It is with deep sorrow that I write to let you know about the death of one of our network members, and a friend and colleague to many. Rachel Coen-Tuff died on Saturday while with her family at their cabin. The family has communicated that it was the result of a pulmonary embolism.
Rachel served as the Minister of Faith Formation at Faith+Journey Lutheran Church in West Fargo, North Dakota. She has served in faith formation ministry for 10 years, the last two of which were at Faith+Journey. Rachel was a graduate of Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
Looking at the comments that have been made on social media since Rachel’s death, it is easy to see that she is deeply loved and will be missed by her community.
A seminary classmate wrote that: “…her energy, her smile, and her deep sense of goodwill for the world and her passion for youth ministry will be deeply missed.”
Another person wrote that: “…she always had time to listen, and share in joyful conversation. She shone with Christ’s joy and light.”
Another person commented: “Rachel was one of the most purely nice, giving, thoughtful, joyful people I’ve ever met. I don’t think I heard her say anything negative. The loss of her amazing spirit will be felt massively. It doesn’t feel fair to lose someone so giving and good.”
Rachel was a member of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network and was with us in Houston last January for the Extravaganza there. She also just returned home from Houston where she brought a group to the ELCA Youth Gathering. In fact, in one of her most recent posts on Facebook, Rachel wrote: “Home. My heart is full, my feet are tired, and my mind is amazed with the way God works through us to change everything!”
Today, we pray for Rachel’s family and friends. We pray for the people of Faith+Journey Lutheran Church, especially their young people. And we cling to the promises of Jesus.
Today, Rachel is experiencing those promises fulfilled. She walks in the presence of God. For Rachel, Jesus has indeed changed everything.
We do not yet know the plans for funeral services and the celebration of Rachel’s life. When we know, we will post that information on the Network’s Facebook page.
The ELCA Youth Gathering has a long history, and an even longer lineage, going back to 1902. Do you think that the Youth Gathering will be coming to Minneapolis in 2021 for the first time? Think again. This will be the 14th time that this event will be held in the City of Lakes.
Thanks to John Hulden, who sent us this information. Thanks to David Halaas for requesting the information from the ELCA Archivist. And thanks to Joel Thoreson, the ELCA’s Archivist for Management, Reference, and Technology for keeping track of this great information!
Here’s the history of the Gathering in the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies, including the themes (when available) and any special, notable facts:
ELCA Youth Gatherings (1988-Present)
- 1988 – San Antonio, Texas – “Rejoice in the Lord Always”
- 1991 – Dallas, Texas – “Called to Freedom”
- 1994 – Atlanta, Ga. – “2 Be Alive”
- 1997 – New Orleans, La. – “River of Hope”
- 2000 – St. Louis, Mo. – “Dancing at the Crossroads”
- 2003 – Atlanta, Ga. – “Ubuntu” (Do Life)
- 2006 – San Antonio, Texas – “Cruzando” (Crossing)
- 2009 – New Orleans, La. – “Jesus, Justice, Jazz”
- 2012 – New Orleans, La. – “Citizens with the Saints”
- 2015 – Detroit, Mich. – “Rise Up Together”
- 2018 – Houston, Texas – “This Changes Everything”
- 2021 – Minneapolis, Minnesota – Theme to be announced
The American Lutheran Church (1960-1987)
- 1960 – Milwaukee, Wis. (constituting convention of the ALC Luther League)
- 1961 – Miami Beach, Fla. – “Christ Is Living” – Speaker: Martin Luther King, Jr.
