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ELCA Youth Gathering Blog

Looking back…

by: Bishop Abraham Allende

In my time as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, I have been blessed to attend two ELCA Youth Gatherings – Detroit in 2015 and Houston in 2018. On both occasions, we worshipped, rejoiced, served, and celebrated God’s wonderful gifts of love, grace, and hope.

Each night at Mass Gathering, we heard powerful messages from a wide variety of speakers and sang a dazzling and diverse array of music from contemporary musicians. During the day each synod either gathered to worship together, went out into the community to serve in different sites around the city, or learned of the many ways the church serves around the world in Interactive Learning. 

The members of the communities where our young people carried out their service projects couldn’t stop thanking them, which was affirming for the youth. And it is through that service that they go out before others and proclaim God’s mercy and grace. 

In both Detroit and Houston, I came away with a renewed feeling of hope for the church. Being around these young people keeps me young. They are eager to serve and demonstrate the love of God by loving their neighbor. The many outreach ministries they performed brought glory to God. 

When we agonize about why young people are leaving church, we need to ask ourselves, what opportunities are we giving them in our congregations to offer their boundless energy and enthusiasm, their passion for the gospel? As adults, we are sometimes unable and often unwilling to give up control. God’s invasion of this world in Jesus is resisted by those who hold power, those whose lives are dedicated to keeping boundaries intact. The challenge is to avoid the temptation of refusing to let go of our sense of authority and denying youth of their willingness to serve.

Bishop Abraham Allende was elected in 2014 to lead the 162 congregation Northeastern Ohio Synod. He previously served the Lutheran Church of the Covenant in Maple Heights, Ohio, and Iglesia Luterana La Trinidad, a Latino mission in Canton. Bishop Allende is a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. A second-career pastor, he has held successful positions in the fields of education, broadcasting and as a professional baseball executive.

To Simply Be

– Allison Tice

As I walked through the streets of Detroit to Ford Field one evening, I witnessed disciples that covered the streets with hope, grace, and love. That evening, I saw a man that was part of the Gathering give his leftovers to a homeless man. It was one of the most moving moments I saw unfold. I witnessed the tears and love shared between the two. Witnessing the simple gesture of sharing a meal and being Christ-like to one another showed me that even the smallest of gifts to others made the biggest impact. I quickly realized that the Gathering needed me, and needed us to show that we aren’t there to “fix” them or “fix” their city, but to walk in servanthood together.

It was then I could answer, “Why the Youth Gathering?” In that moment, I realized why we were there: to build bridges, to show love, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

It was hard for me to grasp the idea that the service projects we would be doing were not monumental, yet they made the greatest impact in Detroit. Through my service project, I helped a local community garden begin planting for the upcoming season. I knew that even through pulling weeds and shoveling dirt, this meant the world to the community in which we were helping. While we were working, it began to rain. In that moment, I could choose to be angry that it was raining… or I could rejoice. I simply chose to remember that I am a called and baptized Child of God. I saw this as God “showering” us with grace and never-ending love.

Why the Youth Gathering? To simply be. Be the church, be the light, and be like Jesus with and among God’s people.

Gathering Abundance and God’s Amazing Grace

– Matt Staniz

One of the biggest ways that I have seen the Gathering transform the lives of young people is by inspiring them to become generous disciples who care about the needs of others and find ways to respond. This radical generosity has taken root among Gathering participants at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Devon, Pennsylvania.

In fact, it has reshaped the way we prepare for our time together with 30,000 Lutheran friends.

As a congregation situated among well-to-do communities in suburban Philadelphia, God reminds us that we have the ability—and the responsibility—to make sure that all of our neighbors experience the same opportunities that we might take for granted.

Because the Gathering is among the greatest opportunities that the young people of Saint Luke have, we know that we are called to extend the ministry of the Gathering to others. As soon as we figure out how much it will cost for our group to fully experience the Gathering, we increase our fundraising goal by enough to give away ten percent of everything we raise. Trusting in God, we contribute most of our pledge to our synod office from the very first dollars we raise so that young people from other communities can register for the Gathering.

In 2015, we also began saving some money for an additional special gift. After returning home, our young people discussed what they discovered during the Gathering and they decided together how God was leading them to use what they had left. The conversations were incredible and important, and the continued impact of the gifts are felt not just by those who receive them, but also by our group. This empowers them to not only be thoughtful stewards of God’s gifts, but also to think deeply about how being a generous disciple impacts their neighbor and the world.

It allows the Gathering to continue to change our lives as we live out God’s amazing and abundant grace!

Gathered and Freed: By Love, For Love

– Drew Ingram

I remember the Confirmation lesson the week I was cut from the basketball team. I was telling myself that I was not good enough at basketball or at anything. The Confirmation lesson title was, “G.O.G.G.: The Gift Of God’s Grace.” We read Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

I heard, understood, and resonated with the truth that no matter what I told myself, God loved me; that love was a gift not because of anything I had done or failed to do.

In the time that followed that moment, all I wanted to do was share this love. Of course, there have been times where I lost this focus and drive. This is why I give thanks to God for the church that shows and tells me the good news of God’s grace and love as we study scripture, remember our baptisms, confess where we have fallen short and hear God’s forgiveness, and come to the table where everyone receives Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

This reality does change everything. It means each and every one of us are set free from the things that turn us in on ourselves. We are free to share God’s love with others. God’s grace and the faithfulness of Christ empower us to remind people that they are loved just as they are, not because they have earned it.

Where you are now, and in Houston in 2018, you are set free to share God’s love with everyone you encounter. Share a meal with someone who is hungry. Listen to someone’s story. Tell them they are loved.


Rev. Drew Ingram is pastor at Spirit in the Hills Lutheran in Spicewood, Texas