ELCA National Youth Gathering

As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently asked to write an article for my home congregation’s church newsletter about the ELCA National Youth Gathering.  I was blessed with the good fortune to attend the youth gathering not just once but twice.  In 2006, I attended the gathering in San Antonio as a youth group member and went back in 2009 as a staff member with the ELCA’s “Gathering Volunteer Corps.”

It was interesting to write this, because it gave me an opportunity to reflect a bit on how the gathering shaped my discernment.  In my entrance essay, the gathering got a paragraph or two at most, but it was nice to get to expand on it a bit.  It was however, a bit of a challenge to incorporate the two wildly different experiences into one theme.  That being said, I’m posting it here for your reading enjoyment.

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It has now been six years since I attended my first ELCA National Youth Gathering as a youth group member in San Antonio, Texas during the summer of 2006.  Three years later in 2009, I attended the next youth gathering in New Orleans as a volunteer staff member for the event through the ELCA.  I doubt there’s a single week during the last six years that I remember nearly as well as my time spent in San Antonio and New Orleans: the things I saw, the people I met, the lessons I learned.

My two trips to the national youth gathering, both as youth and staff, helped me put my faith into perspective.  Being a Lutheran Christian is bigger than myself, bigger than Salem, bigger even than all the congregations in the world.  And while it may seem daunting at first to look at yourself merely as one of millions, it’s also reassuring to know that you are a part of a whole: a faith community much larger than yourself; we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

My first trip built an immense appreciation for what can happen when thousands come together for a common goal, but it was my second trip that really drove the point home.

The event enlists an army of people to keep everything flowing and help give the youth that life-changing experience they came for.  There are ELCA staff members, the presenters, musicians and vendors, locals hired on for the event (stagehands, EMTs, security, etc.), volunteers recruited for specific skills (nurses, production staff for stadium events and others with useful special skills) and hundreds of more flexible general volunteer who are there to fill dozens of other roles (that’s what I did!)

Although many of us met each other for the first time just days before the event, we were able to come together as a team to get the job done and host a successful youth gathering.  It was that teamwork that gave me new perspective on my faith and helped me to truly recognize that I was part of something far bigger than myself.

Six years ago, when I attended my first gathering, I had just finished my sophomore year of high school.  I was only beginning to look at college or really think about a career.  Today, my graduation from WVU is just a little under two months away.  Less than a week after my commencement ceremony, I will sit in front of our synod’s candidacy committee, hoping to be approved to begin seminary education to become a Pastor this coming fall.  There were a lot of different things that influenced me on the faith journey that led me to where I am today, and I can absolutely say that two trips to the national youth gathering was one of the things that made a major impact on me.

Not everyone will come back from the gathering wanting to go to seminary or be a Pastor, it will have a different impact on every person who goes.  But the important thing to remember is that it will have an impact.  It will be an experience our youth will carry into the rest of their lives, and they will be better for it.

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As an additional plug for my home congregation and youth group.  If you’re a runner or walker in the Greater Pittsburgh area, you should consider supporting the youth of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Delmont, PA by participating in their annual RoundUp Rerun 5K/10K race.  This race is one of the friendliest in Westmoreland County, and your $15  registration fee will help send kids to this years youth gathering in New Orleans.

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Posted on March 20, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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