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ELCA Youth Gathering Blog

There is a place for you


As a shy introvert, being up on stage in a room of 700+ people is one of my worst nightmares. If you would have told me years ago that I would have been playing guitar, singing, and rapping (yes, rapping), in front of hundreds of youth from the North Carolina synod, I would have thought you were delusional. I was never really one to have a place in a group. There was a voice in my head saying, “I didn’t belong anywhere,” and I let that voice control my life for a long time. Until I met the band.

Rewind to 2015, there was an interest meeting to form a youth band for Synod Day at the Gathering in Detroit. I went to the meeting just to see what it was about. I was immediately pulled in. A few months later we had our first practice. I hated playing in front of people before, but something was different with this group. Our first practice was rough as we learned to play together, but as soon as we finished playing through our first song, I noticed something. The voice in my head telling me “I didn’t belong” was gone. It was replaced by a warm voice telling me, “Here, there is a place for you.”

Fast-forward to 2018, I had the opportunity to play with them again at the Gathering and many other synod events. They became my family, and that sense of belonging never left. Now in college, that sense of belonging has continued with me. Being involved with Lutheran Campus Ministry at my school and within Region 9 events, everyone and anyone is welcomed and affirmed. 

So come, the table is set, and there is a place for you. 


Grace Robinson is a sophomore at Roanoke College in Salem, VA majoring in Christian Studies and minoring in Psychology. She is originally from Concord, NC and a member of Christ Lutheran Church in Charlotte, NC.


A life-changing opportunity

by: Erin Strybis

I went to the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering to tell their story. 

I didn’t anticipate how they’d change my story, too.

When my editor and I discussed my assignment – to shadow a youth group at the Gathering for Living Lutheran – my stomach flipped with excitement. I believe this event for youth is one of the best things this church does. Not only does it inspire Lutheran teens in their faith journeys, the Gathering also affects adult participants and community members.

Walking into Houston’s NRG Stadium for opening night with my reporter’s notebook in hand, however, I felt timid. Would they accept me? Would they open up? I settled into my seat beside youth from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Laurel, Md., and let a wave of cheers and music wash over me.

In her opening message, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton urged Gathering participants to watch for God to “show up in places we least expect.” OK Bishop, I thought, observing the sea of Lutherans surrounding me, I’ll keep watch. 

I turned on my tape recorder, started asking questions, and sure enough…

          God showed up as youth served with their hands and opened their hearts to seniors at a local YMCA.

          God showed up in Interactive Learning, where I met teens who’d found acceptance at the Reconciling Works booth.

          God showed up in the stories of speakers who shared myriad challenges and gospel hope.

          God showed up in the blare of bands and synod gatherings and holy conversations.

After Friday’s Mass Gathering, Holy Trinity youth were bouncing with excitement as they exited the stadium. We pulled off to the path’s edge and I found myself surrounded, each jumping for a turn to speak into the recorder. As I watched their faces light up, I thought, Yes! This electric faith, this community, this growth is why the Gathering matters.

God showed up in the clear, honest testimonies of these 12 young people – Alicia, Caroline, C.J., Jenna, Jordan, Lewis, Madison, Michael, Peter, Samantha, Tyler and Will.

I came into their group an outsider; I left with 12 friends in Christ.

Erin Strybis (middle) is a lifelong Lutheran, mother of one and voracious reader who believes in the healing power of stories. Find more of her stories at or on Instagram (@erinstry).

The Mission and Goals for the Gathering


The Gathering’s mission, faith formation in teens, is the hub from which all things come for the tAble, MYLE, and the Gathering. Our goal is to create environments and opportunities for faith formation through worship, Interactive Learning, Bible study, Service Learning, and fellowship. While some of the experiences can be replicated at home, some are unique and special to the Gathering because of the size and scope of this ministry.

There are five core goals that we have for this ministry. We hope that all participants can be both affirmed and challenged in their faith, experience new perspectives, ponder their vocation, bond with their congregational group, and learn more about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

While some participants may accomplish these goals during our two pre-events, MYLE or the tAble, some will at Mass Gatherings, where participants come together for music, speakers, and worship. Others might tackle these goals in the Interactive Learning space, where they can experience exciting things that the ELCA and our partners are doing. Or maybe it’s being God’s hands and feet in the Twin Cities on their Service Learning day. It might even be during Synod Day, where participants are in community with those geographically close to them or it might just happen during the nightly congregational devotion and debrief called Final 15.

Wherever it happens, we know that 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, if you imagine yourself as part of something bigger than you.

Why Synod Day?

– Ed Kay

I never fully appreciated the size and scope of the ELCA Youth Gathering until I sat on the floor of the bare New Orleans Convention Center, counting out thin pieces of cardboard that would be used for what was to be the first Synod Day in a Gathering cycle in 2012. In 2015, it was thousands of “Jesus is Good News!” tattoos and prayer journals.

And in 2018, there will be loads of new supplies that will be sorted and delivered to the ballrooms and meeting spaces around Houston as our Synods gather for their day together. But what really makes the Synod Day an integral part of the Gathering experience is not the truckloads of supplies or the work of planning teams near and far.

The power of the Synod Day is the creation of a unique community of Christ, gathering around Word and Meal, honest sharing and beautiful music, and deep conversation with holy moments.

Unlike many other aspects of the Gathering, the Synod Day is when you’re with the people you’re closest with, geographically at least. Your bishop is with you. The musicians are talent from your own churches and youth groups. The testimonies are from young people from your own cities and towns. This is a community that forms with people from your own neighborhoods, even though you may be hundreds or thousands of miles from where you call home. But, in a way, it too is a kind of home as well.

The Synod Day is more than the couple of hours you’ll spend together in a Houston hotel ballroom—it is the beginning of new friendships and the renewal of long-standing ones. It is the community who will bring the story of Jesus back from Houston into your own communities and neighborhoods.

Taking the Gathering Home

– Eric Carlson

carlson1991I attended my first ELCA Youth Gathering in Dallas in 1991 – check out the fanny pack and rolled up jean shorts. The theme was “Called to Freedom,” and the main stage highlighted Maya Angelou, Tony Campolo, and the Jay Beech Band. I was an adult leader for a group formed of several congregations sponsored through Lutheran Lakeside Camp in Spirit Lake, Iowa. We all showed up as complete strangers the morning we departed for Dallas, and we returned transformed. Sure, long bus rides across the country help people connect—but it was the power of the Gathering that made us more like family.

I have had the opportunity to attend seven of the ten ELCA Youth Gatherings. As I think about all of them, there are three consistent themes.

The Gathering:

  • proclaims the good news of God’s love made known to us in Jesus in amazing and powerful ways,
  • provides a unique setting for faith formation of young people, and
  • stretches participants beyond their comfort zones as we are set free to love and serve our neighbor.

carlson2I am very excited to be one of the Team Leaders for the 2018 Gathering. I get to work with an awesome group of people who are planning Synod Day. Synod Day is one of the rotation program days when participants meet as a synod for worship, Bible study, learning, and more. The bishop of your synod appoints a Synod Day Director who is responsible for implementing the curriculum and worship experience for your synod.

The mission of the Gathering is to provide faith formation with high school age youth. Synod Day provides yet another opportunity for participants to connect God’s amazing story in geographical groupings that assist in translating the Gathering experience to their home context.

The planning team for Synod Day is working hard on your behalf to provide the best opportunity for you in Houston. I can’t wait to see you in 2018!


Pastor Eric Carlson lives in Des Moines, IA with his wife, Beth, and their two teenage children, Greta and Benjamin. They are members of Faith Lutheran in Clive, IA. Eric serves as the Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern Iowa Synod.