The ELCA Youth Gathering occurs every three years and brings youth from across the ELCA to one city for faith formation, education about the church and serving the community. This year, the Gathering’s theme was “This Changes Everything,” and over 31,000 Lutherans came together June 27-July 1 in Houston.
The focus verse for the 2018 Gathering was Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” The powerful, God-given grace was integrated into the week in Houston.
I traveled to the Gathering with people from four ELCA congregations in Fort Collins, Colo. We called ourselves the Fort Collins Lutherans (FoCoLu).
At the Gathering, we participated in a day of service, a day of interactive learning and a day devoted to worshiping with our synod. The mass gatherings brought forward musicians and speakers with various backgrounds and call stories to show us how they reflected upon that grace in their lives.
The reason why this event is so important, especially for youth, is that, for even just a few days, I could look around and feel like I belonged to something bigger than myself.
My highlight was being able to draw parallels from what the speakers were saying to events and feelings that my friends and I have experienced. I especially liked the talk from Jamie Bruesenhoff and her daughter Rebekah, 11. Jamie shared her experience parenting a transgender child, and Rebekah shared what it meant to be transgender. Through this, they have both grown in faith and been able to advocate for transgender kids. It was an inspiring and jaw-dropping faith story.
My anticipation for the Gathering had been building up for months before the actual event. The excitement came from the idea of being in one place with over 31,000 Lutheran youth, which was so surreal that trying to comprehend being in a place with that many people all with a similar core connection of faith was close to impossible.
The reason why this event is so important, especially for youth, is that, for even just a few days, I could look around and feel like I belonged to something bigger than myself. I could see the bigger picture: In Houston, I saw I belonged to a church that reached from coast to coast and included those of various backgrounds and call stories. Yet we are all loved by God and celebrated and worshiped in that regard.
The impact of belonging to this community was astronomical to me. The Gathering helped me see the various ways faith can be explored and who it affects. This changed everything for me.