submitted by Jennifer Lohr, adult leader, Gateway Trinity, Ft. Myers
I’m not sure it is possible to write a “brief” reflection about the Gathering, I am still processing all that happened in such a short amount of time. Just like our faith, my Gathering experience continues to grow each and every day. Allow me to begin with full disclosure that it has been a dream, a call, a need to attend an ELCA Youth Gathering. Years ago at my Lutheran church in NY I could’t wait to attend Gathering, but for one reason or another it never came to fruition. Thankfully 2018 was the year! I had the privilege and honor to attend as a chaperone for our youth group at Gateway Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Myers. There are so many personal God moments that happened to me over the days of this year’s Gathering that I could fill an entire book; I will try to capture an overall sense of how I was impacted to keep it “brief.”
My faith and sense of God’s mission in the world were impacted through every one of my senses each day.
My faith and sense of God’s mission in the world were impacted through every one of my senses each day. I was impressed with the way the theme was woven throughout the Gathering. The theme, This Changes Everything, was broken down each day into God’s Call, God’s Love, God’s Grace, God’s Hope. Youth (and adults) learn in different ways and the ELCA touched us through scripture, personal stories/testimonies, various genres of music, and spoken and visual arts. God’s love was not only heard and seen but felt everywhere!
Accompanying our youth each day to Synod Day, Service Learning, Interactive Learning, and Community Life impacted my sense of God’s mission in the world. I have been very aware of who we are as Lutherans, the ELCA, and what we do as “the church together” but much of this was new to my youth group. To see all the different parts of the ELCA unfold over the days gave these young people a new perspective. Our youth experienced different organizations and their areas of influence in the world, which helped to connect them to areas where they could be a part of the solutions. It was amazing to see their eyes and hearts open – to go outward from individual selves and interests, to realize they were a part of a larger group at the Synod level, to being interested in what areas they could get involved with at the ELCA church-wide level. That thread of connection, that they mattered, that God was working, is indescribable.
That thread of connection, that they mattered, that God was working, is indescribable.
Personally I was impacted to see God’s mission in the world by seeing programs that were once just ideas being implemented and changing lives. World Hunger campaign goals, YGAM, AAMPARO, the school in Jerusalem, MEtoo, Women and Justice, are a few areas I have heard about at the beginning stages or have volunteered for over the years. Visiting the booths of these church-wide organizations and hearing the stories of how they are flourishing and carrying out God’s mission is just so overwhelming! These stories will be ones that will keep me going when my faith is in need of a re-charge.
My faith was renewed as each day our youth shared stories of how something that day impacted them or where they saw God that day. A common theme emerged throughout my journaling. Our youth began realizing that they are larger than their faith and church on Sunday mornings, that they could have a lasting impact in the world. It was a clear reminder for my own faith that what we as individuals do – our time, talents, monetary gifts, or just our simple daily prayers for these mission fields – helps to impact not only our local community but spreads out to impact the larger world. What we do changes individual lives. Each morning I begin my day by dipping my hand in the faucet or shower water and mark the cross on my forehead as a daily reminder of whose I am, and to live out my baptism. The Gathering reminded me that we are “being church together”, living out our baptism by striving for justice and peace in all the Earth in so many areas of the world.
We always hear the youth are our future but they truly are our “right now” and they are knowledgeable, engaged, and taking action.
Personally my faith was inspired just being amongst 31,000 young people that were proclaiming the Good News! Whether standing in long lines, resting in a comfy spot, or sitting in the arena, I engaged the youth around me with questions and was blown away by their answers. We always hear the youth are our future but they truly are our “right now” and they are knowledgeable, engaged, and taking action. The diversity I encountered was extremely inspiring too and helped our youth to realize Lutheran churches and congregations are not all the same.
It was a privilege to experience the transformation in each of our seven youth over such a short time. Each one of them arrived home very different than when they left, impacted by something personal that they encountered on this trip, their faith definitely stronger. I am still pondering Bishop Eaton’s question, “how will we maintain the sense of community once we return home?” I’m just thankful that our faith journey never ends, as Jesus still continues to change everything.
Jenn’s Highlight List:
- 31,000 voices in song together
- Day 1 Calling: knowing and using your voice will be a part of your calling, don’t let it be turned down.
- Day 2 Love: showing love is how we leave our mark on the world
- Synod Day – Bishop Suarez: It’s ok to get mad at God; he connected with the youth by telling his own story. He ministered to one of the youth in my group whose mom also passed away (and who was also from Venezuela!)—powerful moment
- I see you. You belong here. All are welcome. This is your home.
- Baptism; Claimed and Named
- Day 3 Grace: Grace is God’s source code
- Saw God in Principal Myra at Shearn Elementary, our service site
- Day 4 Hope: Hope is left when all expectations have failed
- Holy does not have to be boring
- There is always a facet of hope that will always find you
- We are not what was done to us only what our Savior has done for us
- What are you living for?
- How will we maintain the sense of community once we return home?
- One on one time with each of our youth
- Meeting so many new people – the young people of today ROCK
- My hour of conversation with the MYLE leadership at their booth
- The Palestine school booth, photos by the ELCA missionary family the Grays (I visited the Grays while in Jerusalem on a trip last year)
- Connecting with people from NY churches where I used to live
- Reuniting with World Hunger staff
- People of Houston! Uber drivers, hotel staff, restaurant staff, all so friendly and welcoming!!