– Mark England
Why do we go to the ELCA Youth Gathering? I wonder this as I think about all of the time we will spend fundraising, the energy we will spend organizing, and all of the logistics involved in travel. The ELCA Youth Gathering is not quite a servant trip. We are not there to save a city. We aren’t tourists there for sightseeing. So what is the ELCA Youth Gathering and why do we attend?
I would argue that the ELCA Youth Gathering is our opportunity for pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage is often a journey made to a holy site such as Jerusalem or Rome. It’s just that our holy sites, the cities where we gather in the name of Jesus, are movable.
Traditionally, pilgrimages have been made for answers to specific prayers. In our pilgrimage, we do not seek answer to prayer, but instead, we leave with prayers on our hearts, in our minds, and on our lips. Pilgrims have profound spiritual experiences as a part of their journey. The ELCA Youth Gathering has certainly been one of the places where our youth and adults have experienced the fullness of God’s presence and the wideness of the church’s work.
When I think of the ELCA Youth Gathering as recovering the lost art of pilgrimage, then I can recognize that it’s not just about the destination, but it is the whole journey that is holy. In this way, the car washes, the sponsor banquets, and all of the planning become sacred parts of the pilgrimage and more than just a means to an end.
Some may argue that Wittenberg is the proper destination for a Lutheran pilgrimage. For me, I’ll happily join all of the other Lutheran pilgrims in candy colored shirts finding our way to our domed stadium destination.