- 1964 – Detroit, Mich. – “Jesus Is Lord”
- 1967 – Seattle, Wash. / Dallas, Texas (split sites) – “We Are a Peculiar People”
- 1970 – New York, N.Y. – “And We Say We Care”
- 1973 – Houston, Texas – “With Eyes Wide Open” – 1st All-Lutheran Youth Gathering (with LCA & LCMS) – music: Johnny Cash, speaker: Fulton J. Sheen
- 1976 – New Orleans, La. – “For All the Saints” – 2nd All-Lutheran Youth Gathering
- 1979 – Kansas City, Mo. – “Called to be Servants” – ALC only
- 1982 – San Antonio, Texas – “In Christ, a New Creation”
- 1985 – Denver, Colo. – “Proclaim Him Lord of All” – speaker: Jimmy Carter
American Lutheran Church (1930-1960)
- 1930 – Lakeside, Ohio (constituting convention of the Luther League)
- 1931 – Long Lake, Ill. – “The Luther League at Work”
- 1933 – Madison, Wis. – “Builders with Christ. For Christ”
- 1935 – Austin, Texas – “Christ Calls”
- 1937 – St. Paul, Minn. – “Christ Our Life”
- 1939 – College Park, Md. – “Under the Banners of the Church”
- 1941 – Greeley, Colo. – “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto the Hills”
- 1943 – Dubuque, Iowa – “Tell the Story”
- 1946 – Ames, Iowa – “Now Is the Time”
- 1949 – Pullman, Wash. – “Thy Kingdom Come”
- 1951 – East Lansing, Mich. – “Thine Is the Power”
- 1953 – West Lafayette, Ind. – “Live Christ”
- 1955 – College Station, Texas – “God’s Love – My Life”
- 1958 – Ithaca, N.Y. – “United in the Word”
Evangelical Lutheran Church (1917-1960)
(Was known as the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America to 1946)
- 1919 – Red Wing, Minn.
- 1922 – LaCrosse, Wis.
- 1925 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1927 – Seattle, Wash.
- 1929 – Duluth, Minn.
- 1931 – Chicago, Ill.
- 1933 – Fargo, N.D.
- 1935 – Sioux Falls, S.D.
- 1937 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1939 – Los Angeles, Calif.
- 1941 – Billings, Mont.
- 1947 – Milwaukee, Wis.
- 1949 – Saskatoon, Sask.
- 1951 – Seattle, Wash.
- 1953 – Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn.
- 1955 – San Francisco, Calif.
- 1957 – Missoula, Mont.
Norwegian Synod (1850-1917)
- Young People’s Association organized 1903
United Norwegian Lutheran Church (1890-1917)
- Young People’s League organized 1908
Hauge Synod (1846-1917)
- Young People’s Federation organized 1911
United (Danish) Evangelical Lutheran Church (1896-1960)
- 1932 – Spencer, Iowa
- 1935 – Medicine Lake, near Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1938 – Cedar Falls, Iowa
- 1941 – Blair, Neb.
- 1944 – Blair, Neb.
- 1947 – Blair, Neb.
- 1949 – Albert Lea, Minn.
- 1951 – Blair, Neb.
- 1953 – Blair, Neb.
- 1955 – Blair, Neb.
- 1957 – Fresno, Calif.
- 1959 – Blair, Neb.
Lutheran Free Church (1897-1963)
Known as the Young People’s Federation from 1920-1937 and the Luther League Federation from 1937-1963
- 1920 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1921 – unknown
- 1922 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1923 – Fargo, N.D.
- 1924 – unknown
- 1925 – Fargo, N.D.
- 1926 – Rochester, Minn.
- 1927 – Thief River Falls, Minn.
- 1928 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1929 – LaCrosse, Wis.
- 1930 – Northwood, N.D.
- 1931 – Willmar, Minn.
- 1932 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1933 – Fargo, N.D.
- 1934 – Marinette, Wis.
- 1935 – Rochester, Minn.
- 1936 – Minot, N.D.
- 1937 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1938 – Willmar, Minn.
- 1939 – Northwood, N.D.
- 1940 – Duluth, Minn.
- 1941 – Minneapolis, Minn.
- 1942 – New London, Minn.
- 1943 – Fergus Falls, Minn.
- 1944 – Morris, Minn.
- 1947 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1948 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1949 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1950 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1951 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1952 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1953 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1954 – Medicine Lake (Near Minneapolis)
- 1956 – Parkland, Wash. – “Witness to God’s Power”
- 1958 – Green Lake, Wis. – “Let God’s Word Transform”
- 1960 – Northfield, Minn. – “In This Sign Conquer”
- 1962 – Green Lake, Wis. – “Christ’s Kingdom Shall Triumph”
Lutheran Church in America (1962-1987)
(known as the LCA Luther League from 1962-1968, then restructured into the Commission on Youth Ministry)
- 1962 – San Francisco, Calif. (constituting convention of the LCA Luther League)
- 1963 – Selinsgrove, Pa. – “The Fellowship of the Concerned”
- 1964 – Waterloo, Ont. – “’Be My Spirit,’ Says the Lord”
- 1965 – Miami Beach, Fla. – “Follow Me”
- 1966 – Milwaukee, Wis. – “He Gives Peace”
- 1969 – Detroit, Mich. – Youthexpo
- 1973 – Houston, Texas – With Eyes Wide Open – 1st All-Lutheran Youth Gathering
- 1976 – New Orleans, La. – For All the Saints – 2nd All-Lutheran Youth Gathering
- 1981 – West Lafayette, Ind. – Joy for You and Me
- 1985 – West Lafayette, Ind. – Power in the Cross
Augustana Synod (1860-1962)
- 1921 – Rock Island, Ill.
