Youth Summer Trip at the ELCA Youth Gathering Recap
This summer, our group of 36 had the opportunity to love deeply, grow spiritually, and share abundantly in faith in Houston, TX during the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering. This triennial event is unique by its size and scope and serves as a distinctive sign of the ELCA’s evangelical mission as it works with synods and congregations to accompany young people in their faith journey to understand their vocation and articulate their faith in Jesus Christ.
The theme for the week was “This Changes Everything,” which was based on Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Grace is a foundational and distinctive piece of the Lutheran faith. This gift, undeserved and freely given, changes lives and perspectives as people realize they are enough because of what Christ has done and are called into the world to serve their neighbor and share the good news. Each day, we learned about God’s call, love, hope, grace and how Jesus is present in our lives. Ultimately, we saw more fully the fierce love that God has for us, just as we are, and that by grace, through faith, we have been saved. When we truly claim this reality, it indeed changes everything!
The ELCA Youth Gathering Experience
The 2018 Gathering consisted of five program areas to engage youth and adults in ministry and fulfilling our mission of faith formation for teenagers. On Thursday we participated in a day of Service Learning by cleaning up one of the largest city parks in Houston. On Friday our group experienced Interactive Learning where youth explored their gifts, ministry opportunities, Lutheran colleges, vocation, high ropes, and a variety of smaller services projects, such as giving blood. Saturday was our Synod Day where we gathered as a community of more than 800 Nebraskans for conversation, worship, and Holy Communion, which was served by the youth of Sheridan. Each evening ended as a whole community of more than 31,000 worshiping at the Mass Gathering.
Service By the Numbers
Through these combined efforts with our fellow Youth Gathering participants, our youth worshiped each night and were a part of completing 213 service projects with 147 organizations in the Houston area. We helped create 12 pieces of public art, worked on 44 homes affected by Hurricane Harvey, donated 40,000 books to those in need, cleaned 6 historic cemeteries, donated 1,248 units of blood, canvassed 6,500 homes informing residents of much-needed city resources, and raised more than $260,000 for ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge, of which $1,054.39 was raised from Sheridan Lutheran Church. And every dollar of that total will be matched! Amazing!
God at Work
God shined through our group in everything we did and everything we experienced. When the schedule didn’t go as planned or when the air conditioning broke on the bus, the youth responded with patience, teamwork, and understanding. When others needed a helping hand or someone to listen, our youth stepped up with enthusiasm and took time for caring conversation.
God was also present as we shared in the experience of visiting several sacred, historic, and beautiful places together with the youth like the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial and Museum, Galveston Island and the Gulf of Mexico, and NASA Johnson Space Center. These experiences were not only a lot of fun, but sparked great conversation and reflection, and helped us learn about the culture in the communities we were welcomed into.
It was also inspiring to watch our youth be leaders in all they did. They were faithful examples for those around them all week long. Loving like Jesus. Sharing like Jesus. Welcoming like Jesus! Our group was excited to participate in and worked hard on our service day by helping to clean up one of the largest city parks in Houston. They made a difference in the community and wanted to do even more! That is a testament to us as a congregation and how we so radically and abundantly live out God’s call of service to others in our time and place. Our youth carried that spirit forward to Houston.
Our youth were also leaders during evening mass gathering worship by participating in the dances, listening reverently to all the speakers, and being respectful to others as they stood in line, searched for seats, and generally moved around the gathering spaces. Our youth were leaders during Synod Day by serving as greeters and by giving blessings and serving communion to the entire Synod. What a blessing these youth were to so many they encountered!
And so I wish to thank you to all the youth who participated in this trip. Thank you for sharing God’s hope in profound ways!
Thank you to all the members of Sheridan, especially our sponsors, for your prayers, gifts of generosity, love, and support of this year’s youth trip and our youth program in general. Thank you for sharing God’s love and grace so abundantly!
Thank you to the adult leaders: Melissa Abele, Matt Anderson, Kristi Hoffmeyer, Annette Johnson, Pastor Michelle, and Micah Palmer – one of the very best groups of adult leaders I’ve been around! Thank you for keeping us all on track and for guiding each of us in this deeply rich and rewarding experience! Thank you for following God’s call to serve as leaders on this trip!
In closing, it is a distinct honor to walk beside these young people in their faith journey, especially while on the annual youth trip. Your deep faithfulness, love of the church, and compassion for serving others is strong and it is a blessing to know you and to serve as your youth director. I thank each one of you for the meaning you bring to my life and for all you bring to the life of Sheridan Lutheran Church.
Thanks be to God for what you do in furthering our congregation’s story and building God’s kingdom. See you in church!
Youth Ministry Coordinator