The ELCA Youth Gathering, a triennial event for high school students, was held July 15-19 in Detroit, MI. Each of the 5 days of the Gathering is marked with worship, empowering speakers, service projects, and learning. One theme that was woven throughout the entire time was stories. As participants shared their stories and heard the stories from Detroit, they were reminded that these are all a part of God’s sacred story.
I want to join the parade
from John Eigo, Redeemer, Kingston
When walking around downtown Detroit, we were never alone. You could always see others flocking to the next place in their bright colored t-shirts. As we walked, I suddenly felt another hand grab mine and looked to find a young boy who said, "I want to join the parade!" He had seen enough of us walking that he let go of his father’s hand and joined our group.
The long wait for justice
from Emanuel, Pleasantville
For the service day, our Proclaim Justice day, we were scheduled for the first of two launches. There were all kinds of glitches and delays, but we eventually left a little before noon and helped our bus driver find the way. We arrived at the site, but our Servant Companion couldn’t find the exact location of our assignment or anyone who could direct us. It was pretty chaotic. With only two and a half hours before we were supposed to return to the bus, we made the decision to set out on our own and simply find a place to jump in somewhere. Ultimately, we helped clear brush and trash from a property and adjacent alley. It was inspiring to seeing the kids so anxious to get out there and help and then doing whatever was necessary to make an impact in the time they had.
Not all groups got to serve though. Throughout the morning, we were in contact with a pastor from Virginia that was set to launch later the same day (he’s the brother-in-law of one of the leaders). At a certain point in the afternoon, the launches were too far behind schedule and had to be cancelled—including theirs. He said they were disappointed, understandably, but were able to turn it into a teachable moment. He texted the following, which we shared with our group on the bus ride back:
People in poverty often have to wait for hours and hours, only to be disappointed. We are so used to everything going as we plan. Poor folk lack reliable transportation. And we don't just Proclaim Justice one day a year. We are called to do it everyday, including back at home.
It certainly helped put all our waiting into perspective!
Working together for safety
from Our Savior, Patchogue
The biggest impression on our youth was made during our Proclaim Justice day. We were assigned to a beautification project. The block we were on had 5 abandoned homes that were so overgrown you could barely see the front façade. One was badly burned. We sickled tall weeds, cut down trees, and cleaned up garbage. Clearing the grounds will allow the neighbors to keep a better watch over the properties and make their neighborhood safer. The neighbors were so appreciative they came out to lend us tools, and work on their own lawns alongside us. When we were done there were hugs all around. They thanked us and we thanked them for letting us help. When we left, the kids told us how glad they had this job to help the people in this neighborhood feel safer.
Focus on hope
from Resurrection, Mt. Kisco
While our Proclaim Justice Day had a slow start, we eventually found our way to a block within a 100-block-neighborhood of Detroit. Lovely well-kept homes were surrounded by homes that were abandoned. Some plots of land had already seen their houses demolished and grass reseeded. We saw a volunteer coordinator who put us on the task of weeding and clearing a fence and alleyway. The fence was hiding an abandoned home that had turned into a crack-house. The hope was to clear the fence of shrubs and trees and weeds so that the house would be more visible and less of an attraction for drug-users. The kids worked hard, pulling, clipping and shoveling garbage. We were nervous about what they might find when we started shoveling—there were many vodka bottles scattered around and could easily be drug paraphernalia. Luckily our finds were limited to really old smelly trash and people's belongings. It was sad to look at all of those belongings and think about the people's lives that had been lived and left there.
One of the things that was meaningful for all of us was how fast we got the job done when we worked together. The alleyway looked so large and overgrown and filthy that it seemed we would not be able to finish it in the short time that we had. But we finished it with time to spare. A true reminder of what we can do as the body of Christ when we are working together. See before and after photos of this project
Talk of the town
from Lisa McCaffrey, Synod Coordinator, Abiding Presence, Ft. Salonga
I can’t even tell you how many times I broke down and cried from being so joyfully overwhelmed with the experience. Everyone was so gracious and loving. Our group was lucky in getting to see many facets of Detroit and the people who call it home. One morning we went to the Ford Factory Tour. When we arrived there was a woman tell us what we were about to see and handle crowd control. "First, I want to stop," she said, "and say thank you. You are the talk of the break room and of the floor. Our plant manager has written your bishop to say thank you. We just can’t stop talking about you! We are so appreciative of all you are doing here and the difference you are making. "
Best friend in Tanzania
from St. John’s, Poughkeepsie
In association with the Gathering, each synod has the opportunity to invite and host a youth from a companion synod. This year, not only did we welcome Jelline from the Northwest Diocese of Tanzania, but she was hosted by St. John’s, Poughkeepsie who has a congregation to congregation relationship with her own parish.
She spend time in the congregation with her hosting family, traveled to Chicago for orientation and then to Detroit to join the Gathering. During our time together, we learned how important Jelline’s faith is to her. We could see the many different ways she tried to connect with God during the day through prayer, gospel music, and thanksgiving. It reminded us all of the faith we have in common. Amanda, a youth from the family who hosted Jelline, said that it was a good influence on her and reminded her of the role her faith should play in her daily life.
While she was at St. John’s, Jelline helped to give the children’s sermon. She was nervous about what kinds of questions the kids might ask. The only question she received was, "Will you be my best friend in Tanzania?" She immediately responded, "Of course!"
We were all grateful for the opportunity to live out our relationship with the Northwest Diocese in such a personal way and hope to always find ways to deepen our bonds of friendship.
Accomplishing what seems impossible
from Pr. Jeanne Warfield, Grace, Forest Hills
Overall, a personal highlight was during our Proclaim Community day. For this day we are able to explore close to 50 different exhibits and activities. In this one massive space, you can donate blood, play games, learn about the numerous ways our church is active in the world, and even get involved in projects there. My group convinced me to do an inflatable obstacle course. It was one of those obstacle courses where you have to climb over, through, and up things and I wondered if my body was still capable of such things. I got to a point where I was ready to give up. I just could not get up and over and was ready to throw in the towel. But the other person with me, another adult leader, wouldn’t leave me behind and wouldn’t let me give up. I took off my socks to slip less. She lent me a hand and I finally made it over. All that was left was to slide to the bottom. It was the greatest feeling; I felt the importance of community and connection with others more than anything. To be able to accomplish what seemed insurmountable meant so much.
We’re proving that label wrong
from Bishop Rimbo
I know a lot of people here in Detroit. Lois and I and our family lived in this metropolitan area for 23 years. Lois taught a lot of kids here. I was pastor in two congregations and bishop here. So we've seen a lot of friends these days and they are so energized, so encouraged, so lifted up by you. There have been times when Detroit has been labeled "God-forsaken." But we're proving that label wrong. Thank you! You are the church! Read Bishop Rimbo’s entire sermon
from Catie, a youth at Resurrection, Mt. Kisco
Going to Detroit with 30,000 other Lutherans was amazing: Amazing because there were so many loving and caring and generous hearts. Amazing because even though our workday was cut short, we still managed to get so much done. Amazing because we worked as a team. Every single little thing we did made a difference. Our presence made a difference. We cheered up the people of Detroit by just being there. We cleaned up their city and that made them even happier. The people of Detroit are our brothers and sisters; our wonderful brothers and sisters. They are not weak, but they are strong. Please keep them in your hearts.
The next ELCA Youth Gathering will be June 27-July 1, 2018 in Houston, Tx.