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!
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.
Effective today, the Global Headquarters (the original suggestion was “Galactic Headquarters,” but we thought that might be just a bit over the top) of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network is relocating.
The new Network address is:
150 Oakwood Lane
Owatonna, Minnesota 55060
The phone number (612.564.2195) of the Global HQ remains the same. The address and phone number of the the Extravaganza registrar and database manager, Laurie Hoium in Moorhead, Minnesota will also remain unchanged.
Please note the change of address for any snail mail correspondence to the main office.
The Network is governed by a seven member Board of Directors. (plus two non-voting members.) The Board is responsible for setting the direction and vision of the Network, which is then carried out by a small, part-time staff and a huge, dedicated and dynamic group of almost 150 volunteer leaders.
The mission of the Network? To strengthen and empower children, youth and family ministry leaders in service to Christ.
This year, there are 3 seats on the board that are open for nomination.
Nominations are made either by the individual themselves (self-nominated) or by someone else (3rd party nomination). Both forms of nomination are equally valued.
The Nominating committee, made up of two board members, two regional facilitators and one at large member, receives input from the board on what its needs are to continue its work, and then it focuses on culling through the nominations and to find the best fit of gifts and need. The Nominating committee presents its slate of names to the board at its fall meeting, and the board either accepts or rejects the slate.
This year, the board has identified three areas of need as it looks at its current board make up:
- Diversity of the board in terms of ethnicity
- Diversity of the board in terms of geography
- A need for someone with expertise in the area of children’s ministry
Of course, all nominations will be gladly received and considered. The broader the pool the committee has, the better a decision will be made.
The Network’s hope is that perhaps you, or someone you know might be a good fit for the board. It is a great group of leaders that makes a difference in the life of the church. If you’re interested in serving, or know someone you believe would be a good fit, please visit the nominations page on the web site for more information.
If you have any questions, please send me an email.
YouthWorks, one of the premier organizations across the church to offer short-term mission experiences for youth groups, has signed on as a “Silver Partner” with the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. The Network and its partner organizations commit to a relationship of mutual support.
Network Partners are a vital component of our community. And the Network is grateful to all of the organizations that choose to enter into this intentional relationship.
YouthWorks provides life-changing Christ-centered mission trips for over 30,000 students and adult leaders in over 70 communities across North America. Their goal is for everyone to experience a mission trip; so they provide lots of affordable options while maintaining high quality experiences. More information on planning a short-term mission experience can be found at their web site, www.youthworks.com.
The Network offers partnerships at two levels: silver and gold.
For more information on Network partnerships, visit our partnership home page.
Guest Blog: Rev. Paul Amlin, who serves as the Program Director for Youth Ministries in the churchwide offices of the ELCA, wanted to share this story of service and gratitude with the Network.
I had a recent experience that demonstrated the value of the Network, and I feel the need to share it in a public way because of what it says about this group of peers and belonging to something larger than ourselves. I’d also like to publicly thank a Network member who dropped everything to help me handle a crisis. Two weekends ago I was blessed to host the Youth Core Leadership Team in Chicago at the churchwide offices. This is a fantastic group. Seriously. But that’s not the story here.
The story began with a flight home, an inexperienced flyer, a snowstorm and Chris Okey who serves at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. After a great weekend of learning, I sent the participants on their way to O’Hare with the other adult sponsors who were flying home. The young lady got on her flight and jetted off to Minneapolis only to find out that her flight to Fargo had been canceled and that there would be no other flights out until the following day and even then, not until late that evening. She called me with the kind of concern you might imagine and I was able to work with her, the airline and the phone line for stranded travelers needing hotel rooms and we found her a room.
Because she was pretty upset, I decided to post something on the Network Facebook page to see if anyone was close by who might help out in case it was necessary. In a matter of moments, Chris Okey responded to me via a private message AND I had another offer in the comments section of the post with a phone number from Ian McConnell.
Chris gave me his phone number and let me know that he could be at the airport in five minutes if needed. What a gift and what a relief! I called the young lady back and she asked if it would be okay for Chris to come and pick her up to take her to the hotel. Chris loaded the family up and went off to the airport, then texted me to let me know that all was well and that she had been safely delivered. The young lady called me after she got into her room, in tears, and thankful that someone would be as kind as Chris and help someone that he didn’t know (and so quickly!).
