Why a Youth Gathering?
Since before the turn of the 20th Century, the ELCA and her predecessor bodies have held a triennial Youth Gathering. In 2018, that gathering landed in Houston, Texas, and attracted 31,242 registered youth and adult leaders, with over 1,200 volunteers, making it the largest gathering of ELCA Lutherans in the country. In recent years, the “Gathering,” as it has come to be known, rotates participants through three primary days of faith formation practices, a day of service in the host city, a day of interactive learning with various ELCA partners and para-church organizations, and a day to gather as synod for worship and conversation about how to take the Gathering home to the participants’ communities and congregations.
In the city of Houston, the ELCA walked alongside 200 local institutions, agencies, and non-profits, to provide service within the city, including local schools, renovations to churches and homes affected by flooding, food banks, human-trafficking organizations, immigration agencies, and more. The “orange-wave” as it has become known, because our youth all wear matching orange tee shirts, sent 10,000 participants out to serve daily in the Houston metro area. The “Blast Off for Books” campaign, this Gathering’s in-kind offering option, garnered 40,000 books that will be distributed to children in the Houston area who might not otherwise be able to afford these books for basic school reading programs.
In addition, here’s just a taste of the generosity shown by participants at the Gathering:
437 hair donations to children with hair loss
1,248 units of blood donated from 987 donors
200 grace bags and 100 kindness project rocks made by tAble participants (the pre-event specifically designed for youth with disabilities)
700 individuals attended MYLE and visited 13 service sites (the pre-event specifically designed for multicultural youth and their advisors)
$261,226.43 in offering for Prison Congregations of America, Inc., the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, and new starts globally.
The 2018 theme, “This Changes Everything,” included daily sub-themes like “God’s Love Changes Everything,” “Call, Grace, Hope,” and “Jesus Changes Everything.” After a day of faith formation and conversation, participants gathered in the NRG Reliant Stadium for the mass gathering. Daily highlight videos and video clips of all the evening speakers can be viewed online.
Our synod had 62 congregations represented with approximately 636 participants and 48 volunteers. Bishop James S. Dunlop and his wife Connie were also in attendance, as was synod Director for Faith Formation and Youth Ministry Charlie Roberts. Roberts shared that one of the unique stories from the ELCA Youth Gathering is the growing opportunity for families to serve together.
An example from our synod is the Snyder family from Grace Evangelical Lutheran, Camp Hill (see photo). Parents Terry and Todd Snyder served as Community Life Volunteers for their third Gathering alongside daughter Madison, a Gathering alumni, who also served as a Community Life Volunteer and a member of our Synod Day band. In addition, daughter Chelsea, also an event alum and former event planning team member who currently serves as an ordained Lutheran minister, accompanied her youth from Good Shepherd Lutheran in Somerville, New Jersey, and was able to house with her congregation, her sister and her parents in the same property. The multi-generational aspect of this triennial event continues to be one of the powerful growing edges of this important ministry in the life of our church.
To volunteer for future ELCA Youth Gatherings, contact Charlie Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lower Susquehanna Synod & The Gathering
Our synod wasn’t always as invested in the ELCA Youth Gatherings as it has been since 1997. Now, we are one of the largest synods in attendance at the event, and we send dozens of volunteers to serve every three years. Volunteer registration typically opens in May of the year prior to a Gathering, so May 2020, for the Youth Gathering in Minneapolis. Community Life, Gathering Volunteer Corp, and Servant Companions are all areas where someone can serve the Gathering community. Post-high students can begin as early as their freshmen year applying to these areas of service, and there is no age-restriction for “seasoned” adults.
Synod Day is one of three programming days at a typical Youth Gathering. Our 2018 Synod Day included worship led by an group of talented musicians, representing a number of our congregations, all between the ages of 16-24. Bishop Jim Dunlop preached and presided at the worship experience, and our 600+ participants all had a chance to meet new friends and learn about the ways “Hope Changes Everything,” even back in the communities we come from in Central Pennsylvania. Holy Communion highlighted this event, as we broke bread and encountered the living Jesus in our time together.