By Kristen Hitchcock, Youth Director, Living Lord Lutheran Church, Lakewood Ranch, FL
After being named the Florida- Bahamas Synod Youth Leadership Coach, I had the honor of attending the ELCA Youth Leadership Summit (Nov. 3-6, 2016 at Camp Lutheridge) with 4 youth from our synod. The ELCA Youth Leadership Summit (ELCAYLS) is an annual gathering for youth leaders and adults from across the ELCA. This summit focuses on leadership development, faith formation and building connections for high school youth in the ELCA. The Youth Leadership Summit is a shared ministry between ELCA Youth Ministry and Synodical Youth Ministry. I went into the weekend not really knowing what to expect, but hoping to figure out how to enhance youth ministry in our synod. My strategy was to sit back, observe, take some notes, and coach our youth representatives along the way. Little did I know that my heart would be greatly impacted by what I witnessed during the weekend.
Among the excellent speakers at the ELCAYLS were Molly Beck-Dean who shared about the Youth Gathering for 2018, Tia Upchurch-Freelove who spoke about Advocacy, Mikka McCracken from ELCA World Hunger, the Rev. Herman Yoos who spoke on racial injustice, and an alumnus of Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM). Pastor Kevin Strickland led us in worship and devotion each day that was both contemplative and interactive. Each of the worship and devotion times gave the youth the opportunity to experience God through prayer stations, group discussions, music, and even props like sunglasses.
The most beautiful thing that I witnessed was being able to sit in a room of over 100 youth participants from across the country, including Alaska, that came from all walks of life. 23% of the participants were of a race other than Caucasian, and the dialogue that came from these conversations was more beautiful than if you were to look at art in a gallery. This was a safe place for the youth to explore and ask questions like, “we all bleed red, why can’t everyone just get along?” and “if we are all created in God’s image, black, white, polka dots and pink, why can’t we just accept people for their hearts instead of just seeing their skin?” As youth are looking for identities–a place to belong, a place to fit in and a place to call home–what a great opportunity our church has to guide them, to provide them a place where they belong and fit in.
The theme verse for the weekend was Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send for us, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” Throughout the weekend, I definitely saw the Spirit work in the lives of the youth at the ELCAYLS as they found their own voices and were invited to stand up and raise their hands to say “God, here I am. Send me.” Maybe it’s best said in their own words:
Mary Winsor – Holy Spirit Lutheran Church–Juno Beach
Wow! My experience at the 2016 ELCA Youth Leadership Summit was awesome. I made new friends, grew closer to God and had tons of fun while doing it…We learned and talked about poverty, immigration, race, world hunger, and many more issues our world faces today.
Sara Stenke, Lutheran Church of the Cross – St. Petersburg
It was an amazing experience and it truly changed me. Despite only being there for 4 days, I made friendships that I’m sure will last me a lifetime. God brought me to this summit to show me that I don’t have to be afraid of doing things outside my comfort zone, like going to another state and not knowing anyone else. I was also able to learn about more ways in which I can help people around the world, like through YAGM. This experience will stay with me forever and I will never forget the impact it had on my life. I hope to have the opportunity to go again next year.
It was so refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded Lutheran youth! Spending a few days in God’s love with these wonderful people reinforced my love for the church and my passion for advocacy. I look forward to attending another Leadership Summit in the future!
Sami Copeland, Living Lord Lutheran Church – Lakewood Ranch
I learned a lot about God and myself, as well as facts about the human race and things that I – as an individual – and we – as a church and synod – can do better. Thank you for allowing me to go on such a wonderful trip and be part of such a loving community.