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ELCA Youth Gathering Blog

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.

Meet the Gathering Staff

Greetings from the Churchwide Office in Chicago! You might be wondering, who works for the Gathering? In Chicago, there are three staff members that tend to the Gathering year-round. While they aren’t the ones who plan every single detail about the upcoming Gathering, they do support the 14 different teams that do.

Molly, the Gathering Director, 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 in 2015.

Michael serves as the Assistant Director for the Gathering, where he handles all things housing and registration. Michael began his work with the Gathering as an intern leading up to the 2012 Gathering and has served in various roles ever since.

Justin, the Communications & Administration Program Associate for the Gathering, attended the 2012 and 2015 Gathering and then joined the Gathering staff this spring. He spent the last four summers working in outdoor ministry in various roles.

Molly, Michael, and Justin have a lot in common. Below is a Venn diagram that properly depicts some of their similarities and favorite things. Enjoy–

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.