- 1926 – Rock Island, Ill.
- 1929 – Lindsborg, Kan.
- 1931 – St. Peter, Minn.
- 1933 – East Orange, N.J.
- 1935 – Rock Island, Ill. – “Victory Through Christ”
- 1937 – Minneapolis, Minn. – “Christ Our Life”
- 1939 – Omaha, Neb. – “The Open Door”
- 1941 – Rockford, Ill. – “Built on a Rock”
- 1943 – Minneapolis, Minn. – “All Out for Christ”
- 1945 – Jamestown, N.Y. – “Jesus Calls Us”
- 1947 – Los Angeles, Calif. – “Christ Is Able”
- 1949 – Duluth, Minn. – “Christ Above All”
- 1951 – Colorado Springs, Colo. – “Lift Up Your Eyes”
- 1953 – Boston, Mass. – “Christ Makes Men Free”
- 1955 – Calgary, Alb. – “Christ, the Lord of Life”
- 1957 – Chicago, Ill. – “Know, Live, Share Christ”
- 1959 – San Antonio, Texas – “Remember Jesus Christ”
United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962) and predecessors General Synod (1820-1918), General Council (1867-1918) and United Synod in the South (1863-1918)
- 1895 – Pittsburgh, Pa.
- 1896 – Chicago, Ill.
- 1898 – New York, N.Y.
- 1900 – Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1902 – St. Paul, Minn.
- 1904 – Buffalo, N.Y.
- 1906 – Canton, Ohio
- 1908 – Chicago, Ill.
- 1910 – Pittsburgh, Pa.
- 1912 – Albany, N.Y.
- 1914 – Baltimore, Md.
- 1916 – Toledo, Ohio
- 1918 – Buffalo, N.Y.
- 1920 – Fort Wayne, Ind.
- 1922 – York, Pa.
- 1925 – Milwaukee, Wis.
- 1927 – Salisbury, N.C.
- 1929 – Omaha, Neb.
- 1931 – Reading, Pa.
- 1935 – Charleston, S.C.
- 1937 – Springfield, Ohio
- 1939 – Long Beach, Calif.
- 1941 – Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.
- 1946 – Pittsburgh, Pa.
- 1949 – Roanoke, Va.
- 1951 – Iowa City, Iowa – “Christians Answer Boldly”
- 1953 – Oxford, Ohio – “Armed With His Word”
- 1955 – Ann Arbor, Mich. – “Christ Is Lord”
- 1957 – Lawrence, Kan. – “Here I Stand”
- 1959 – Ithaca, N.Y. – “In This Sign Conquer”
- 1961 – Urbana, Ill. – “Lord I Believe”
American Evangelical Lutheran Church (1894-1962)
(was known as the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church to 1953)
- 1947 – Grand Rapids, Mich.
- 1948 – Des Moines, Iowa
- 1949 – Greenville, Mich.
- 1950 – Des Moines, Iowa
- 1951 – Chicago, Ill.
- 1952 – Des Moines, Iowa
- 1953 – Tyler, Minn.
- 1954 – Des Moines, Iowa
- 1955 – Tyler, Minn.
- 1956 – Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Fredsville, Iowa
- 1957 – Newell, Iowa
- 1958 – Detroit, Mich.
- 1959 – Nysted, Neb.
- 1960 – Withee, Wis.
- 1961 – Indianola, Iowa
Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church
Known as the Suomi Synod from 1890-1962
- 1947 – Camp Luther, Ashtabula, Ohio
- 1949 – Camp Shaw, Chatham, Mich.
- 1951 – Camp Sigel, Gilbert, Minn.
- 1953 – Camp Luther, Ashtabula, Ohio
- 1955 – Suomi College, Hancock, Mich.
- 1957 – St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
- 1959 – Camp Luther, N. Kingsville, Ohio
- 1961 – Suomi College, Hancock, Mich.
Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (1976-1982)
- 1982 – some attended the ALC convention in San Antonio, Texas
Wow. Just wow.
