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Gathering Hopes and Goals, Part II

– Molly Beck Dean

(Click here to read last week’s entry, Gathering Hopes and Goals, Part I)

The Gathering is an awesome way to meet Lutherans from across the world, but ultimately, we hope this ministry strengthens your congregational group.  You will be with us in Houston for a maximum of eight days and the Holy Spirit will move in powerful ways in that short time.

However, we know that the real “magic” happens back in the young people’s home congregations.

Often the Gathering is used as a spring board for a congregation’s youth ministry as they restart or re-energize. Whether it’s the bus ride to Houston or a meal time at the University of Houston or a late night Final 15, we hope that the various parts of this ministry deepen the connection that youth have to their peers and adults in their home congregation.


The final goal of the Gathering is that young people learn about the ELCA. Some will come to Houston and realize for the first time that they are part of something bigger than their congregation. Others may have strong connections with their synodical ministry, but not be fully aware of what we do throughout our country as a Church.  And most young people (and adults) have a lot to learn when it comes to how the ELCA is present with our global Lutheran siblings and doing ministry across the world. I hope that young people meet ministry partners in the hall of NRG Center and are amazed at the many and creative ways we are Church together. I hope they hear and see that there are opportunities for young leaders to be engaged right now in many parts of the ELCA’s call to be Christ in the world.

And finally, I hope they go home and share with those in their home congregation about the ELCA and the ways they are most passionate about engaging. 

Perhaps I should have opened with this, but maybe you are thinking, “why are these five things Molly’s hopes and goals for participants?” The answer is actually quite simple – because it’s what I have experienced each time I’m a part of this ministry.  My first Gathering was as a high schooler in 1997. I journeyed on a bus from small town North Dakota to New Orleans.  It was my first urban experience, the first time I realized my Church was so huge, the first time I saw people of color who were Lutheran. I think it was at the Gathering that God solidified my heart as a youth minister. Several of the other youth who journeyed with me at the Gathering are still my best friends because we grew in our relationship with God and each other that week in ways that are hard to put into words.  

And each time I return to MYLE, the tAble and the Gathering, I am challenged and affirmed in new ways as a Christian, as a leader, as a woman, as a mom, and as a friend.  My eyes are opened and my heart breaks. Every time I’m a part of this ministry, I am brought to tears because of the incredible beauty and the haunting darkness in people’s stories and in our world.  Even though I’ve been a legit ELCA church nerd since high school, each cycle I learn something new about what our Church is doing with and for God’s people across the world and I am proud to be part of the ELCA. 

This is a powerful and transformational ministry if you are brave enough to let your guard down long enough for the Spirit to enter in, if you can be quiet long enough to listen to someone different than yourself, if your prayer is to be open to what God is calling you to, if you realize the strong roots of a community will ground you no matter the strength of life’s storms, and if you imagine yourself as part of something bigger than you. 

Gathering Hopes and Goals, Part I

– Molly Beck Dean

Faith formation in teens is the mission of the ministry of the Gathering.  It is the hub from which all things come for the tAble, MYLE, and the Gathering. We strive to create environments and opportunities for faith formation through worship, Interactive Learning, Bible study, Service Learning, and fellowship. Some of the faith formation experiences at the Gathering can be replicated – you can bring them to your home, congregation, or synod and create the same experience for others there. Some are unique to this ministry because of its size and scope.

There are also several hopes or goals that I have for those who come to the Gathering, especially the youth participants.

The first is that they are both affirmed and challenged in their faith. I hope that at least once during their time with us that each young person feels the undeniable presence of God and is affirmed in their beliefs. Likewise, I also hope that each participant has a moment where something troubles their heart or their mind enough to challenge their faith. Maybe they have to rethink what they have been taught about God. Maybe their heart breaks over a story they hear and they have to wonder why God would let such a thing happen? Our faith is deepened on the mountaintops and in the valleys.  It is my hope that participants can be vulnerable enough to let both happen while they are at the Gathering, surrounded by caring adults and peers.

MYLE, the tAble, and the Gathering are opportunities to experience new perspectives. It is my hope that youth and adults will open their minds and hearts to let in those perspectives. For some, that will happen in NRG Stadium through a speaker’s story that is different or even contradictory to their own story. For others, the new perspective is being in a large city. Others will experience a new perspective by learning the story of the organization and people they serve with on their Service Learning day. No one is trying to change another person’s mind on an issue or invalidate one story in exchange for another, but rather we seek to expose our participants to stories, sensations, and situations that are new and encourage growth.

Intentionally, and often completely unintentionally, we know that the Gathering is a place for young people to ponder who God is calling them to be. Vocation is how we live our baptism out in daily life, how we are the hands and feet of Jesus in our corner of the world. The Church needs to have a stake in the development and understanding of our young peoples’ vocation. Gathering leadership hopes and plans for moments of “aha!” as our young people meet inspirational people, hear their stories, and then listen to the nudges of the Holy Spirit calling them to something similar in their lives. Almost every time I’m at an event representing the Gathering, someone will tell me that the Gathering helped them realize they were meant to be a social worker or a volunteer or a youth director or an advocate and on and on.