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!
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s Board of Directors affirmed the slate of board
candidates presented by the Nominating Committee at its fall meeting in Houston, September 28-30.
The recommendation of the Nominating Committee was to renew the terms of two of its current board members, Becky Cole and Rev. Regina Goodrich. The NominatingCommittee also recommended Rev. Daniel Fugate to fill the third open position. This position has been held by Erik Ullestad, who served two full terms and is not eligible for renewal.
Dan Fugate currently serves as the Assistant to the Bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the ELCA. Dan has served in congregational and synodical ministry for over 19 years.
Rev. Regina Goodrich serves as the pastor of Mediator Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And Becky Cole serves as the Director of Children’s Ministry at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland, Washington.
The Network Board is responsible for creating and tending to the mission, values and goals of the Network. They meet face-to-face three times each year.
The terms for these three individuals will begin at the conclusion of the Extravaganza in Houston, Texas, held from January 26-29 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
If you ask anyone who has been doing ministry with children, youth and families in ELCA congregations for awhile, they will be able to tell you that there has been a significant change in the culture of our community over the last 20 years.
Children, youth and family ministers share resources, give mutual support and share ideas more than ever before.
- Part of that is because new technology has allowed it. Watching conversations on our Facebook group, paying attention to the traffic on MartinsList and looking at participation in things like 3rdTuesday Conversations are just an indicator.
- It’s also at least partially due to the understanding that as congregational resources have continued to shrink, and we are all being asked to do more with less, we have to be “in this together” to do this ministry.
Today, the Network is launching our new initiative to help all of us in this work together: The Discipling Cohorts Initiative will draw together people into cohorts, organized by synod, for a year of skill development, vocational conversation and spiritual growth. This one-year journey that these groups of 8-10 will take together will culminate in the development and presentation of a personal development plan for the next 3-5 years, which will further individual growth in ministry.
The cohort process will begin with the groups meeting first face-to-face at Extravaganza 2018 in Houston. While meeting there, the groups will determine their calendar for meeting monthly over the next year for conversation, guided by a trained peer coach.
If geographic restrictions make it impossible to meet face-to-face during the year, groups can meet online to facilitate the conversations.
It is our hope that those who do this vital work with children, youth and families will continue to grow in their skill, faith and commitment to their work. It is when we stop developing that we begin to fade in our ministry. The people we are called to work with deserve the best the church can give them.
We are now recruiting two groups:
- People to be a part of the first set of cohorts. We are looking for up to 8-10 people from every synod. We are looking for people who want to grow and develop their ministry.
- People who are interested in serving in the first batch of Discipling Cohorts coaches. Coaches will be trained the day prior to Extravaganza 2018 in Houston.
More information on both of these roles can be found at disiplingcohorts.org.
Please prayerfully consider your involvement in this project. We’re looking forward to the future church; the one who steps boldly into a broken world with God’s Word of hope; the one whose leaders are fully equipped and prepared to navigate a change world, and the one whose young people’s faith is deeply and richly engaged with the mission of God.
Thanks for being a part of this ministry!
Executive Director; ELCA Youth Ministry Network
Every time an image of the flooding comes across my newsfeed, or my TV screen, my heart breaks a little bit. The images of the interstates completely submerged…of homes deep in water…and of people awaiting rescue takes my breath away.
And like many of you, my mind turns immediately to friends who live and work along the gulf coast: Peggy, Jessica, Michael, David, Rozella, Beth, Karen and others. And there are those people I’ve gotten to know who work at the Hyatt in Houston, where the Extravaganza will be held from January 26-29, 2018: Elizabeth, Michelle and David. And I worry, and I pray. I’m certain that you are praying too.
Disasters like floods, tornados and hurricanes are always awful experiences. But when you attach names to them, names of colleagues, friends and loved ones, the anxiety just continues to go up.
I’ve received messages from people wondering about the status of Extravaganza 2018 in Houston. And I’ve seen posts on Facebook with people wondering how these floods will affect the ELCA Youth Gathering next summer. The answer is: “of course the floods will have an effect.” It’s too early to know or understand that effect yet.
We will remain in contact with the Hyatt. I’m confident that they will be working to restore their property quickly. As Houston begins its clean up after the storms, the E-Team will be talking about how the events in Houston might affect the program in January.
And while I cannot speak for the Gathering, I’m certain that they too are already thinking, praying and wondering about how these events will give shape to how our young people will walk alongside the residents of Houston next summer.
In the meantime, please continue to pray.
- Pray for the people.
- Pray for their homes.
- Pray for the congregations there.
- Pray for safety.
- Pray for patience.
- Pray for the physical and emotional security of our friends in Houston.
And give. And encourage our congregations to give. As congregational leaders, we are in positions of influence within our communities. Please influence your people to give. Giving to Hurricane Harvey Relief through Lutheran Disaster Response is a great way to give. 100% of funds donated go straight to relief efforts.
And I’d encourage you to follow along with what is happening. Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod has been great about posting updates on social media. I encourage you to follow his blog.
To be church together means that we hold each other in times of joy and in times of pain. This is one of those times when we are called to surround a city with prayer, compassion and love.
