As the Grace Gathering opened in New Orleans, participants sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” with guitar and fiddle music accompanying the traditional Easter hymn with a rapid beat probably not heard in many congregations. Musician Jonathan Rundman then taught other tunes as participants prepared for several days of conversations, worship, workshops, Bible studies and service experiences.
The vision of the gathering was inspiration, education, spiritual development, equipping and connecting with other Lutherans of all ages. It was also a time to help prepare for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. “I’m thinking about … how I can do something meaningful with [the anniversary] in our parish … and make [the Reformation] contemporary,” said Bill Beljean, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Nokomis, Fla.
During the “God’s Grace in Action Afternoon,” gathering and assembly participants took part in experiential learning activities to explore two Lutheran convictions: service and grace. Those who stayed on-site participated in tracks ranging from learning about the music culture of New Orleans and how it’s been a catalyst for social change, to striving for justice in areas of human trafficking and affordable housing.
Some tracks took participants into New Orleans to learn about the impact of Hurricane Katrina, the city’s cuisine and hospitality, food security, immigration, healthy and safe learning environments, and caring for the environment.
Linda Leister, member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Mifflintown, Pa., participated in the “Care for Creation” track and visited the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. “I was here shortly after Katrina, and it’s moving to see it rejuvenated today,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see the action they’ve taken to bring back the area to what it was before.”
Assembly and gathering participants joined for keynote speaker Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel laureate and Liberian peace activist. She built on the notion of reformation, urging people to turn discouragement and disillusionment into positive action for justice. “I believe the state of our world is a reflection of our religious institutions,” she said. “When we are truly reforming, we are following the words of Jesus. To speak justice where injustice abounds. To push for peace.”
Gbowee’s sending message put into words the overall theme of both the gathering and assembly: “To every person in this room, it’s up to you to stand up, not on your own doctrine, but like Luther—on the Scripture that was given to us by Christ.”