Three years ago, when Stephen Zeller began his call as pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cole Camp, Mo., a member came to him interested in planning an event like the ELCA Youth Gathering—but for adults.
“Why do the children and youth get to have all the fun?” the member asked. His children and grandchildren had raved about attending Youth Gatherings and spending a week at the synod’s summer camp, and although the congregation had provided plenty of opportunities for faith formation over the years for members of all ages, it was always for an hour here or there, he said. Why not a full-day event for adults with inspiration, speakers, music, food and hands-on activities?
From this question and larger conversation in the Central States Synod, an “Adult Youth Gathering” was born. In 2015, St. Paul’s took action and planned the day-long event for adults from area congregations. More than 75 people came for the first Adult Youth Gathering, which featured Mark and Sarah Huber, founding pastor and musician for Sanctuary Church, Marshfield, Mass. The day even included a “Bible crawl” throughout town to visit local restaurants and wineries to talk about faith, life and God. The event was so well-received that a second gathering was in the works even before it finished.
The second gathering planned for adults was advertised as a “Lutheran revival.” More than 100 people from eight area congregations attended the event on Oct. 25, 2016. In his opening remarks for the day, Zeller spoke of the nature of the event: “To revive something is an improvement in the condition or strength of something. We’ve come today to be refilled, refreshed and revived.”
Kerstin Hedlund, an ELCA pastor and Army chaplain, spoke to participants on resiliency and faith, reflecting on her time in Iraq and experience working with veterans who served in Afghanistan.
Small groups discussed what was passed down from their families and how Scripture influenced their sense of resiliency. One family shared their experience living on a farm and learning through example. Another woman spoke of a cancer diagnosis and the strengthening of her faith.
“It’s empowering to know how strong our faith is and what huge obstacles we’ve overcome through faith in Christ and how God has shaped the lives of so many in such different ways,” said Anne Goosen, a member of St. Paul’s, in response to Hedlund’s talk.
Andy Raines, a self-described “passion painter,” came to share his testimony of resilience and then painted pictures of Jesus. “I know what it’s like when no one cares. I was homeless,” Raines said. “By the grace of God I’m here today. My calling is to bring hope.”
Participants spent time packing 26 foster-child backpacks with hygiene items, clothes, school supplies, books, toys and food. Crafts were made, meals shared, prayers offered, songs sung.
As the day came to an end, adults enjoyed worship, dinner and a live band. Those who attended left full of hope and ready to keep sharing their love. Emily Kullman, a member of St. Paul’s and one of the planners for the day, summed up what the event meant to her: “I had never thought about the word ‘resiliency’ or its meaning until this weekend, and now I see resiliency everywhere and it is promising. What a day! (I am) fulfilled, inspired, wowed, revived and wonderfully exhausted. My feet are tired, but my heart and mind are full of stories of faith and resiliency.”