The June 27 opening night Mass Gathering of the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering was marked by spirited testimonies of God’s call, fitting with the day’s theme: “God’s call changes everything.” For the 31,000 youth from around the country in attendance, the opening Mass Gathering brought a new sense of belonging in Christ.
Before the doors to NRG stadium opened, the Gathering participants and adult leaders were anticipating what the night—and the week—had in store.
“I’m excited to look around and see 31,000 people who all believe what I do. On mission trips we’ve been with other groups but they’ve all been from different denominations. Here we’re all together and we share the same beliefs,” said Alexis, a Gathering participant from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Appleton, Wis.
Katelyn from Union Lutheran Church in Schnecksville, Pa., was looking forward to seeing Agape* perform: “I love how he puts religion and music together.”
A group from Augustana Lutheran Church in Boone, Iowa, was at the front of one of the lines to get into the NRG Stadium. They’d been standing in line since 4:30 p.m. and were eager for the doors to open at 6 p.m. “I’ve been to a Gathering before and I’m honestly looking forward to everything this week, but the mass gatherings are my favorite part. I’m excited to see Agape*, Rachel Kurtz and Tenth Avenue North,” said Claire, from Augustana Lutheran.
As the first Mass Gathering got underway, Gathering participants witnessed a memorable, energizing introduction to this five-day faith formation event.
Highlights included words of welcome from Michael Rinehart, bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, and a poetic performance from Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, the current Poet Laureate for the City of Houston.
LZ7, a Christian electronic dance music group from Manchester, England, brought youth to their feet with high energy, joyful songs illuminating God’s presence in the world.
Carly, 14, from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Bismark, N.D., felt inspired by the presence of so many other Lutheran peers. “I felt like I belonged, I didn’t feel out of place at all,” she said. “I really liked how all the bands started playing and we all started dancing.”
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton set the tone for the evening, calling youth to become the “alternate face of Christianity” and disciples who reflect a “God of grace and love, who welcomes everyone.”
Tuhina Rasche, an ELCA pastor and writer, told youth her call began with a simple invitation to dinner hosted by her college’s Lutheran campus ministry. Rasche started attending their worship services, and one day, while singing a hymn, she was struck by an encounter with God.
“God sent me messenger after messenger after messenger, setting fires all around me and I finally realized, oh hey, there’s a fire,” she said. That fire was the Holy Spirit acting in her life. “If a former Hindu can be a Lutheran pastor then, yeah, God’s call changes everything,” Rasche said.
Rasche’s talk resonated with Isaac 15, from Bethany Lutheran Church, Joyce, Iowa. “She felt like she didn’t belong, but everyone just accepted her,” he said. “(Her talk) was the most inspiring to me.”
The Gathering’s House Band introduced the theme song for the week, “This changes everything,” grounded in Ephesians 2:8.
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., closed out the Mass Gathering, encouraging youth to consider how their vocations intersect with our calling as Christians to pursue compassion, justice and reconciliation.
Stevenson encouraged Lutherans to speak out and name injustice: “When we see injustice, it is necessary that people of faith speak their truth,” he said. “We’re gonna have to say things when it would be easier to be quiet.”
He spoke of tragic injustice facing young children who get tried as adults and caught up in the prison system, and he implored students to speak out for justice. “I think God is calling us to love and wrap our arms around the kids who are struggling, the kids who are in jail,” he said.
Libby, 17, Bethany Lutheran Church, Joyce, Iowa, felt empowered by Stevenson’s words: “It makes you want to welcome people and not judge them.”
Taylor from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Clarksburg, W.Va., connected with Stevenson’s message. “I really liked the lawyer, Bryan. My dad is in law enforcement, so I spend time around lawyers and people in law enforcement, and I love hearing their stories. The story of how he [Bryan] helped the boy was really inspiring and that’s the kind of stuff I want to do.”
Laurel, also from St. Mark’s in Clarksburg, W.Va., said she loved Stevenson’s speech: “I liked that he probably made a lot of people uncomfortable with what he was talking about because you have to be uncomfortable to make change.”
Gathering participants will hear more from change-makers as they move into day two, meeting under the day’s theme: “God’s love changes everything.”
Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:
- Facebook for MYLE, the tAble, and the ELCA Youth Gathering;
- Snapchat (elcagathering);
- Instagram; and
- Twitter for MYLE and the ELCA Youth Gathering.
Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!
Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.