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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 a Street Car: Day 3 from MYLE and the tAbe

Monday, July 15 – Day 3 from MYLE and the tAble

The last full day of MYLE and the tAble was brimming with connection, creativity, and community spirit. 

At MYLE, it was “Created to Be” Spirit Day—a celebration of individuality, purpose, and potential. Participants expressed their identities through clothing and accessories reflecting who they are or what they’re passionate about, from motivational t-shirts to cultural attire and hobby gear, embracing uniqueness and collective strengths.

During morning worship, Dr. Moses Penumaka, president of the ELCA Association of Asians and Pacific Islanders, spoke to MYLE participants about our freedom in Christ, saying, “We are created to be free to love the world, heal the world, and embrace diversity, work for equity, and be inclusive.” Quoting Martin Luther, he reminded us, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” His words inspire us to serve our neighbors with love and embrace the freedom we have in Christ.

Meanwhile, students from the tAble went on a field trip to the Smoothie King Center. This behind-the-scenes look allowed students to familiarize themselves and become more comfortable in the space where Mass Gathering will take place. Experiencing the arena while it was empty helped prepare them for the excitement of being among 16,000+ participants, ensuring they feel comfortable and ready.

The fruits of the past three days spent in community were evident. Friendships blossomed as groups intermingled during free time, shared ice cream, and participated in workshops. The spoken word vibe-circle resonated with the wisdom, “You can only choose what you bring to each day. You can’t choose what everyone else brings.”

Students from both MYLE and the tAble spent time in Community Life together, engaging in holy play on giant inflatables. Witnessing the inclusive and gracious community forming between the two groups was a joy, with smiles and laughter filling the space.

Creativity was celebrated in many ways all day, from community art projects to talent showcases. During craft time at the tAble, students discussed the expansive love of God, sharing their faith in brave and meaningful conversations. 

At the MYLE Village Showcase, we learned about positive disruption in Puerto Rico through video and skit, enjoyed a beautiful dance from a Minnesota Swahili group, and learned to say “Praise the Lord” in Swahili: Bwana Yesu Asifiwe. Joe Davis shared a vulnerable moment about feeling free, reminding us that freedom is cultivated in community. We need to practice it every day, shouting from the bottom of our hearts to the top of our lungs: “I am free. You are free. We are Free… Because God says so.”

From vocals and dance moves to Beethoven on the piano, stand-up jokes, poetry readings, cup stacking skills, and skits, the Variety Show at the tAble was a testament to the love and support these new friends shared. One caregiver delivered an incredible rendition of “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, with powerful lyrics resonating with everyone: “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be, this is me…I’m marching on to the beat I drum. I’m not scared to be seen. I make no apologies, this is me”

As participants enjoyed their day in community, the convention center buzzed with activity as volunteers assembled, and participants began to check in. Gathering Directors, Deacon Tammy Jones West and Deacon Jess Liles, commissioned around 600 volunteers for the Gathering. Bishop Eaton expressed her deepest gratitude on behalf of the ELCA, even taking a selfie with all the volunteers!

Today was a testament to the power of community, the beauty of embracing who we are, and the joy of serving and supporting one another. Let’s carry this spirit forward, shining brightly and serving freely as we continue to create, connect, and grow together.

Written by: Vicar 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. 3 that 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 their website and follow Bethlehem on Facebook.

Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Reflections on Volunteering in Minneapolis

 

It has been 3 weeks since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the city in which I call home. Unfortunately, the senseless killings perpetuated from racism are not uncommon. The outcry for justice, though, has been very common across the United States and countries throughout the world.

The George Floyd memorial on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis is holy ground where people gather. Gather to pay their respects, gather to lay down flowers, gather with advocacy organizations and gather around food and water. The words and artwork are a balm for the wounds that I, a white woman, cannot even begin to imagine.

The past couple weeks, I have spent time volunteering at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church just blocks from the epicenter. Since George Floyd’s murder, Holy Trinity has become a sanctuary for demonstrators, a medic station for the wounded, a place of support for local small businesses and a pop-up food and necessity distribution site. Streets have been lined with cars with donations and greeters. Pregnant women and people with disabilities were accompanied, to ensure their needs were met. I heard so many touching stories over the week. One of them that stood out, especially as a youth minister, is the confirmation students who purchased detergent and collected all the quarters they could find, so people could still do their laundry.

Something else that stuck out to me is seeing a mother taking pictures of her daughter in her cap and gown. I went over and started talking to her and she said, “this is her history.” I pray for this young woman and her family. I also pray for our community, our country. I pray that this moment and these pictures are the time that she can tell her children and grandchildren that this was the turning point in our history. “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

 

Kris Bjorke serves as the Service Learning Project Manager for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering. She lives in the Minneapolis area and enjoys drinking coffee with friends, being with family and pets, the outdoors, football and hockey games, travel (with a special affinity for National Parks) and quilting.

Meet Matthew

by: Matthew Felbein

Hello! My name is Matthew Felbein and I am thrilled to be able to serve as one of the Gathering Hosts for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering in Minneapolis. This will be my second Gathering, and even though it is still about 450 days away (I might be counting already…) I couldn’t be more excited!

Currently, I am a junior in high school and I try to be involved in everything that I can. Music is a huge part of my life as well as my faith. I love sharing music at my church whether it’s in a brass group, the high school choir, or playing the organ and piano. I’m also involved with a lot of theater and music activities and my school.

I was absolutely blown away by the 2018 Gathering in Houston. From the first night, I felt named and claimed as a child of God more than ever. Seeing thousands of people of all different backgrounds from all over the country come together for worship, service, and lots of fun was an incredible experience. Without a doubt, it was one of the best weeks of my life and it really did change everything. When I left, I knew I wanted to be able to inspire people like I had been inspired by the emcees, speakers, musicians, and volunteers at the Gathering, and I am so blessed to have this new opportunity!

I can’t wait to see how God’s boundless love fills us in Minneapolis in 2021. See you then!