ELCA Youth Gathering

This week 37,000 Lutherans have invaded New Orleans.

I don’t know if you call it locusts, but its an invasion nonetheless.

This is the every-three-year youth gathering held by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Its a chance for high school kids and their chaperones to experience their faith with others in a way they probably haven’t done before. Some kids are getting a second chance at the gathering, but for many, this is it.

I don’t know how to best describe a youth gathering. Its not full of chants or prayer, but it is about exploration of ones faith and experiencing something with thousands of your new best friends. Plus you meet all sorts of people from around the country and learn some music that stays with you forever.

For the record I did find some pictures from my 1994 journey. Are you ready? This is John Bergman, Scott Schaefer, my self and Jeremy Anhalt. We had been walking back in the rain and needed to stay dry. We had the bright yellow hats so our chaperone’s could see us while we were walking in the crowd. I also found pictures of the same group of adults asleep during the great speakers. I guess that was tradition for them.

I remember Randy and Iva Ruehs, and Merritt and Connie Jones telling me how cool it was and that I needed to attend this event about 20 years ago. The Ruehs’ and Jones’ were our Luther League sponsors and served American Lutheran Church in Jesup in that capacity for a long time.

They were planting a seed for my first opportunity in 1991. I did not go then but did in 1994 to Atlanta for the “2 Be Alive” event held at the Georgia Dome and the convention center. We raised money through pizza sales, car washes, bake sales, and other dinners to get the money. I think we took a couple of vans to Atlanta on a straight through driving experience.

There were many firsts on that trip, including the all-night driving, communing with 25,000 others in a football stadium, singing songs I’d never heard and doing a conga line across the Georgia Dome.

We learned the best seats were on the floor, but you had to be there EXTREMELY early to get that prime real estate. A lot of pressure was there, too. You had to dance for others, get the crowd going by what you were doing on the floor. You were close to the stage and could rush it if required.

Jay Beech was the band that played for many of those youth gatherings. I always remember Randy saying how good they were and how they could entertain a crowd. That was true.

The theme “2 Be Alive” was put into song that you sang each night and heard the theme several times through the day on shirts, posters and the convention hall. That’s another animal in itself where you could experience rock climbing, team building and buy plenty of Lutheran-themed attire.

I thought at the conclusion of that week in Atlanta was it for me and youth gatherings. But that fall at Wartburg College, I found I was not the only one who had attended the event. Several others had our clay necklaces. We would sing some of those same songs in chapel and Sunday services at Wartburg.

In 1997 I was called at the last minute to be a chaperone for the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans. My youngest sister Kris was on the trip, so that was special to be with her as she experienced her first youth gathering. Our sister Alane went to a national youth gathering in Denver in probably 1985.

I remember seeing Hurricane Katrina coverage and seeing sites I had been through just a few years before, seeing them under water or damaged or used as a shelter of hell, like the New Orleans Convention Center was in 2005. We all knew the city was hurting, but when you’d walked many of those streets, you knew the damage that was done was serious.

Then in 2006 I got to chaperone again, this time for All Saints Lutheran in Davenport. Kristen Reece and I were on the trip to San Antonio. Amy did all the work in organizing, but I got to go have the fun. She stayed home with 3-month old Noah. We paired up with a couple of other churches in the Quad Cities and then Cedar Rapids as we chartered two buses. That was a lot different than the all-nighters of driving straight through.

My thanks to Sarah Stadie for the photo. Even if she goes to Luther.

This week begins Jesus, Justice and Jazz in New Orleans. The site was picked in 2006 and announced in Texas. It was the ELCA’s way of saying, we are going to take these young locusts and them use their energy to help that city. Hurricane Katrina had barely been gone from town when the ELCA decided to take the NYG back to NO. The youth this year are doing service projects to help the community.

You can follow several people in New Orleans this week by looking for the Twitter hashtag #jjj09

Our current church, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Ankeny sent 55 people this week. Think of them and think about your past experiences on this trip.

I remember each trip well and hope you do too.

Thanks to Kevin Secoy for use of the opening Wednesday night. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/foghornleghorn3

I’m amazed at how many paths do cross in life. The ELCA trip would be one of those. After I posted this, I heard from many people about their experiences. So, I thought I would share some of them.

Mike Peasley is so old, he remembers going to Dallas. That was like 1991. He even noted that the process of tearing down Reunion Arena is underway, so he’s a bit reflective on his trip.

Eric Kurtz remembers the 1991 “Called to Freedom.” Eric reminds of big names who addressed the crowd, Tony Campolo and Maya Angelou. Campolo would address the crowd again in later years.

My co-worker Joe Bustad was a youth leader when he took kids to St. Louis. I hear that city is in the running for the next gathering in 3 years. Joe left his experience in just a few short words. “It was awesome!!”

Even new generations of my family are going. My second cousin Thea is planning a trip in 2011 and first cousin Kirk was there this year.

Amy Wood Rahe says “I feel so lucky that I got to go to Dallas and Atlanta! I had a blast! Good times and great memories!”

I mentioned how small this world really is. Anne Williams is our youth leader at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Ankeny. I rode down to San Antonio with her parents on the same bus. Anne took kids this year and has a few thoughts and reflections posted here on her blog.

Also another friend and Wartburg grad, Erik Ullestad guided kids from Windsor Heights Lutheran to New Orleans. Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to on their journey.

I did find some fun old photos. Here’s one and its blurry, so what a shame, you can see how young some of us used to be. Here’s John Bergman, Scott Schaefer, me and Jeremy Anhalt. Enjoy. We were walking back from the Georgia Dome when the rain hit and we took our plastic bags for our bodies and tucked them under the great yellow hats. We wore those so we would be seen while walking in the crowd. Good times.

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