June 18-22, about 35,000 young people, adults and volunteers attended the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering and rekindled their relationship with the people of New Orleans, a relationship that began three years ago. Why go back to New Orleans? According to Heidi Hagstrom, the answer is simple. “God is not done with us here.” Heidi directs the ELCA Youth Gatherings.
For the past 25 years, the ELCA has been deeply committed to the faith formation of its teenagers, namely through ELCA Youth Gatherings — the largest event organized by the 4.2 million-member church.
Under the theme “citizens with the saints,” the centerpiece of this year’s Gathering included three primary components: practice justice, practice discipleship and practice peacemaking.
Through practicing justice, ELCA youth put their faith into action in a city that has persevered through one of the biggest natural disasters in the United States. For each of three of the Gathering’s five days, 11,000 young people were peppered throughout the city engaged in projects that ranged from painting classrooms and hallways in a high school to cleaning up parks and wetlands. More than 400 service projects took place during the event.
Through worship and Bible study, the youth practiced being a disciple of Jesus Christ and learned to take their relationship with Jesus to a deeper level.
Practicing peacemaking, an interactive, multi-sensory opportunity, helped youth become more conscious of their own call through focusing on how they can strive for justice and peace within themselves, their communities and the world.
A special feature of the interactive area was the 100 Wells Challenge, where ELCA bishops, including Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, were invited to come pump water via bicycle as the youth cheered them on. To date the project has garnered more than $406,000 to support the wells projects of ELCA World Hunger.
Here is what people were saying around the Gathering.
“I am so excited to be with 35,000 Spirit-filled youth praising God at the ELCA Youth Gathering. Tell me what you’re excited about!” — Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s first Tweet live from the Superdome
“The energy is fantastic. They asked us when we felt God the most and it was in the Superdome. We’re all here for one sole purpose and that’s to praise God.” — Autumn Miene, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Monona, Iowa
“We’re all simultaneously sinner and saint. We’re both all the time. And I thought, Oh my gosh, I have an enormous capacity for destruction of myself and other people, but I have an enormous capacity for kindness, and finally someone explained that to me. You know why I’m a Lutheran? Because you are the first people in my life who gave me language for what I experienced to be true.” — Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA congregation in Denver, speaking at the Superdome
“We got to hang out. We got to play games and get to know each other.” — Joanna Beachum, Our Lord’s Lutheran Church in Maryville, Ill., talking about what her group did when storms kept the youth from leaving the Superdome Wednesday night
“My favorite experience was when we were in the Superdome and we were all dancing like we knew each other even though we don’t yet. There was a slower song and everybody took out their phones and it looked really pretty.” — Chloe Landt, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Monona, Iowa
“Hi, Bishop Hanson!” — a youth group shouting greetings to Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson as he participated in Biking with the Bishops at the 100 Wells Challenge booth
“I love just being around all of the different people and seeing how all of their lifestyles are. We come from a small town, so we see the same people every day.” — Kellie Walz, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Monona, Iowa
“It was really neat to be helping the world in such a small way but in a big way at the same time. Just a little bit and it will all add up in the long run.” — Kaitlin Svacina, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Toledo, Iowa, after presenting her congregation’s donation to the 100 Wells Challenge
“It’s just fantastic to be standing here not even through the first day and to have groups come up and say, ‘Bishop, we just raised a well,’ and the next group say, ‘Bishop, we just raised a well and a half.’” — Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson
“I’m hoping to get some gumbo and add some nice ingredients in like my kindness.” — Chad Bumstead, Reformation Evangelical Lutheran Church, Media, Pa., while playing volleyball with friend Randy Crawford Practice justice
“Good morning, Lutherans!” — Practice justice volunteers as youth arrived at the Superdome at 6 in the morning
“I was actually here in 2009 as a freshman. I’m the only (one) in my group to come back. It’s cool to get to come back to New Orleans. It’s had a lot of problems since the hurricane, and it’s cool to get to help out — especially that I can do it again.” — Ryan, Bethesda on the Bay, Ohio
“I love working, especially when other people benefit from it.” — Ashley Hines, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Monona, Iowa
“I’m not really sure what to expect, but every day I look forward to going. We’ll be landscaping, mulching.” — Claire Mowey, Our Lord’s Lutheran Church, Maryville, Ill.
“As special a town as it is, the energy they bring makes such a difference, it really does. The good feelings will last for a long time.” — Bill Capel, reporter, WWL-TV in New Orleans