That would be a nice ending, right? The next morning I got the call I asked for from the young lady to let me know that she was alright and that she had a plan for the day and her return to the airport. I was surprised to find out that she had been invited to the Mall of America to shop and have lunch with Chris and his family. “Seriously?” I thought to myself, “this is way beyond the call of duty” and “wow!” I got a phone call as she boarded the plane and she couldn’t stop talking about how great Chris was, even as I thought to myself how right she was. Later I received a text along with a really funny photo of her crashed on the floor of her home with her parents in the background to let me know she’d made it. The next day her mom called to sing the praises of the mystery person she’d never met in Minneapolis, and to say thank you for the care and concern the ELCA had for her child.
This is a beautiful example, to me, of the value of being connected with each other. I’d like to think that if there were a crisis close to me, I’d respond in the same way as Ian and Chris. We are all connected, after all, in our faith and in our ministries. Each of us works together for the good of the other and because we take seriously what it means to be community, we are able to see God at work in, with and through each other. So, publicly and with a big smile I say thank you Chris Okey and thank you ELCA Youth Ministry Network for being my community.
And thank you for sharing this story Paul!
Amanda Schanze asks a great question on the Network Facebook page. She asks:
Ok, people. I have enjoyed the information shared on this group, and the few things I have seen from the website. What is the advantage of actually joining “The Network.” What other benefits do I get with a membership that I don’t get for free?
Thanks for asking that, Amanda. I think it’s important that we keep talking about this, and helping people understand the “what and why” of this whole thing.
Certainly there are lots of things that the Network gives away “for free.” And many make use of some of the Network’s resources without ever joining. We’ve got the Facebook group, the e-news, the Practice Discipleship Initiative resources, the placement listings; the Things That Matter podcast (co-sponsored), the Network App, ThinkMinistry.org, GatheringLeaks.com and various blogs and other resources.
But I think there are (at least) 3 really good reasons why people should join the Network. Other folks may have other reasons, and I’d invite you to post them in the comments of this blog entry. But here are my 3, in order from least important to most important
1. Members of the Network get stuff. Yes, there are resources that are limited to Network members, and accessing them is a benefit of membership in the organization. These include:
- Deep registration discounts to the Extravaganza
- The Connect Journal, published 3 or 4 times per year
- Access to the online videos of Extravaganza keynote speakers going back to 2006
- Access to MartinsList, our online resource sharing website
- Access to 3rdTuesday Conversation webinars with experts and thought leaders in CYF
- Access to the archives of all of our past 3rdTuesday Conversations
- Discounts from some of our partner organizations including: The Center for Youth Ministries at Wartburg Seminary; Hertz Car Rental (yes, really); Impression Media Group; Lutheran Life Coaching; Trinity Lutheran College Center for Children, Youth and Family Minstry; Unify Church App Development; TxtSignal; Youth Leadership and Youth Specialties
- Access to the online Network membership Directory
- The listing of congregations willing to host traveling youth groups
- The annual salary survey
- And, there are other benefits that we hope to introduce in the next 6-8 months.
So yes, there are benefits to membership that are quantifiable, and we hope that they alone would be worth the cost of membership. However, there are two other reasons that I think are even more important:
2. Belonging is what makes all of this possible. Example: I belong to Minnesota Public Radio. Our family has joined, and I support it financially. I support it because I believe in it and its mission; because there are things that I believe public radio provides that commercial radio can or will not, and I want to make sure that it continues into the future. I could just listen, and not support it, but I want to be a part of making sure it continues to thrive.
We know that there are thousands of people who make use of the resources of the Network. And about 750 (currently) are members. These members (plus our partner organizations who share in financial support for the Network) make it possible for our free resources to be available for the whole church (including those who choose not to join). And so I am a member of the Network at the “sponsoring” level, because I believe in what we’re trying to do.
