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ELCA Youth Gathering Blog


[God’s] power in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine.
(Ephesians 3:21 CEV)

When we live into the limitless, we open ourselves up to taking risks, to trying new things, to see ourselves as important pieces in our world. Limitless is about removing the limits we often put on ourselves and others and to live into a potential that is far more than we dare ask or imagine.

After reflecting on the 2021 Gathering’s theme of boundless: God beyond measure, the tAble planning team was struck by this verse. We worship a God that is greater than anything we could ever fathom. Sadly, we frequently look inward and limit ourselves. When living in a world with less limits, we rely on God’s love, grace and power to make the impossible possible.

At the tAble, we will explore the story of Ester, who reminds us that we are wanted, valued but most importantly a needed part of our community. We are called to the places where our piece fits, where we can make a difference and are able to be something that is bigger than we can ever imagine. Esther also reminds us that we are called to be in community that pushes us to use what God has given us for advocacy and for helping others see their limitless potential.

the tAble is a pre-event to the Gathering that blesses and empowers young people who live with a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities so that they might grow as faithful, wise and courageous witnesses. To learn more, visit:

boundless: God beyond measure

by: Molly Beck Dean, Gathering Director

In April, a group of creative youth, young adults and adults gathered in Minneapolis to discern the theme for the 2021 Gathering. After reading through 2018 evaluations, listening to locals share about their city and much discussion about the spiritual lives of young people, the theme “boundless: God beyond measure” was chosen.

As I have pondered our theme over the last few months, it speaks to me more and more. It challenges me to think about how big God really is – from creation of the universe to crucifixion for sins, from death defying resurrection to the Spirit that continues to guide us today. It reminds me of the wonders of creation – certainly the beautiful Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, but also rolling plains, dusty deserts, crashing waves of lakes and oceans, lush forests and majestic mountains. God knows no bounds. God is all powerful and all knowing.

Our theme makes the almost incomprehensible hugeness of God personal. In our scripture verse, Paul writes “I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is.” Christ’s love for us is so abundant it can’t be calculated, quantified or even estimated. A love that couldn’t be contained in heaven so God came down and became human. A love so huge it was willing to suffer a gruesome death amongst taunts and jeers. A love so magnificent and glorious that death could not contain it and so Love was resurrected and changed everything humans knew about life, love and forgiveness.

To be honest, I don’t know all about Christ’s love or what it’s like to live a life filled with all that God is. I am bound daily by my sins and weighed down by the struggles of our world. But I have caught glimpses of it. I have stood on the beach and been brought to tears by the beauty and vastness of the ocean God created. I have held each of my new babies and cried because I have been entrusted with two of God’s miracles and in that moment knew a love greater than I could imagine. I have been in worship with a heart so full of the Spirit that my whole body danced in praise and my eyes glistened. I have been brought to my knees and cried the ugly cry over mistakes I’ve made and the wickedness that exists in the world, only to feel a calming in my heart and mind that could only be the forgiveness of God.

These brief moments of being filled with all that God is not only point me to the tissue box evidently, but give me hope for my life and our life together. God doesn’t hoard God’s boundless goodness, but rather shares it with God’s beloved – us – in real ways.

Paul’s words are my prayer for the young people of this Church.  As they prepare for this ministry and as they attend MYLE, the tAble and the Gathering, I hope they get closer to knowing all about Christ’s love and what it can look like and feel like to live a life filled with all that God is.

Molly first attended the Gathering in 1997 and has served at the Gathering in various capacities ever since. She’s worked at the congregational and synodical levels in youth ministry before transitioning to the Gathering Director in 2015. Molly enjoys beaches, spending time with her family and finding the best ice-cream shop in town.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

by: Brittany Horton

Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

This verse is a constant reminder that God makes no mistakes. We are all made in the image of God just as He intended for us to be. As someone who has 50% hearing loss in both ears, I often thought people were staring at my hearing aids or making fun of the way I talked even though my disability was not as visible as others. When I got older, I became more comfortable with who I was and my growing faith played an important role in that.