There are only 3 thoughts I can share right now.
- Thank you. Thank you. Thank you: Gifted, talented and beloved. For your time and energy, we are grateful. On behalf of all of us, thank you.
- Thanks be to God.
- Jesus changes everything.
A few years ago, the Network introduced our first set of “Standards and Guidelines” for professionals who work in children, youth and family ministry. The idea was that there should be some kind of standards for how we grow and develop in our ministry, and for how we practice our ministry on a day-to-day basis.
Developing a document like this is a challenge, because everyone’s experiences are different, and our thoughts and opinions are always based on our experience. But finally, after a year’s work, in 2011 the Network Board approved our first set of “Standards and Guidelines.” We posted them, and made them widely available.
About 18 months ago, the Board took on the task of reviewing this document to see if it needed to be updated. Our basic concern was that while the first version was good, and well-intended, the document was long…and it was detailed…and it was intimidating…and even though it was intended for those who did this work professionally, volunteers would look at it and say “what have I gotten myself into?”
So work began on rewriting the document with the intent of simplifying it.
That work is complete.
The document has been retitled. It is now called Leadership Competencies. Our sense was that “Standards and Guidelines” felt more like limitations and barriers than something that we want to work towards. Leadership Competencies moves it to a positive angle, and focuses on what God is calling us to become in ministry rather than what we shouldn’t be in ministry.
The new document is shorter than the old, trimmed by more than half. But the basic concepts and the things we value are all still there.
We want these Leadership Competencies to become part of our vocabularies. I’d love it if someday, when asked by an interview committee, a person could say, “Yes, I am a member of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network,” and the committee would know what that means…they would know that these values, these competencies, are already a part of this person’s ministry; that by being a member of the Network, this person is committed to growing in their skills, their vocation and their own faith.
I invite you to take a look a the new document, and post or send any feedback. It is a document that will continue to grow and adapt as the world around us changes.
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” – Romans 14:7-9
Last weekend, the community lost a good friend. Donna Wiegel, who has served as the registrar, and the primary liaison to hotel properties for the ELCA Youth Gathering died unexpectedly.
First and foremost, Donna loved her family. Deeply. With all her heart. Molly Beck Dean, the Director of the Gathering described Donna’s love for her family as “fierce.” It’s a good word. Whenever I would see Donna, she loved to tell me about her family. She was proud and passionate.
Donna’s life was well-described in her obituary:
“Donna found joy in the simplicities in life. She adored her dogs, reading her library books, drinking coffee (black only), bicycling, gardening, and relaxing in the sun on the beaches in the Caribbean. Donna was passionate about her daughter, her granddaughters, life, and happiness. She did not preach her moral and religious beliefs, she lived them. She was the angel. Donna was loving and kind to every person she encountered. She was the best, most loyal friend a person could ever have. Donna was a fierce lover of justice and champion of the marginalized. She was a justice seeker, and a positive peacemaker.”
Donna was a friend to all those who worked with young people in the church. She had a difficult, complicated job, but she handled it with grace and skill. She was concerned that congregations and young people had good experiences through the ministry of the gathering. When someone called her seeking help or assistance, she would go out of her way to assist them. Every time. I know, because Donna helped me and my group out, many times.
On Monday, the Network’s Board of Directors was in Chicago at The Lutheran Center for its regularly scheduled spring meeting. We were blessed to be present for a prayer service for ELCA staff, led by Rev. Stephen Bouman and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.
One of the scripture readings Stephen shared was from Romans 14: “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
At times like this, we cling. We cannot begin to understand why things like this happen. But they do. And so we cling to the promises of the resurrected Christ. We cling to the words of wisdom that remind us that Donna belongs to God. No matter what happens…no matter the circumstances, Donna was a child of God, loved completely.
Because Jesus lives, Donna lives. Because Jesus lives, we too shall live.
As a community, a Network, and as a church, we give thanks for the life of Donna Wiegel. And we give thanks for how God worked through her.
And today we give thanks for the gift of the resurrection. For Donna, the promises of God are fulfilled.
Thanks be to God.
Networked in Christ,
If you’ve attended the Extravaganza in the last…probably ten years, there is a pretty good chance that you were welcomed and greeted at the registration table by Debbie Zaic.
Debbie and I worked together at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove. She was hired there in 2001, and provided administrative support and served as the registrar for the children, youth and family team. We worked together until I left Lord of Life in 2014.