The Network’s goal is 1000 members by the end of 2015. When we reach that goal, our ability to support children, youth and family ministry across the church is going to grow exponentially. And, can you imagine what it will be like, what kind of opportunities for renewal, education and connections will exist when we reach 1,500…or 2,000 members? I get really excited thinking about it.
3. If you’re a doctor, you belong to the American Medical Association. It is their professional organization. If you are a lawyer, you belong to the Bar Association. It is their professional organization. The ELCA Youth Ministry Network is the professional organization for those who work with children, youth and families in ELCA congregations. And it is for those who are paid, and for those who are volunteer. The Network has standards and guidelines that we adhere to; it represents us to the rest of the church and it provides resources for us to be the best we can be as we tend the faith journeys of the young and their families.
And there is no doubt that the work of the Network is moving the church. Through its existence, the Network helps to shape a culture of those committed to faith formation, and that culture is changing the way that faith formation is viewed in congregations, synods and the churchwide organization. Don’t you want to be a part of that?
I’ll put it simply: If you do this work, you should belong to the Network. We wish there didn’t have to be a cost to it. But the resources we provide have a cost. We do our best to keep that cost low. And in all honesty, if someone contacts me and says “I’d love to be a member, but we cannot afford it” we can offer a scholarship. We do this because we are a stronger, richer organization with you than without you.
So I’d reverse the question: Knowing all this, why wouldn’t you join?
PS – And Amanda…because you asked…if you join, I’ll even throw in a t-shirt. 😉
Extravaganza 2014 is in the history books. The final hotel bill has been paid, and most of the random boxes of leftover stuff have been crammed back into the warehouse at the Network’s Global Headquarters (my basement).
And, we’ve been pouring through the Extravaganza evaluations.
Thank you to all of you who shared your thoughts, feelings and experiences from this year’s event. 44.8% of you took the time to fill out an Extravaganza evaluation form. That’s a tremendous return rate. I think it shows the deep level of care that people have for the Network and the Extravaganza. It reminds me that the E isn’t just “something we go to,” rather it is a community to which we belong; it is renewal, it is education and it is networking. On behalf of those of us who work on the project, we are very grateful for your commitment to the E, and especially to those who took the time to fill out the evaluation form.
This year, for the first time, we use a tool called a “Net Promoter Score” as an overall evaluation. The possible range of Net Promoter Scores is -100 to +100. Anything above a 0 is generally considered good. Above 50 is considered very good; Above 70 is amazing. The Extravaganza in 2014 scored a 78.
Another question we pay a lot of attention is the question of “On a scale of 1-10, was the Extravaganza worth the money spent?” This year this question rated an 8.96, the highest score the event has ever received. We feel very good about that! In 2013, the score for this question was 8.56.
As we’ve gone through the comments, there have been a few themes that have surfaced that I think deserve an acknowledgement, or a bit of a response.
- A consistent theme was how much people appreciated the Hyatt Hotel. It was a good property, in a good location, with great space. E-goers really appreciated the meal “deals” and “discounts” that the hotel had put together. That’s great! Choosing a hotel property is always a bit nerve-wracking. One of the things we’ll be able to do at future hotels now is to point to what the Hyatt in St. Louis did as a model for offering discounts. Hopefully that will help to provide affordable meals in the near future. It was also helpful that there were a lot of restaurants in close walking distance. From a leadership perspective, we also really appreciated working with the hotel. They did a great job.
- Folks who were forced into the overflow hotel at the Drury Plaza loved it. Folks at the Sheraton…wished that they were at the Hyatt. Yep. We know. When we book space at the hotel, we are pretty conservative in our contracts because we con’t want to wind up “short” on the rooms we guarantee. Then we’d incur stiff penalties. And we’ve been on a growth trend in the last few years. We are ratcheting our number of contracted rooms every year. Hopefully we can avoid this in the future.
- The main stage music had issues. The concept of doing the “open-source” music remains one that we really liked. It didn’t quite pull off like we’d hoped it would this year, though the musicians themselves did a very good job. We haven’t given up on the concept necessarily, but if we do it again in the future, we’d probably do it differently.
- 95% of people loved the “Ted Talk” format of the main stage speakers. About 5% really hated it. There was no middle ground. I think it’s interesting that two people can be sitting side by side at an event and have totally different experiences.
- “There were too many changes from what was printed in the program book, especially with workshops.” We will keep working on making this better. Also, some of the workshop room sizes were too small. We tried to guess which workshops would best fit in which rooms. Sometimes we guess wrong. In the past, we have toyed with the idea of people pre-registering for workshops, or a track of workshops, but generally people have told us that they prefer the flexibility and freedom of deciding “on the spot.”
- “I wish more meals had been provided.” Us too. This is largely a budget issue. The meals through the hotel are very expensive. The hotel gives us the meeting space for free, based on a minimum amount of catering that we’ll buy. So when we pay for a meal, we are really paying for the food, the service, and also also space. That’s how the hotel makes it’s money. So we could charge much more and provide more meals. But we choose to charge less in registration fees, provide the meals we can and let you buy the other meals on your own at local restaurants. It’s cheaper for you that way.
- People loved the number and the variety of exhibitors who were at the event, and how the exhibit space “worked.” We agree. The space was really good. We’re going to learn from this and work to emulate the vibe of that space every year, as much as we can.
- A question that came up was “How do I volunteer to help with the E?” Great question! The Extravaganza has both E-Team members (planners) and E-Volunteers (doers.) Every year new folks come in to both groups. Often, people who have been E-volunteers, move into E-Team roles. As specific needs come up on each team and the working groups, we pull new folks into these roles. We’ll post requests for help as they come up on Facebook and on the website. Watch for more information there.
The total evaluation report was 38 pages long. So we’re not going to respond to every thought here. But these were the themes that came up consistently throughout the evaluation forms.
The last question I want to highlight: “I will be back next year.” 87% said “yes” and 13% said “I might take a year off.” No one…not one person…said “no.”
Thanks again to all of you for being a part of the E!
In 1996, there was a crew of about 20 people working to put together the first “Extravaganza” (named that year the “Ex-strato-ganza” because it was at the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas…clearly we were headed for marketing greatness). The whole event was put together on a dime and a prayer. There pretty much was no budget.
“Who can we get to come and speak? And to do it for free?” we wondered. We threw out invitations to a bunch of folks that we knew people would want to hear from.
One of the first people who called us back was Paul Hill. He said “of course!”
Paul has been a leader in children, youth and family ministry within our church for decades. First as a camp director in outdoor ministry, working as a team leader at the ELCA Youth Gathering (he is the man who introduced zip lines and rope courses to the interaction center), helping to give vision to Wartburg Seminary’s “Center for Youth Ministries,” teaching at Luther Seminary and then taking the helm at Vibrant Faith Ministries, Paul has been on the front end of innovation within our church.
Paul has led trainings, written books and spoken throughout the church.
And Paul has always been a strong supporter of the Network. He’s enough of a believer that he’s totally willing to give praise when things are really going well, and he’s also willing to share his concern if he thinks the Network is moving off of the rails. He does this because he cares about the Network and its future. Believe me when I tell you that I’m grateful for both forms of communication from Paul. I have always paid attention to what he says because he is wise.
I’ve always appreciated Paul’s eye for the bigger picture. He initiated partnerships and working relationships with other denominations and traditions, learned from them and brought the best back to strengthen ministry within the ELCA. Likewise, he would share with them what has been learned within our tribe.
Speaking personally, I’ve always been grateful for Paul’s friendship and his mentorship.
Yesterday was Paul’s last day serving as Executive Director of Vibrant Faith Ministries. Paul is stepping into retirement. However, those of us who know Paul understand that for him, “retirement” is a relative term. Paul isn’t done. He is going to continue his work in researching the impact of outdoor ministry, and looking for new ways for the seamless journey of faith to become an even stronger reality within the church.
Thank you Paul, for saying “yes” to the Extravaganza back in 1996. And thank you for all of the “yeses” that you’ve given since then. Thank you for living out your beliefs, and for nudging the church in the direction of greater effectiveness. On behalf of children, youth and family leaders across the church, thank you for sharing your expertise. And on behalf of a whole host of us, thank you for your support and friendship.
God bless you on the next chapter!