“This is holy ground.”

ELCA volunteers, on their feet, belted out the song lyric at worship this morning at the New Orleans Convention Center. Afterward, they took their seats and listened intently to a local ELCA pastor talk about the death and devastation left by Hurricane Katrina four years ago.

“Make no mistake,” Pastor Sean Ewbank of Hosanna Lutheran, Mandeville, La., told them. “You are on holy ground.”

A huge cheer erupted from the 300 ELCA members. They were dressed in T-shirts, shorts and sneakers — a sign that they’d come to the Crescent City to work and to pray. This was their last time to pray together before 37,000 ELCA youths and adults converge on the city Wednesday through Sunday for the 2009 Youth Gathering.

This morning’s worship was held by Servant Life, the project outreach component of the gathering. Busses carrying 12,000 teens will be sent out on three separate days of the Youth Gathering. They’ll be working on dozens of projects, suchs as cleaning up city parks, painting schools and building houses.

The volunteers at worship this morning included people who will be in charge of the teens on the busses, leaders at work sites and Servant Life staff.

“You are here to do amazing things,” Ewbank told them. “Thank you for being here.”

Photo: Johnetta Kollie, 23, of Trenton, N.J., is among the volunteers for the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans.