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ELCA Youth Gathering Blog

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!

Meet Molly

-Molly Beck Dean

Hi! My name is Molly and I serve as the Program Director for the ELCA Youth Gathering or Gathering Director for short. I began as director in January 2015 and accompanied former director, Heidi Hagstrom, and the other 2015 leadership in the months leading up to the Gathering.

So while I’m still relatively new on staff, my passion for and involvement in the Gathering started many years ago. In July of 1997, I boarded a bus in North Dakota and headed to New Orleans for the Gathering. That week was transformative for me. I experienced God in a new way. I saw how huge the ELCA was, and I was delighted in knowing tens of thousands of other teens shared in the Lutheran faith with me. I made lifelong friends, experienced an exciting city, and learned how important an adult youth worker can be in your life.

I am also fairly certain that the Gathering cemented God’s calling for my life. I returned home fired up about youth ministry, dove deeply into leadership within my synod, and rededicated myself to ministry in my congregation. I went on to serve as Director of Youth & Family Ministry at St. John in Fargo and as assistant program staff for the Northwestern Minnesota Synod and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. For two summers, I was on staff with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida. In 2002, the Holy Spirit called me to Philadelphia where I joined the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod as their Youth Ministry Specialist for almost thirteen years.

Youth ministry is my calling. Showing young people the magnitude of God and God’s church is my passion. Walking alongside young leaders is my honor. Creating a community of support for adult youth workers is my delight. I love God and feel blessed to be doing this work in the ELCA.

My first love is my family! My husband and two children are on this crazy journey alongside me. We are making our new home in Illinois, and I am so grateful for their love and support.