By Cindy Novak
Many people tell Lisa Jeffreys that attending an ELCA Youth Gathering remains one of their most meaningful memories of growing up in the church.
“The experience for a Lutheran teenager to participate in an event that brings together 38,000 young people — all of whom have the same faith background — is so powerful to so many people,” says Lisa, youth and family minister at St. George Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Brighton, Mich.
That might explain why members of St. George are so excited that teens from their congregation will be attending “citizens with the saints,” the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering, July 18-22, in New Orleans, she says.
And that excitement can be felt 630 miles away at Kimball Memorial Lutheran Church, Kannapolis, N.C., says Elizabeth Fisher, youth and family director, who attended the 1994 ELCA Youth Gathering in Atlanta as a high school senior.
“We have a number of other members who have attended in the past,” she said. “We are excited for our kids to experience the Gathering, just as we have.”
In addition, some of the young people from Kimball, who attended the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering, are “really excited to go again,” Elizabeth says. “They tell everyone how absolutely great that Gathering was.”
It becomes a tradition
Attending ELCA Youth Gatherings every three years has become a tradition at St. George and Kimball, as well as many other ELCA congregations across the country. And that means a flurry of fundraising activities, preparation meetings and information sharing is taking place now as teens and leaders gear up for the trip.
For example, at St. George, young people hold “faith-raisers” throughout the year, like their Prayer and Fair event that allows members to financially sponsor a participant for a day and pray for them. “Some people sponsor every young person for a day,” Lisa says. “It’s a huge blessing for people in our faith community to be involved in the process.”
In return, youth send their sponsors a hand-written postcard, telling them about the highlight of the day and how the Gathering has blessed them, Lisa says. “It makes our kids think about how much our church family gives back, and it connects our church family with our young people. So it’s a win-win.”
Members of Kimball also generously support young people, making sure they get to the Gathering “no matter what,” Elizabeth says. “Folks are willing to give because they know how important experiencing the Gathering can be in making memories and impacting faith formation.”
As they look ahead, Elizabeth and youth from Kimball look forward to participating in servant events — or service projects. “My hope and dream is that our kids not only have a great time experiencing the speakers and bands but that they also experience the discipleship piece of the Gathering,” she says. “So when they return they can serve in a school, homeless shelter or food bank to serve others, just like Jesus did.”
“The ELCA does a great job at trying to build community around our kids,” Elizabeth says. “By building community, we give our kids great memories. We create God moments and give kids opportunities to share their faith. And that is what brings them back to the church.”
“I am excited that my colleagues and I are doing what we can to create disciples for Jesus,” Elizabeth adds. “To plant the seeds of faith, water them and make them grow. I’m really excited about the Gathering because it’s going to be one of those events where we will pour a lot of water on the plants.”
Cindy Novak is a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill. She lives in Lisle, Ill., with her husband, David, and her children, Sam and Emily.