It was the end of the work day, early last week, and Debbie suffered a stroke. The stroke was massive, and she had no chance of survival. She was moved to hospice care and died a couple of days later, surrounded by her family. She was married to Mike and they have 3 beautiful daughters: Ally and Megan have graduated from college. Hattie is a student at Minnesota State University at Mankato.
When we worked together, Deb, Lynn (another of my wonderful colleagues) and I would often sit first thing in the morning, and catch up. Topics could be anything from “what was on TV last night” to “what’s going on in our ministry” to more of Deb’s bragging on her daughters. (To Debbie, it was never bragging…merely stating fact!) . Inevitably, there was a lot of laughter.
When something didn’t go Debbie’s way, there would be a massive eye-roll, and exasperated, she would exclaim “Oh, for the love…”
When she and I would talk about ministry, I would try and remind her how important her role was. Deb would say things like “nah…I just work at the desk.” Yet when our building was full of young people, it was not at all uncommon for young people (often those who needed to talk) to pop into the office, or stop at the “youth booth” to talk to her. She had a way of making whoever she was talking with feel like at that moment, they were the most important person in the world.
Deb loved the Network, and loved coming to the Extravaganza. She liked to come down a day early, just to help out Laurie Hoium, our registrar, and Debbie Clipson, our financial person, with getting everyone checked in for the event and answering questions. (I think she also just loved hanging out with Debbie and Laurie). She also loved to provide hospitality…and welcome people.
I’m going to miss Debbie.
Her life and her work reminded me that God’s vision of what it is to do ministry is broad and bold.
Deb knew who she was. She understood her identity as a child of God. She loved to do Bible journaling, and had this big white board in her office near her desk that she would draw Scripture verses, or other faith-related images. She loved to sing, and was motivated by being a part of the faith formation of young people.
Debbie was a friend to many of us. She had confidence in Christ’s claim on her as a child of God, and she lived her faith every day. She loved working at the church. She was excited to be a member of our Network, and to be a part of the community that gathers every year at the E.
Debbie’s life was celebrated in a beautiful worship service this afternoon at Lord of Life. Please keep Debbie’s family, in your prayers: Debbie’s husband, Mike, her daughters, Ally, Megan and Hattie, her father, Pastor Bernie Johnson and all of her extended family and friends.
Please also keep my friends on the staff at Lord of Life in your prayers. This is the second member of their staff who has died in the last two months.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:37-39
And the promises made to Debbie Zaic in the waters of her baptism…the same promises made to each of us…have been fulfilled. Thanks be to God.
The Network is a community that prays for each other. And I suspect we can all agree that we’re in favor of prayer.
And using the “Prayer Request” feature in the Network app is a great way for us to keep in touch and to pray for each other. After Extravaganza 2018 in Houston, there was a big jump in usage for this feature of the app.
But I’ve also received a bunch of questions about how to limit the email notifications that we receive when someone posts a prayer request…and when someone responds to a prayer request.
Yes, there is a solution!
Here it is, step by step:
First, Open the Network app. (If you don’t have it yet…you should get it! You can get information on the app at http://www.elcaymnet.org/app and/or search for it in your Apple or Android app store.)
Second, from the main menu, click on “My Profile.” That will take you to the page that has your personal information stored.
Third, at the top of your profile screen (above the space for your profile photo) click on the “Edit my Profile” button. If the edit option doesn’t show up, try quitting the app and re-loading it.
Fourth, when your profile editor opens up, scroll to the bottom of the screen and you can select if you’e like to receive notifications within the app (push notifications) or by e-mail or text message…or any combination of those you would like to use.
That’s it! It’s that simple.
So yes, let’s commit to praying for each other. And, let’s commit to getting the notifications about those prayer requests in whatever way works best for each of us!
Extravaganza 2018 in Houston will host a special screening of the documentary film, “Behold the Earth.” The screening will take place on Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm.
“Behold the Earth” is a music-rich documentary film that explores America’s divorce from the outdoors – through conversations with legendary scientists E.O. Wilson, Cal DeWill, and Theo Colborn, as well as a new generation of environmental activitists within America’s largest religious group: evangelicals.
Behold the Earth was selected by:
- The American Conservation Film Festival
- The Camden International Film Festival; and
- Justice Film Festival of New York
A member of the film’s production team, and/or one of the individuals who appear in the film will be present for the screening, and will participate in a discussion after the film is shown.