Let’s be church together.
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network is excited to launch the Discipling Cohorts initiative, with the goal of training 500-600 children, youth, and family ministry leaders committed to growing and deepening in ministry leadership, personal faith, and vocational confidence. The initiative was created in response to the Network’s strategic goal for every member to create and live into a personal development plan.
The initiative will launch at Extravaganza 2018 (January 26-29 in Houston, Texas), where synods will form a cohort of 8-10 people for an initial session led by a trained peer coach. Cohorts will then convene monthly in local settings for the coming year, working together through a guided process for reflection on ministry leadership, skill development, vocational discernment, and spiritual formation.
The year will culminate with each participant writing and presenting a three-year personal development plan. Some ideas for plans may include:
- Naming the professional growth areas you want to work on, such as event planning, budgeting, conflict management, etc…
- Considering your short- and long-term vocational call
- Developing a plan to deepen your spiritual life and practices
This plan will be shared in a concluding peer gathering at Extravaganza 2019 (January 25-28 in Jacksonville, Florida). Accountability for participants and their plans will come from the cohort group, the synod peer coach, and a web-based system that will track progress.
While this project is different from the Practice Discipleship Initiative, which was completed 18 months ago, it will make use of and build on that project’s infrastructure.
Participation is open to Network members, including paid staff and volunteers, newcomers and veterans, and leaders from churches of all sizes and contexts. Attention will be paid to ensure cohort groups are comprised of a wide and diverse variety of congregations.
If you are interested in participating in this important project, you can sign up to receive more information by going to the Discipling Cohorts web page.
The project, led by the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, is being generously supported by the ELCA Domestic Mission Unit.
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network is seeking nominations of people who are qualified and willing to serve on the Network’s Board of Directors.
The Network’s Board is responsible for the setting the vision and goals for the Network, and works with the Executive Director to live in to that vision. The Board meets face-to-face three times during the year, once in the fall, again just prior to the Extravaganza and then again in the Spring.
To carry out its work, the board of directors seeks members who are visionary, possess solid communication skills, are willing to support the mission of the network, employ critical and creative thinking, display personal humility, and model a servant’s heart.
The term of a board member lasts three years and could be renewed for one additional term. This year, there are three board “seats” that are up for election. Both Rev. Regina Goodrich and Becky Cole, who each hold one of those seats, are eligible for a second term if willing and selected. Erik Ullestad has served two full terms and is not eligible for renewal.
Nominations for the Board this year are due September 15, 2017. This year, the term for new board members will begin at the conclusion of Extravaganza 2018 in Houston.
More detailed information on the Board nomination process can be found here. Both self-nominations and nominations of others are welcomed and encouraged.
The nomination form for the Board of Directors can be found here.
Ok, I’m just going to put it out there and say it: I think every ELCA congregation should participate in the ELCA Youth Gathering.
Every three years, the conversation kicks back up: “How can we justify spending (pick a number here…$1000…$1300…even $1600) to send kids to stay in a hotel for a week? What if we could spend that money on mission instead?”
I get that. I understand that we all need to make decisions about what we will and won’t participate in. I get calls every week from some group that wants us to bring people to their event…or wants to send us their material to ‘trial’ so that we can use it in our congregation.
I also get, and respect, that every context is different than every other, and blanket statements like the one I made at the top of this post might not be helpful. But here are my random thoughts, in no particular order:
- First, let’s get our data right. $1300? $1600? Sure, it’s possible to spend that much per person to get a group to the Gathering. But it’s also possible to spend much less. But it’s all about choices. If you choose to fly there, you might spend more. If you want to stay at hotels on the way driving there and back, yes that’s going to cost money. But it is possible to do this for way less than $1300. Maybe take a bus rather than fly. Not as quick or convenient, but probably less money. Partner with another congregation to share transportation expenses. If driving, sleep in churches rather than hotels. Bring your own food.
I’d also strongly encourage you to watch the Network 3rdTuesday Conversation webinar on fundraising by Mike Ward. It’s really good.
I’ve never spent more than $800-$900 per person to send a group to the Gathering. Still a lot of money. But it’s easier to come up with than $1300 or $1600.
- I’ve heard people compare the value of the Gathering to the value of a mission trip. I think we need to let that go. They are two totally different kinds of experiences and it’s apples and oranges; impossible to compare. While mission trips have a service and accompaniment focus (with a lot of other stuff too), the Gathering has a faith formation and accompaniment focus (with a lot of other stuff too). They both are extremely important, and should not be set in opposition with each other.
- The scope of the Gathering means that things can be experienced there that cannot be experienced elsewhere…like in our congregations. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to bring Maya Angelou, or Bishop Desmond Tutu, or Rob Bell, or Audio Adrenaline, or Switchfoot, or Peter Mayer, or Nadia Bolz-Weber to my congregation. But that’s going to be a big budget “no” for my church. I’m guessing the same for yours.
Likewise, to experience the gift of Word and Sacrament with 30,000 other people? I can’t explain why…but it’s one of the most amazing experiences out there. And it’s something we can only experience at the Gathering.
I’ve taken hundreds of kids on mission trips. I’ve taken hundreds of young people to the ELCA Youth Gathering. Years later, the same number of people tell me that the Gathering had a huge impact on their life and faith as those who tell me the same thing about our mission trips.
- The impact of the Gathering on the city we visit is immense. Financially it has been estimated at around $30 million dollars. Sure, some of that goes to hotel corporations, etc…but how many jobs are provided to people who need them? How many restaurants are buoyed? How many shops are filled? It’s ok to recognize that we can make a difference in ways other than swinging hammers. Oh….and by the way…even more importantly, the public witness of the church being present in the city we visit has an even larger impact. Look up the newspaper and blog articles in the city of Detroit while we were there in 2015.
- It’s an opportunity to partner. There are under-resourced congregations that struggle to get to the event. There are also congregations that have resources that they could share to assist those in need. What if they did? What if the Network helped to set that up? What if we could match churches in need with churches who would be willing to share?
Maybe it’s financial assistance? Or what if one church offered the empty seats on their bus to a church that can’t afford transportation? What if we made sure that we could all get there? If we put our minds to it, we can!
Here’s the thing: If we approach the Gathering like we’re the consumers and it’s the product, of course it’s going to seem outrageously expensive.
But we’re not consumers. We are the church. And the Gathering is not a product. It is a ministry. And we have the opportunity to participate…and I think we should.
The ministry of the gathering is a ministry of young people…not a ministry to them. In Houston this summer they will be the body of Christ, living out God’s mission in a unique way. And it is a ministry that will draw your young people together for at least a full year before the actual event, to prepare. And by preparing, I don’t mean fundraising. I’m talking about Bible study, community building, etc…
So I stand by my original statement: I think all of our congregations should participate in the Gathering, because we are stronger together. I know you won’t all agree with this…and that’s fine. But there is one thing I firmly believe:
We are stronger together.
So let’s be together.
I’ll be in Houston. I hope you will too!
Trinity had partnered with Living Waters in Chicago a couple of years ago and had a great experience. This year, I didn’t expect a text that I received.
The day after our group arrived, my phone beeped and a photo appeared in my inbox. It was a photo of Sam, sent to me by Lisa Jeffreys. Lisa works in the Southeast Michigan Synod. We’d worked together, and become friends, working on the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. I had no idea that Lisa was working with the Living Waters program this summer.
I saw the text, and I smiled.
And a couple of days later, Lisa sent me another photo, this time it was Sam, standing arm in arm with a good friend and mentor, Pastor Kelly Chatman, from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, who was also in Detroit with Living Waters this week.
I found myself moved emotionally, by seeing these photos. I mean of course, it’s alwaysgood to see the smiling face of your son. But beyond that, I loved the fact that Sam was there with his friends from Trinity…with our adult volunteer leaders…and now with my friends from ministry; from the Network.
It is powerful because when Sam ran into Lisa…into Kelly…when Sam was present with the youth group, and its amazing adult leaders, he is experiencing the promises that God made to him in the waters of his baptism. This week, Sam is experiencing what it is to live among God’s faithful people.
When Sam met Lisa…when Sam met Kelly, he was experiencing the family of God. My friends became his friends. The son whom I love met the friends whom I love.
Thank you Lisa, for being a friend. Even though we only chat occasionally, and I really only get to see you at the Extravaganza, I am so glad that Sam gets to experience you this week. Thank you Kelly, as much as you’ve been a fantastic powerful influence on my life, I’m so glad that Sam has had the opportunity to spend some time with you as well.
I’m reminded this week of what it is to be church. We are all interconnected. We all share a mission. We are all, whether we’ve met or not, connected in a relationship that is centered in Christ. I’m reminded of what it is to be Network.
I’m reminded what it is to be the people of God.
Thank you for being who God called you to be. Thank you for being people who I want my kids to get to know, and spend time with.
And thanks be to God, for creating the church, this place where we are all connected, in the name of Christ.
- You click on “bleeding” and it tells you what to do, including a helpful video, right on your phone.
- Someone gets a burn? There are well laid-out instructions including a helpful video.
- Concerned about heat stroke? The app tells you what to do, including a (you guessed it) video. At the bottom of each scenario are links to other related and helpful information. Under heat stroke you can link to
- What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
- What are heat cramps?
- How do you treat heat cramps?
- How can I immerse someone in cold water if I’m not near a tub or pool?
Every one of us who work with young people and who take them on road trips should be certified in both CPR (including infant CPR if you work with the very young) and advanced first aid. That is just common sense. But sometimes, in the midst of a chaotic moment when someone is sick or injured, and we’re in the midst of managing a group, our minds can go blank. Having this information literally in the palm of our hand can be a great resource for us, and can help mitigate injury and even save lives.
The app can even give you quizzes to help keep you up to date and fresh on your skills.
A best practice? You should have this app on your phone. I’d even recommend having all of your volunteer leaders download the app to their phone. Go to where you download your apps and look for “Red Cross First Aid.”
It’s a great resource.