Biblical Dance Party,” encouraged participants to live out loud and proud through movement and dance, guided by Bible stories. After an upbeat, jazzy choreography session, leaders reminded them, “Whether you have rhythm or not, who you are is perfect. You are created to be exactly who you are. You are not too much of anything, and you’re not, not enough of anything. The rhythm you have is your expression, and that’s what’s so beautiful!”

Closing worship at MYLE was incredibly moving. The MYLE director, Dr. Kelly Sherman Conroy, reminded youth that water connects us through story. Students poured water from their homelands into a collective bowl, honoring the water from their homes and the land it nourishes. Rev. Alejandro Mejia acknowledged that we each carry our own burdens that dampen our peace and dim our light. He urged, “Be You.” Do not let the world define you by its standards. Remember, you are wonderfully made in the image of God. Each of you has a light that can shine brightly even in the darkest places. Believe in your worth and let your light shine for all to see.

While MYLE participants spent the afternoon grooving to their best dance moves, students at the tAble ended the night in NOLA fashion with a masquerade dance. The ballroom was filled with laughter and pure joy wearing beautifully created masks and dancing our own rhythms and expressions as One Direction reminded us, “That’s what makes you beautiful.” 🎶

In the words of Rev. Mejia, “Don’t be afraid of shining, my beloveds. Be proud of your body. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of your sexual orientation, your gender, your ethnic background.” He invited us to leave believing we are unique, that we can overcome and succeed, making a difference just by being authentic. “Shine brightly, thrive, and be you. Amen.”

 

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Scenes from the Street Car: Day 1 from MYLE and the tAble

Saturday, July 13 – Day 1 from MYLE and the tAble

Good Morning, New Orleans!

Day One kicked off with a dazzling start to the Gathering in the vibrant city of New Orleans! 

Picture this: 684 enthusiastic youth and their caring adults checking in to the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE), rocking some of the craziest, most whimsical hats you can imagine for Crazy Hat Spirit Day. The air was electric with excitement and creativity as participants let their imaginations run wild. The day was packed with games, laughter, and a burst of color, making it impossible not to smile.

The evening worship was a true highlight. Rev. Albert Starr reminded us that, “even in the heat (yes, even in the heat of the bayou), God’s love is inexhaustible.” We danced and grooved, shaking the floor with the Holy Spirit’s energy. Joe Davis’ spoken poem resonated deeply, giving everyone permission to show up as their most authentic selves. His words echoed in our hearts: “Here is where we give you the permission you may have not given yourself to show up and bring your most authentic self. Cause you can cry here. You can take your time here… we shine brighter when we all shine here.”

Meanwhile, at the tAble, 38 youth and their 40 loving caregivers checked in with a mix of excitement and nerves. Even in their exhaustion, participants were still smiling, embodying grace in action—in the smiles, the hugs, the shared stories, and the newfound friendships. This is what grace looks like, and it’s beautiful. Workshops provided a sacred space for participants and caregivers—both together and apart to connect deeply, sharing hopes and dreams, and cultivating a community of support and understanding. The chocolate chip cookie metaphor resonated deeply: we may all look different, but we are all uniquely delicious and perfectly made. ❤️

Both MYLE and the tAble celebrated the unique individuals God has created, and the joy of being wHoly ourselves. What a fantastic start to our journey together! Looking forward to a bright new day in the Crescent City.

Written by: Vicar Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

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)

Behind the curtain…

A message from Deacon Tammy Jones West, 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering Program Director—

First, there is no curtain but for a peek into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the ELCA Youth Gathering, let me start with my first few months on staff.

Let me introduce you to the people who are called to serve this ministry at the Churchwide office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am Deacon Tammy Jones West and I serve as the Program Director for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering. Alongside me is Justin Wilson who was originally hired as communications/social media person but has wowed us all with his ability to step up into so much more. That’s it friends. Justin and I aren’t singing – just the two of us but it’s true – sort of. (Plus, Justin is way too young to even know the line to that song.)

That’s just those of us at the Churchwide office. We plan to hire another staff member to help with registration/housing in the coming months, and soon the Churchwide organization will be searching for the person God is calling to be the next program director to begin planning for 2027 and beyond.

Now, there’s another group of people who you need to know, and we’ll be announcing these individuals shortly, but the group formerly known as Team Leaders, now Directors, are the backbone of this event. Nine people who will build teams, supervise managers, and make the magic happen. What are those roles?

Directors of…

  • Accompaniment
  • Community Life
  • Interactive Learning
  • Logistics
  • Mass Gathering
  • Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE)
  • Gathering Synod Champions
  • the tAble
  • Volunteers

Serving alongside the directors and forming what we call their core team will be managers of…

Safety and Security, Medical, Transportation, Operations, IT, Justice/Advocacy, Service Learning, Cultural Immersion, Bible studies, Tech and Talent, Champion’s Square, Partners, Administration, and more.

That’s not all friends. Once the Gathering lands in New Orleans, implementation teams join the family. That’s 99 additional people, who will help make these teams work and thrive.

One more important group to remember— our volunteers. 415 volunteers give up a week of vacation to serve this ministry and be with our young people as they explore God’s grace and love.

And finally, adult leaders. Those who really make this ministry happen. The planning, praying, fundraising, details, love, and care that adults who bring our young people provide is invaluable. So, it’s just the two of us and thousands more.

Let’s do this friends— we’ll see you in New Orleans!