Being a part of the tAble planning team was an amazing experience. Not only was I able to be a part of something bigger than myself but I was able to empower, motivate and love on others that may have experienced some of the same things I went through as a youth. When I was invited for the tAble I was not prepared for the life changing experiences and many friendships I would soon develop. I was excited to help others shine despite their differences. 

The tAble brought about a spiritual awakening that I did not even know I had. My only mission since then has been to do God’s work the best I know how and to love everyone the same. No matter what we are facing, God always finds several ways to show you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in that moment. The tAble was an experience of a lifetime and I am glad to have been a part of it. Just like we encouraged these young people to be their true authentic selves, I want each of you to understand that God loves you just the way you are. 

Brittany Horton is a Detroit native and have been doing youth empowerment and advocacy work for the last seven years. She has a strong background in mentoring and community involvement. Brittany enjoys reading, swimming, listening to music, spending time with her family and friends as well as sharing her gifts through various ministries in her church.

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.

Who Belongs With You? Day Four at the tAble

“Who Belongs With You?” was the transition from the closing day of the tAble to prepare for the Gathering. That transition took place in closing worship focused on the faithful community that gathered and formed over four days focused on the theme “You Belong.” Reminders of the days together were interspersed in the worship space: grace bags that were part of Service Learning, the prayers of the people written on pieces of cloth and woven together, and the paper chain of gifts draped on the wall behind the altar.

The worship service opened with music from James Kocian and Judi Tyler, the writers of the Gathering theme song. James wrote a song specifically for the tAble titled “You Belong” that he shared with the participants. Rev. Leslie Welton, chaplain for the pre-event (lovingly known as “Chappie” by participants) reminded everyone in worship to be present in the space as the heart leads. Many of the tAble participants had leading roles in worship, which communicated a full embodiment of the priesthood of all believers.

Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Michael Rinehart preached on the fourth chapter of Exodus, reminding those gathered at worship that even when answering God’s call is difficult, we are never alone. In preaching on the challenges and questions that Moses addressed to God, Bishop Rinehart said, “Show me a place in the Bible where God called someone to do something easy.” Steven, 17, from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Habsburg Heights, NJ, responded, “God saw Moses’ résumé and thought it was perfect.”

“Who belongs with you?” the tAble closing worship showed that as baptized children of God, we all belong to one another. Knowing that we are part of the same family joined together in Christ, the time transitioned to knowing that belonging can change everything.

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.

Your gifts belong at the table. How do you belong? Day Three at the tAble

The third day’s theme for the tAble was “Your gifts belong at the tAble. How do you belong?” The day began centering in a Bible study. Participants then headed to the NRG Center and NRG Stadium for a private tour. The tour of the NRG facilities helped participants get acquainted with the entrances and spaces because Mass Gathering can sometimes be over-stimulating. Lunch was at the Stadium, with visits with emcees, a Mass Gathering speaker, and a Mass Gathering musician.

tAble participants got a sneak peak of the Interactive Learning space, getting to try out the ropes course. The course provided an opportunity for some nervous excitement; the operators have everyone’s safety in mind and they were both patient and encouraging. The spirit of belonging was evident with cheering and overt support from people watching from the ground. Participants also hid kindness rocks throughout the Interactive Center space. The rocks were created on the second day of the tAble, and are to be found as pieces of love for the finders to keep.


After sharing a meal, the community gathered for a concert held by Ginny Owens. Ginny will also be sharing her music on the Mass Gathering stage, connecting the tAble to the Gathering. Her music and conversation encompassed a variety of emotions including grace, beauty, and humor. Keeping with the day’s theme, Ginny reminded everyone at the concert of the book of Exodus, that we are like Moses, called to go out into the world with our gifts.

The evening then transitioned to evening prayer. Bishop Eaton shared the message based on the 14th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, sharing stories of invitations at gatherings. Bishop Eaton reminded everyone there that in this world, “This is God’s table, and you are the party.”


In the spirit of parties and celebrating gifts, the evening concluded with sharing gifts with one another at “the tAble’s Got Talent.” Participants shared their talents, including singing, dancing, reading a poem, sharing games, and a self-defense demonstration, with the community.

Follow the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering on social media:

Don’t forget to follow the hashtag #ELCAYG2018!

Follow instructions to download the ELCA Youth Gathering app here.