View the trailer for “Behold the Earth”:
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s Board of Directors has completed a one-year process to revise and update its “Standards and Guidelines for Professionals” document.
The original version of our Standards and Guidelines was created and released in 2011, It helped to give shape to the professional development of those who are called to serve with children, youth and families in ELCA congregations. It also gave shape to many of the programs and ministries that the Network has continued or launched since then.
Tom Schwolert, who serves as the chairperson of the Board of Directors, said that: “Our goal in redeveloping the Standards and Guidelines was to simplify it a bit. We wanted to make it shorter and more approachable. I think this new version has done that.”
Renewal, education and connection have always been a part of the Network’s DNA. Our hope is that when a congregation calls someone to serve in faith formation, if that person is a member of the Network, the congregation will understand that person’s commitment to growing in their calling.
Schwolert went on to say that: “Our hope is that this helps to give direction to personal, spiritual and professional development. The Network’s programs, and those of our partners, can provide the resources for our members to grow in these ways.”
The Network’s Standards and Guidelines can be found at elcaymnet.org/standards.
Special Guest Blogger: Ian McConnell; Student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
It was in a hotel ballroom in Anaheim maybe a decade ago that I heard for the first time, “Use this time however you need it. For renewal. For networking. For napping. For being away from a hectic work environment. For fun, for Pete’s sake!” I was in my early 20s, just recently “back in church” after a period of spiritual drifting—a statistical “none,” I suppose—and at the Extravaganza as a youth ministry volunteer from my home church. And I was hooked; while laying concrete blocks with the high school kids I had come to love for a trip to Ciudád Juárez in Mexico later that year, I decided to say “yes” to become the interim youth director for that congregation.
And in the dead of winter every year until this past winter, I have loved coming to the Extravaganza. Some years, I’ve come for networking, finding new ideas for Sunday School curriculums and games to fill time with notoriously bored teenagers. Other years, it’s felt like a warm family reunion filled with trips to restaurants and bars within walking distance. And at least once, the E has been a place to escape from a seriously, seriously dark work environment to be with people who could hear my pain. I will forever be grateful for who this network is, and what the Extravaganza continues to be.
Last winter, during my pastoral internship at Grace Lutheran in Wenatchee, Washington, the tasks were piling up. Funerals, meetings, limited budget and vacation days, and honestly, there was a bit of exhaustion. And for the first time in 10 years, I didn’t come to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. I had plenty of excuses, commitments, and reasons to justify missing out on the most helpful and encouraging network of ministry professionals I have come to know and love.
And let me tell you: I missed you all terribly.
This year is a big one, because like every third year, the E and the ELCA Youth Gathering are in the same city, and we find ourselves with the opportunity to take the edge off of our nerves about things like learning the best walking routes from hotel-to-dome-to-convention-center or finding relatively inexpensive places to eat with a group of young people (including that kid who “forgot” that he had a budget and blew his money on WHAT?!).
This year is a big one, because while we all know that young people are in a particularly exciting and haunted time in life anyways, there have been conversations continuing and amplifying on the news, in schools, on social media, and at dinner tables about serious and seriously difficult topics: sexual assault and violence against women, systemic racism and violence against our brothers and sisters of color, how to be a part of a society that would oftentimes rather put its head in the sand than learn how to best accompany young people learning about their own gender and sexual identities… Whether we like it or not, these are real issues for the families we have been called to serve. These are real issues for many of you already. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I need to work this stuff out in community. And the Extravaganza has always been a place where it’s been safe for me to do so.
If ever there were a time to commit to Finding Forward, this seems to be it, friends. We are living in this reality, and so we ask: now what? Where do we go from here? What does it mean to be disciples in this particular time and this particular reality?
You may be in the same boat as I have been in, wondering if you’ll be able to make it work to come to the E this year. And I sincerely hope to see you in Houston this upcoming January. I need to gather with you to worship and sing and pray. I need your help finding a way forward, seeking for ways to participate in what, exactly, God is calling us to be in year 501 and beyond of the Reformation. We need time to rest, to rejuvenate, to learn, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to share our stories for the sake of materializing God’s kingdom here on earth.
But first, a brief confession: I have not yet registered. So, I’ll wrap this up, open a new tab in my browser, and secure my spot at this year’s Extravaganza! Don’t tell the early bird folks, I don’t want to catch too much flack.
See y’all in Houston, I hope!