Mountain Top Moments
That is what I miss about not being in youth ministry. When I transitioned into this new role of Communications Coordinator three years ago (almost exactly) I knew I would miss leading students through those mountain top experiences. The mission trips, retreats and yes, the ELCA Youth Gathering–as exhausting as these can be. I have been able to stay connected somewhat to these events on the synodical level. I serve on various synod planning teams & leadership groups. I serve on teams for the Synod Journey (high school mission trip), Middle School Gathering, Practice Discipleship and serving for the 3rd time as the Gathering Synod Coordinator for the Nebraska Synod. The role of Gathering Synod Coordinator is intrigal in helping to prepare congregations plan and experience the ELCA Youth Gathering. A facet of my role as a Gathering Synod Coordinator is that I must participate in the Gathering; either as an adult leader for a congregation or as a volunteer. Since I wasn’t going to be bringing the group from Sheridan to Detroit, I was more than excited to be a volunteer.
I hadn’t seen this side of this event before, since my previous experiences for the Gathering have been to be a primary adult leader in 2006, 2009 and 2012 for churches. At the ELCA Youth Gathering, there are three areas in which folks can volunteer. Servant Companions (young adults leading the justice/service day), Community Life (in hotels) and Gathering Volunteer Corps (everything else). Since I knew I wanted to be in the midst of all the Gathering had to offer, I selected to volunteer with the Gathering Volunteer Corps. These are people that will serve in lots of different capacities throughout the Gathering-from safety and security, to ropes handlers, to general hospitality in the convention center space.
What it was like being a volunteer
I was excited to serve. My role during the day was as a stage host for the talent stages inside the Interactive Learning space in COBO Convention Center. I was to greet the talent, make sure their needs were met and help folks to engage and create community during these performances. I was able to see groups from all over as they made their way by the stage areas. Then each evening I was a part of the safety and security team for the mass gatherings in Ford Field. Getting to see young people engage in stories of the speakers, seeing/hearing them moved by what speakers were sharing and of course experiencing the abundant energy they had for the many musicial performances was awesome. One thing that seemed to unite everyone at Ford Field was when the Motown legends performed. The entire audience of 30,000 were in one voice with two Temptations, one Capital and one Miracle singing many of the longtime Motown favorites.
Why does an event like this matter?
This event has continually renewed my faith in a mighty and powerful God, that continually shows up in our lives. Sometimes I forget to look for it through the to do lists and calendars. God was already in Detroit before “the Lutherans” came. But to see Him shine through the hands and feet of the 30,000 participants during the week, is hard to describe. Countless hugs and high fives, screams of joy, youthful energy as far as the eye could see.
Because words are sometimes hard to find to articulate an event such as this, I urge you to watch the speakers from each night on the ELCA Youth Gathering’s YouTube channel. A press release from the ELCA church office sums it up nicely: “Participants of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Youth Gathering held in Detroit July 15-19 responded to the event’s theme “Rise Up Together” by taking part in neighborhood service projects throughout the Detroit metro area.
The projects included helping clean up neighborhoods and boarding up abandoned houses, creating community gardens, painting and cleaning schools and community centers, packaging food into family-sized portions for distribution and helping install mosaics on the backstops at a neighborhood baseball field.
The youth and adults at the Gathering also collected nearly one million diapers to help kick-start the city’s diaper bank. Starfish Family Services helped manage the collection and has partnered with 37 agencies that provide early childhood care in Detroit. Starfish will also distribute diapers to families. In preparation for each ELCA Youth Gathering, participants are asked to make in-kind donations of non-perishable items that are needed in the host city. In addition to addressing the need of Detroit residents, the youth and adults at the Gathering also learned about global needs, such as clean water. In response, the ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water exhibit raised more than $402,000 ($1,200 was from Sheridan’s spring Noisy Offering) during the event. The exhibit at Detroit’s Cobo Center simulated the experience of women in Sub-Saharan Africa who walk an average of three miles each day to get water for their families.”
The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, addessed the whole community of participants twice…and in her Sunday sermon said: “We were taken out of our normal places wherever they were across this country and the Caribbean and we were set down here in Detroit, and we were just ready – ready to see what was going to happen. The spirit could come in because we didn’t have our defenses up.”
This Gathering event allows young people to see how big the church is. How big the reach can go beyond our communities and how we, as Lutheran Christians in the world, can affect change together. Just read some of the many stories from the Detroit media outlets-many of which can be found online. The event hashtag (#riseupELCA) was even trending on all three main social channels throughout the week! (So popular, spammers started using it:)) This event is a big deal; plain and simple.
Hear from a Detroit resident on the impact of an ELCA Youth Gathering to their city:
Thank you to the congregation of Sheridan Lutheran Church for allowing me to serve the greater church on your behalf. For praying blessings on the four young people and three adult leaders from our congregation to experience God at work in the world. To allow us to act out our faith in service, learning and fellowship.
I also invite you to welcome these students back. Talk with them, ask them about their experience. (Here are some sample questions to ask). Be present with them, as mountain top experiences can sometime be hard to return home from.
Thank you to the Sheridan participants-students Morgan Henning, Ashley Svick, Connor Tryon, Eric Ullman and adults Alex Henning, Lauren Hestermann and Cameron McDaniel! Thank you for giving a week of your summer break to praise and serve God, to learn about the people and community of Detroit and to go through the week with very little sleep. You are an inspiration.
It is a joy to be a part of a church that lives and breathes service to our neighbors, near and far. A church family that bleeds Sheridan’s mission statement of loving deeply, growing spiritually and sharing abundantly. You, too, are an inspiration. Thank you!
I look forward to the opportunity to volunteer again in Houston in 2018. Will you join me?